International Women’s Day

+JMJ+

On this International Women’s Day , I have been pondering the “Woman,” Mary (cf. John 2:4, 19:26)

Mary is a little bit of an enigma to me. As a mother, I feel that I’m supposed to look to her in everything, especially regarding my family. But that’s exactly the disconnect: how do I, a sinful mother of three children, relate to a sinless mother with a perfect, sinless child?

It seems impossible. And furthermore, when my children are covered in poop and running around the house screaming at one another, it seems completely ridiculous.

But as Dominicans, we have a special devotion to Mary as our mother and patroness. So if I can’t match the Blessed Mother in patience, grace, holiness or any of these other perfections she enjoyed, what can I learn from her?

Here are just a few brief lessons I am pondering and I offer them for your consideration today:

First of all, we learn from Mary how women should support one another in time of need.

“Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” — Lk 1:39b-40

When was the last time I went with haste to help a fellow mother in need? 
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Visitation, Mariotto Albertinelli

Women love one another, have compassion on one another and share each other’s blessings.

“The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened by Mary’s obedience. The bonds fastened by the virgin Eve through disbelief were untied by the virgin Mary through faith.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies)

When was the last time I rejoiced at another woman’s blessings, rather than feeling jealous? When I have failed, do I accept help, especially from other women? When was the last time I shared my blessings with a woman in need?
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Eve and Mary, by Sr Grace Remington ocso

Perhaps the greatest lesson I learn from Mary, though, is that in order to fully be ourselves, we must all be completely, unwaveringly devoted to Jesus Christ.

Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless and clothe the naked (Mt 25) and in so doing, He tells us that we serve Him in disguise.  But Mary fed, sheltered and clothed the boy Christ, God who so humbled himself as to become completely dependent on his earthly mother. “When did I see you naked and clothe you?” she could ask her son. Jesus would laugh, “When I was born! And every day since!” Mary would shrug her shoulders and say: “But that is just what a loving mother does!”   We are never diminished in our humble labors, only exalted, as Mary now serves in her role as the most exalted of all creatures:

“Mary has the authority over the angels and the blessed in heaven. As a reward for her great humility, God gave her the power and mission of assigning to saints the thrones made vacant by the apostate angels who fell away through pride. Such is the will of the almighty God who exalts the humble, that the powers of heaven, earth and hell, willingly or unwillingly, must obey the commands of the humble Virgin Mary. For God has made her queen of heaven and earth, leader of his armies, keeper of his treasure, dispenser of his graces, mediatrix on behalf of men, destroyer of his enemies, and faithful associate in his great works and triumphs.”
–St. Louis Marie de Montfort, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin

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On this International Women’s Day, I therefore pray for all women around the world to be treated with dignity, respect and honor. I pray that they will, in turn, reflect the love of Mary for God as they honor and serve their parents, siblings, friends, teachers, husbands and children. I pray that governments, but more importantly individuals, will love and honor the feminine genius of all women who embrace their vocations– no matter what shape that takes! May women be permitted to be themselves, so that men can more fully be themselves and we can all build the Kingdom together.

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True Devotion?

+JMJ+

Having finished re-reading ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ I was looking for another book to devour.  As I went to the bookshelf, my heart kind of sank because I realized it was full of the same books it always is. I wanted something new. I wanted something challenging. So I raided the office library and found a copy of “True Devotion to Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort. Actually, we have about twenty copies laying around, so I grabbed one and brought it home.

On sale at Catholic Company

Boy, is this text challenging.

I may have said this before, but I’m kind of a reluctant Dominican when it comes to the whole ‘devotion to Mary’ thing. I believe this is why God has called me along this path; because without Fr. Dominic’s prompting, I might never grow to embrace her as I should. I’ve never really felt a strong connection with her and sometimes I really don’t understand those who do. I don’t deny that theirs may be the right relationship to have with Our Blessed Mother, but it does make me a little envious that for some people it just seems to come so joyfully and easily. But when I read things like:

“It is Mary alone who has given to the miserable children of Eve, the faithless, entry into the terrestrial paradise… or rather, since she is herself that terrestrial paradise, that virgin and blessed earth from which Adam and Eve, the sinners, have been driven, she gives no entry there except to those whom it is her pleasure to make saints.” — paragraph 45

… I get a little uncomfortable. I won’t unpack this paragraph here because I do believe that St. Louis de Montfort does not overstretch into the heretical and I trust the numerous qualifications that underly this statement to be taken for granted in his writing. But still– could we come up with a better way to say this? It just seems… imprudent.

As I was thinking all of these things the other night, I was struck by a very vivid memory.

I went through a very short period in high school when I brought my Bible with me and arrived early, so that I could sit in front of my locker and read from the Gospels before the day started. Now: I went to public school, so perhaps this was particularly odd and perhaps I did it partly in a show-offy “look at me the hypocrite while I pray” sort of way. I was admittedly a punk…

…But I also remember that I was truly thirsting for God’s Word. I was having a really rough time (who wasn’t?) and I really wanted to learn who Jesus was and WWJD and all of that.

As I was reading through John’s Gospel, I came across these quotes:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from life to death.”- Jn 5:24

 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” — Jn 6:51

“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” — Jn 8:19

“Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day.” — Jn 12:48

John’s Gospel is full of this stuff. And as I actually read these words, I felt this strange emotion stirring inside me. It felt unjust. It felt pompous. I remember thinking, “This Jesus is totally full of himself. Why is everything about Him???

I wasn’t astute enough in my reading or even capable of stepping outside of my own little world at the moment to realize that these were exactly the charges that led so many people to reject Him. He was just a guy. They knew his mother. He sounded like He was claiming to be God, to be doing things that only God can do… this man was crazy!

Years later, I stumbled upon this famous quote of Lewis:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” ― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

YES. This is EXACTLY what I felt and now I am grateful to have had that experience because it eventually forced me to confront Jesus as either a lunatic or the true Son of God: at some point, I had to make the choice. Thank God I was able to profess the latter.

So as I read through this book about devotion to Mary, part of me wonders if I’m not experiencing the same sort of tension? I’d like to say “Oh well, some saints are really devoted to Mary and others aren’t… or at least their devotion takes a very different form and that’s OK,” but maybe there’s something of her son hidden in her as well. Maybe all of this unsettling talk about Mary will eventually force me to acknowledge something that up until now I’ve been denying. I’m not sure.

For now, I plan to trudge through the book and pray that I will be able to see and learn whatever Christ and His Blessed Mother desire of me. The Rosary has already taught me much about her and I am sure there is much more to learn, so I pray that God will, if nothing else, at least reward my persistence.

What about you? Have you read “True Devotion?” What was your experience like? 
Do you ever feel uncomfortable reading about Mary, the saints, or even about Jesus? What do you do? 
Do you have any less-intense suggestions for texts that could help ease me into this one?