My fellow TOCCUSA member and friend, Rev. Thomas Bigelow, at a Marian Shrine in Vietnam…regardless of my disagreement with Roman doctrine of Immaculate Concepcion I am very much a Marianist at heart.
Catholics, in general, don’t necessarily worship Mary. Asking Mary to pray to Jesus with us is in essense no different than asking your deceased grandmother to do so. While debates continue within Catholicism over the concept of her being a co-mediatrix with Jesus, many other Christian denominations are “rediscovering” Mary in new ways.
At the base of the debates for me are three issues.
One, God may have created Mary without original sin in the hope she would freely choose to be the Christ-bearer, but God does not preordain people (negating free will and the action of grace) or force teenage girls to become pregnant (that would not only make Him a rapist but a child sex offender). If God can create children of Abraham from stones, there is no reason he couldn’t have created more embryos without original sin if Mary had said no. In addition, I reject the belief some have that if Mary had said “no” she would have been damned. An all merciful God, who respects free will, would have merely opened a window of opportunity to Mary, and gone on to ask another girl. That said, I find it entirely possible that God could have made every prophecy be fulfilled either earlier or later than what we saw happen. He is not limited in power, time, or space.
Two, While it is fine to hold the belief that Mary was concieved without a trace of original sin, that belief was never expressed in any way by Jesus, and the scriptural support for the belief is fairly scant. In making Mary a “better” class of human, the Roman proclamation of it as an infallible (to Romans and other Vatican led churches only) had the ill effect of putting Mary on a different plane than mere humans and robbed Romans of the ability to relate to her as an equal human to themselves. In particular, they created an ideal, told women to follow it, but then made Mary so much more inaccesible that women were always left feeling they couldn’t possibly measure up. The irresitable pull to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, Mary, or the saints is so strong precisely because they are or were as human as we are. It is in that sameness of humanity that we can find comfort and true friendship.
Three, the raising of this belief to a dogma did not meet the concept of “believed everywhere” in the early church. While Mary certainly had an important role to early Jesus followers, the frequent use of titles like Christ-bearer was only one indicator that Mary was viewed differently by different groups. Paul, for example, either did not know anything about Mary or did not consider her in any way equal to Jesus. If he had, he would have been remembered for writing about it. Since we have no strong refrences in Luke of Mary’s role as a leader, role model, or post ressurection ministry in Acts it is a stretch to think Luke considered her to be anything like Co-Mediatrix on the basis of Immaculate Concepcion. It is entirely Catholic to hold a belief Mary was concieved without original sin, but it is not so essential to faith that it must be believed in the exact specific way the Pope and Vatican I expressed it.
This dogma painted Rome into a Calvinistic corner of predestination theology that even today damages that church. The role of women in the church, for example, has been limited in part because of the setting apart of Mary as “not like us”. Had this not happened, Mary’s actions – from her teenage years where she freely chose and undid the myth of Eve and the apple to the wedding at Cana, to the foot of the cross – would have made it much more clear that she was undoubtably left out of the Last Supper painting from her place at the table accross from her Son. With that perception, women as clergy would not be as difficult a topic for Vatican led churches to decide as it has been. It also would have, by leaving Mary in the group of “real human women”, could have slowed or prevented some of the most horrendous abuses of females by male Catholics and the Church since Vatican I. The entire theology of homosexual attraction and same sex actions would be less complex if Vatican I had not introduced to that Catholic denomination the concept that God might preordain human individuals or even an entire class of individuals to only one “correct” path to heaven via celibacy. At heart, the resulting beliefs within Vatican led churches that predestination is a valid doctrine also makes a mockery of the unique call God gives to some people to celibacy as a religious vocation, and squanders the beauty and transcendance of the freely given “Yes” to that call.
Do I believe Mary was concieved by God without a trace of original sin in Anna’s womb as a result of honest to goodness real, enjoyable sex? Yes. Do I believe that God only had one shot at becoming fully human in reality and thereby making a new covenant with humanity and defeating the devil? No. I cannot subscribe to a belief that limits the love, mercy, actions, and power of God. Do I believe that Mary accepted the title “Immaculately Concieved” in her appearence to a young girl in France? Yes, but not in order to raise herself to a demi-god status, but to reassure those Catholics who cherish the belief that they can choose to believe it. I also believe that she sent to reassure those Christians who live terrified by the thought of unbaptised babies in limbo and people burning in hell because they never were evangelized that God is not bound to punish innocents to eternal torment just because of Adam and Eve’s error. He is bigger than that kind of limit. Taking all of this into account, perhaps the reader can see why Our Lady of Lourdes is such a warm and valued role of Mary in action in our world to me.
Mary is recognized as having many roles in history, in her everlasting ministry, and in her role as an example to all humans. This picture of her being honored for at least some of her roles is something every Christian, every feminist, every clergy, every Woman, GLBTQ person, Man and Child can celebrate. Our friend Mary, who shares the same joys, trials, and status as a human, leads the way for us to watch for every door and window God opens, to pray, think, discuss, and discern which ones we can and want to say yes to. Mary also provides the mentoring, the hand to hold, the friend holding the pom poms and cheering us on when we say a last prayer, hold our breath, and jump through that door or window into the unknown world God has offered us.
Hail Mary, Full Of Grace! Thank you for being our closest dearest most true friend! Jesus, continue to send Mary to be our visible cheerleader, mentor, and supporter in this world as we seek to follow You to the Kingdom of God and our particular room, prepared and waiting for us, in God’s eternal house! You are the savior of the world! Amen!