Sunday, February 17, 2008

Honest Question: Why do we need a relationship with Mary?

Dear Heidi: Why is it necessary to have any kind of relationship with Mary, and why does the Bible never emphasize this? I'm coming from many years as a protestant, have recently converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, but often attend Catholic Mass (which I love) because the EO church is not close by. I find myself drawn to Mary more recently, but am afraid of displeasing God. I really look forward to your answer. Thank you. Anne

Dear Anne: I understand where you are coming from, simply because I've been there myself. In the first chapter of "Behold Your Mother," I tell the true story of how I begged God not to let anything happen that I could take as a "sign" that it was OK to talk to Mary, if it was displeasing to Him that I do so. Three times I prayed this prayer. Three times my request to Mary was granted.

Many converts find it unsettling, to say the least, to discover that many long-cherished "truths" about the faith they believe they have found in verses of Scripture that do not hold up to the light of the ongoing Tradition of the Church (the same Tradition that gave us the Bible to begin with). I spent the first thirty years of my life confident that I "knew" what was true and right simply by reading the Bible for myself. (Why other Christians had different interpretations, and we both could be correct, I never paused to consider.)

So please understand that I write what follows as someone who has been right where you are ... and that I mean to encourage you not to be afraid, but trust that your loving Heavenly Father understands your need for light and truth. Each time you get a little more light, offer Him your humble and childlike "YES!" And trust Him to enlighten your mind, until the shadows disappear.

The short answer is that we want to have a relationship with Mary because we love Jesus, and so we love those whom Jesus loves. Jesus loves Mary in a special way because she is His mother -- and continues to be His mother in heaven, just as she continues to be our mother. Why? There are two reasons:

1. Because of the Incarnation. Mary's "yes" set the wheels in motion for the Word of God to come to earth and make it possible for us to be come children of God by adoption ... He is our brother, His Father is our Father, and He made His mother our mother as He died upon the cross (John 19:26-27). He continues to have that body in heaven (albeit in glorified form), and because of her obedience ... so shall we. She is our first and most perfect model of faith.

2. Because of the communion of the saints. Christians honor the saints both for their earthly example (including the writings many of them left behind to guide us) as well as their intercessions on our behalf. The Bible refers to the intercession of the saints in Revelation 5:8

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
So why doesn't the Bible explicitly mention Mary's spiritual motherhood? Let's set aside the John reference for the moment, and address a separate but important related question: Can we know something to be true without it being spelled out explicitly in Scripture?

We know for a fact that it can ... You can't find the word "Trinity" or "hypostatic union" anywhere in Scripture. The earliest Creeds of the Church are not spelled out anywhere in Scripture for the simple reason that the great Christological and Trinitarian dogmas were developed in the third through fifth centuries.

Similarly, our understanding of Mary's motherhood developed over time (in response to the Christological dogmas). In the fourth century, St. Ambrose wrote: "Let, then, the life of Mary be as it were virginity itself, set forth in a likeness, from which, as from a mirror, the appearance of chastity and the form of virtue is reflected. From this you may take your pattern of life, showing, as an example, the clear rules of virtue: what you have to correct, to effect, and to hold fast." (Concerning Widows, Book II, Chapter II).

Here we have the first reason to cultivate a relationship with Mary: to follow her example, just as we learn about how to be a wife and mother from our own mothers. As Mary's daughters, we try to emulate our mother especially in our eagerness to assent to every aspect of the revealed will of God.

Do not worry if you don't "feel" close to her right away. Every human relationship goes through seasons, and the parent-child relationship is no exception. As children we may think of our parents as all-knowing and all-powerful (even though they themselves know they are not); as teenagers we may be embarrassed by them; as adults, we begin to realize the sacrifices they made for us, and begin to appreciate them not just as parents, but as human beings as well.

Mary is not offended when her adopted children do not rush into her lap right away. The fact of her motherhood does not depend on your response; no matter what, she continues to love. And the best way that she shows this love is this: Mary never, ever keeps any of the honors her children show her for herself. Rather, she offers them back to Jesus, and leads us closer to His Sacred Heart.

Mary understands that you were not raised to love her as a mother -- and that, like many adoptive children, you need time for that bond of trust to develop. Start small. When you go inside the Church to say hello to Jesus in His Eucharistic Presence, stop by the little statue of Mary and her Son and say hello to her, too. Go to your local Catholic bookstore, and find an icon or holy card or medal with a picture of Mary that you like, and put it by your bedside table or in your prayer corner. Before bed each night, say a decade of the Rosary -- so many of the prayers of the Rosary are straight out of the Scriptures. Before you do, you might feel more comfortable if you start with this little prayer:

Here I am, Jesus. I want to please You in everything I do, everything I think, everything I am. Because I love you, I want to honor those You honor, and love those You love. You love Mary, and I want to love her, too. I know that You perfectly fulfilled the Scriptures, and honored both your Father and mother. Show me how I can honor Your mother in a way that gives joy to Your Sacred Heart. Amen.

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