Ah, Mary!!

Ah May: traditionally, for Catholics, the month of Mary.

But which Mary: Mary, inviolate? Mary undefiled? Mary Immaculately Conceived? Mary every docile and obedient to God? Mary dressed in blue?

These are all ok, I guess. A tad simplistic for me. And the stress on her virginal purity always smells like patriarchal control to me. And the obsession with the pelvis in some mitered corners of the church. It just feels to me like there is a bigger, fuller, more robust, and authentic image of Mary wanting to burst forth! 

Is there, after all, another way to think of and understand Mary? As one of my favorite theologians, Elizabeth A. Johnson reflects, “It seems that the image of Mary has allowed the Christian imagination to think very creatively and very differently about understanding Mary.  But now it’s our turn, we the generation alive today. How should we consider Mary (or Miriam, as she would be known in Hebrew) in the 21st century?”

Johnson goes on to spell out some essential characteristics of Mary that can help us know her better and relate to her more human-to-human:

Mary as Jewish. This seems obvious. As Johnsons points out, “it does no honor to bleach Mary of her Jewishness.”  She inherited the faith of Abraham and Sarah. Even after the Resurrection she went to Temple and didn’t consider herself a part of a “new religion.”

Mary as Peasant Woman.  Mary was from Nazareth which was made up of peasants working the land and craftsmen, like Joseph. “Her days would ordinarily be taken up with the hard, unrecompensed work of women of all ages: feed and clothe and nurture her growing household.” Mary was probably unlettered and illiterate. Furthermore, like many poor women and families today, Mary lived in a tense environment of poverty and oppression. She stands with and reminds us of all those women and men struggling under unjust governments and systems, running to escape being killed or dying of hunger. So Mary is a sister to suffering and marginalized women and families everywhere. “It does Mary no honor,” Johnson says, “to rip her out of her conflictual, dangerous historical circumstances and transform her into an icon of a peaceful middle-class life dressed in a royal blue robe.” Ouch!

Mary as Woman of Faith.  I love what Johnson writes about this: “Mary walked by faith, not by sight.  As one theologian once said, ‘She did not have the dogma of the Immaculate Conception framed and hanging on her kitchen wall’. Scripture tells us she asked questions. She pondered things in her heart. And she went on faithfully believing even when grief stabbed her to the heart.”  

She was a woman called by God! Like Moses, she is in a position of partnership with God to bring about a historical occurrence that will advance the freedom and redemption of all God’s children.  

Her virginity shows this intimate partnership. It is in no way meant to disparage or lessen women who are sexually active. Again, I turn to Johnson: with Mary’s conception, “business as usual, including patriarchal marriages, is superseded. And God stand with the young woman pregnant outside of wedlock, in danger of her own life. God stands with her to begin fulfilling the divine promise.” And Mary starts to “get it.” She belts out the dangerous, political, revolutionary Magnificat. She knows that her yes to God and her partnership with God have set off a radical turning upside down of the world order.  

Uh oh. I see the politicians wringing their hands and the clerics wanting to put her back in blue and crown her with pretty flowers (although not as pretty as the capes they wear for the crowning)!

So, my friends, as we honor Mary this month, we do well to remember the WHOLE Mary. Yes, we proclaim she was immaculately conceived. And yes, she was “docile,” meaning completely open and obedient to the will of God.  And God’s will was to establish the Divine Reign of justice, goodness and peace for all. Mary proclaimed that in her joyful and dangerous Magnificat. And she proclaimed it in her oneness with the poor and oppressed of her time and place. And she proclaimed it with her faithfulness to God at every moment. 

O Mary, O Miriam, our Partner in Hope, help us to do the same!

Peace and every good,

Fr. Liam

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