RCIA Class on Mary

November 10, 2009

It’s a couple weeks ago now that my RCIA class talked about Mary. Chris missed that class, even though he’s my sponsor, since our babysitter had to cancel on us. We talked about it afterward and of course the first thing he says is, “Why haven’t they had a class on Jesus? Understanding who Jesus is would go a long way to understanding Mary.” I found myself trying to defend the class organizers, but he’s right. My guess as to why they don’t have a “who is Jesus” course is that they either think it’s covered in the creed and the Trinity, or this class is really just a Protestant to Catholic conversion tool, and they find that people already know who Jesus Christ is. The latter seems more likely since all the classes seen to be focused on issues that Protestants have with Catholicism.

It was fairly well done, as well as can be expected in a two hour intro course on Mary. They included handouts for reference that went more in depth and had a question and answer session. I found myself grimacing at all the usual objections that people raised. “Didn’t the Assumption of Mary just become a doctrine? How do we know that it’s true?” “Wasn’t that a ground up doctrine and the people made the Pope do it?” “Doesn’t the Bible say Jesus had brothers?”

The control freak in me was itching to jump up and answer these questions. I did put my two cents in occasionally, like when I said that although the people may have called for the Assumption to be a doctrine, it was already believed, the people didn’t invent the belief and then make the Church dogmatize it. Of course, I think that comment was lost in the wind.

I even asked a question myself when the Immaculate Conception came up. They said one of the reasons we believe Mary was conceived without original sin (remember, sex isn’t a sin, this has nothing to do with sex!) is because Christ received his sinless nature from her. I said something like this a while ago, in my ponderings on Mary, but someone had told me it wasn’t true. So I questioned the catechists, asking why God couldn’t have just intervened at Christ’s conception and gave him a sinless nature, and why Mary didn’t need to get her sinless nature from her parents. The answer from the lady leading the discussion was akin to: “That’s just the way it is.” Thankfully, another catechist piped up and told me that Mary’s sinless nature isn’t just God intervening on her behalf, like I was thinking. If He was just intervening, then my objection would make sense. However, the salvation of Christ was applied to Mary at her conception. It’s more of an outside-of-time application of grace than just a snap of the fingers and she’s sinless. I think I get it.

Our parish’s new, enthusiastically orthodox “baby-priest”, Fr. Andrew, who co-blogs (in theory) at Shameless Popery, repeatedly made the point that Mary is special to us because we have become one with Christ. She is our mother, since she is Christ’s mother. The images of Mary holding Jesus are images of Mary holding us. It’s hard for me to get into that mindset though. I still suffer from remnants of Mary aversion, and even when praying the rosary I tend to focus more on Mary being special because she is the mother of Our Lord, and let that paint a picture for me about how wonderful and mysterious God incarnate actually is. Mary herself I don’t understand. I’m getting to know her though, partly because the awesome humility of Christ shows me exactly what perfection looks like, and that is mirrored in Mary’s surrender to God’s plan. She is, afterall, the Lord’s servant, pointing the way to Christ.

Rosary Reflections – Finding Our Lord in the Temple

October 24, 2009

The fifth joyous mystery of the Rosary is the finding of Our Lord in the temple. For reference, Luke 2:41-52:

Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

When I think about these events, I can’t help but sympathize with Mary as a mother. Her child has run off, and she doesn’t know where he is, for three days! Of course, as any good mother would, Mary is freaking out. She wants to know why Jesus has put her through this. I can’t possibly understand the extent of her and Joseph’s terror though, knowing that they have lost not only their child, but their Messiah. Can you imagine the worst case scenarios going through their heads? They’ve lost their Lord. Has he perished? Will they ever be able to find him again? Have they screwed up God’s master plan and will He strike them dead in anger? They felt like this for three days.

There’s another time when Christ was lost for three days, his followers terror striken and alone. He was buried, leaving the disciples to wonder if God’s plan had been thwarted or if there was any hope left for anyone. Again, I can only imagine the despair they felt. Talk about the dark night of the soul!

Finding Our Lord in the temple after three days seems to me a clear foreshadowing of his resurrection. It is the unknown hope we are desperate for, and that God has planned all along. It is the dawn to end our dark night, which we never understood was possible. I think maybe everyone goes through dark times, feeling abandoned and alone and completely hopeless. Meditating on this mystery teaches me that God has a plan in our sufferings, that He is always in control, and that He will bring us out of the darkness in good time, whether we can see it or not.

Don’t knock the Rosary till you try it

October 14, 2009

The Rosary is not what you think. Well. Since most of the readers of this blog actually are Catholic, it probably is what you think. But for Protestants coming from a stereotyped perspective like I have, it’s not what you think. I prayed my first rosary only three nights ago with Chris. We decided to do this after a particularly trying day where the kids were running around screaming, I was constantly pressed to thwart Chris Jr.’s life-risking escapades, and Isabel had more than one fit lasting too long for stubbornly refusing to say “please”. Days like that make me feel like I’m either working in an insane asylum or I’m losing my own mind. I get lost and dejected. It’s hard to focus and keep your patience with tedious, boring, and thankless work. I had half a mind that a better devotional life would help, so that night Chris busted out the rosary and we prayed.

I went into this, even in my converted state, thinking that Marian devotees and the rosary in particular were very superstitious. I hear people say that Mary will not fail to save those who are devoted to her, and that the rosary will “obtain” all sorts of miracles or favors. Before we started, Chris told me that the rosary is the most powerful devotion in the Church. I was skeptical. It sounded like some sort of holy spell casting or something. It turns out I didn’t understand the rosary at all.

Chris has printed off the New Advent rosary instructions, which we used and I highly recommend. Each day, there are five different mysteries that we meditate on while praying the five different decades of the rosary. I knew about the mysteries, but didn’t really understand how it worked. The New Advent page lists the mysteries and gives Scripture readings for each, which I love. Reading these scenes from the life of Christ beforehand help me recall things lost in time and memory. Surprise! It is Christ-centered. As a result, we were praying, not only to Mary, but also praying the “Our Father”, “Glory Be”, and “Oh My Jesus”, contemplating the person of Christ, who we are in Him, and our relation to Mary as our Mother since as adopted sons and daughters of God we are like Christ to her. This is more profound than I ever could have imagined! We better understand who Mary is by contemplating Christ and vice versa, and begin to understand our own place in life.

For instance, in the sorrowful mysteries, the first of which is the agony of Our Lord in the garden, Christ is facing horrible suffering and tells God the Father, “Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done.” Following Christ’s example, we begin to understand how our surrender to God’s will is a divine thing, especially in the face of suffering. Praying the Hail Mary while meditating on this reveals more of who Mary is–truly the Mother of God–an acknowledgment of Christ’s divine person, not some assertion that Mary created God.

I could go on rather incoherently explaining more of my contemplations during the rosary, but if you want to understand it, try it. I tend to think the best effects of devotional prayer are that it focuses our minds on the things of God and aligns our will with His will. That is the power of the rosary. I can definitely see how done daily it will change your life, not because it contains hocus pocus, but because faith changes you and the rosary is a tool of faith. Irenaeus (the commenter on this blog, NOT the Church Father) said once that the rosary is addictive, and I think I might already be addicted.

The Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin

February 3, 2009

I’m very uncomfortable on the subject of Mary. Mary worship is usually one of the top three accusations thrown the Catholic way, and some of them are guilty of it. I’m not wholly familiar with all Marian doctrines and have considered them secondary when trying to understand church matters, but some of them are dogmatic. If you are Catholic, you are required (a funny term, because what does that mean, actually? “you ought to” and plenty of people don’t) to believe in the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, in her “ever-virgin” status, and her assumption into heaven. Other practices, such as the rosary, are merely disconcerting. Keep in mind, I have no problem with the idea of asking the saints in heaven to pray for us. I see it as no different than asking a brother or sister in Christ here on Earth to pray for us.

I was reading a re-conversion testimony online, and was somewhat surprised that I never noticed something the author mentioned. In her evangelical experiences, she noted the lack of any positive attention whatsoever to Mary, the most notable woman in the Bible. My experience were not quite as extreme, which I attribute to my parents’ loving attitude toward God and Christ. At Christmas time, they included Mary in the wonderment of Christ. Yet in general, I never heard a sermon on Mary, or a biography contemplating the Mother of Christ. The author assumes this is because of the fear of mariolotry, but why define yourself in terms of not being something?

Mary should mean a lot more to Protestants than she currently does. Consider the commandment to honor your mother (Deut. 5:16). If Jesus was a perfect example of how we should behave, then he honors his mother perfectly. And if we are to imitate Christ, we not only honor our mother, but also his mother. Christ perfectly honoring his mother is a concept from which springs the mysterious idea of her petitions always being granted by God. We see this in Christ’s first miracle, when he turns water into wine at Cana. He even granted this insignificant petition of his mother’s under protest that his ministry wasn’t supposed to begin yet. (John 2:1-11) I really don’t know what to think of the idea of all her petitions being granted, but I do know that to some unknown degree, we ought to honor the mother of our Lord. I don’t know yet where to draw the line.

Regarding the Marian doctrine that she was ever-virgin, I found a funny and articulate article by an Orthodox priest. I highly recommend his concise explanations to anyone having trouble. The most convincing aspect of his arguments is that Christ commends his mother to John (John 19:26-27) which would have been unspeakable if he had other brothers. The comparison of the three stories at the cross made me go back and reread them all together. Then the reality of the situation as seen through the eyes of these witnesses struck me. Imagine John, near enough the cross to talk to Jesus, with Christ’s mother nearby. It’s almost startling to see that scene take form, and I’d recommend reading them all together.

The imitation of Mary, a phrase which gives me the willies, can be understood if we understand her as the most blessed human who is not divine. Honestly, she was chosen to carry the Christ! Mary was the servant of the Lord (Luke 1:38) and was dubbed “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) and “blessed among women” whom “all generations will call blessed”(Luke 1:48). Of the fully human not divine crowd, she has found the most favor with God and fully submitted to His will. If we find other Christians note-worthy, and admire and wish to emulate John Calvin or Saint Augustine or Iranaeus, then how much more should we admire and seek to imitate Mary? Of course Christ comes first, he’s the only reason she is special at all, like the Catechism says.

“Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it.”511 “No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.”

Concerning Mary’s Assumption, I personally see no contradiction with the Bible. I have said before that the Bible doesn’t say “Mary died and was buried.”, it speaks of the assumptions of Enoch and Elijah so we know this is not reserved for Christ, and Christ honored his mother perfectly implying he might do such a thing. If you accept the authority of the Church, then there are no real obstacles to believing in the Assumption.

I haven’t looked into the Immaculate Conception as much. I know it’s intimately connected with the sinlessness of Mary (which is only by the merit and sacrifice of Christ for all you Protestants gasping out there!), but I don’t understand it. The Protestant in me protests (imagine that) by saying Christ was the only possible sinless person because he was the only one worthy to sacrifice, despite knowing that Catholics say it is only through Christ that Mary was sinless. I also don’t understand how she was conceived sinless by sinful people in any way that Christ could not be conceived sinless by a sinful woman.

I welcome discussion on this, but I beg ahead of time for people to remain calm and respectful. The subject of Mary is particularly touchy for both sides. I hope we can all handle it well.