Friday, December 12, 2008
Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As Fr. Paul pointed out in his homily this morning, there have been two great Marian feasts within a week of each other: Immaculate Conception on Monday, and Our Lady of Guadalupe today. Advent is a time when we (rightly) focus on Jesus’ First Coming and look forward to His Second Coming. However, Mary can appropriately be thought of as the saint of Advent. Without her “yes,” would Jesus have been born? Who knows? But Mary, like all humans created in God’s image, had free well. She could have said no. She said yes.
A few years ago I was in a class for my minor (in Latino/a studies). We were looking at various works of Chicano/a art, especially focusing on the Brown Power Movement of the 1960s. One of the paintings we studied was Yolanda Lopez’ "Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe." It portrays, unsurprisingly, the artist’s self portrait in the traditional garb of the Virgin as she appeared to Juan Diego in 1531. I’m still unsure of how I feel about it. I wasn’t Catholic then, but I was very close to becoming one, and I’d been praying the Rosary for a few months and drawing closer to Jesus through Mary. My initial reaction was one of discomfort; why would Lopez feel the need to change the image of the Blessed Mother that is beloved and cherished throughout Latin America? What is she trying to say about herself, Mary, or women in general? Many of my classmates reacted positively; they thought that portraying Mary as a “strong, independent” woman (running freely, letting her cloak fly back and reveal her legs, etc.) was a much-needed message of liberation for women. They put a lot of emphasis on the “impossible” and “paradoxical” standard Mary sets for women: in the Catholic Faith (and Latino cultures in particular), Mary embodies true femininity. However, my classmates frowned on this, claiming that Mary’s two roles as a virgin and a mother are conflicting and set too high a standard for women, suppressing their sexuality and discouraging women from having roles other than “virgin” or “mother.”
They’ve got this so totally backwards!
There is a delightful little book about St. Michael the Archangel which contains hymns, prayers, and stories about St. Michael. My favorite part is the first chapter, which opens with an (imagined) account of Mary’s Assumption. Michael greets Mary, his Queen, and tells her the time is coming. The author writes a little about Mary’s memories, and her wry amusement that people will remember her as “Mary, meek and mild.” Meek and mild? Ha! I’ve never met an archangel myself, but based on how the shepherds reacted (they were sore afraid), I’ll bet that they’re not chubby babies with fluffy wings. Angels would be terrifying to an unprepared human! And yet Mary takes Gabriel’s visit totally in stride (Luke 1) when he shows up in her garden/room/kitchen (we don’t know which) and tells her she’s going to become pregnant with the Messiah. Meek and mild? To stand in the presence of a prince of heaven and not freak out? To accept her role as an unwed pregnant mother knowing she could be stoned and her family disgraced? To know that even if she survived the pregnancy and birth that she would have her heart pierced with sorrow when her Son left her home to pursue his mission? Mary had guts! She had moxie! She was brave! When we hear “meek and mild” in our post-modern times, we envision a wilting flower damsel in distress with no personality, brains, talent, or skills. Mary couldn’t be further from this!
Maybe secular feminists (not authentic JPII feminists) have a problem with Mary because her life focused on her role as a mother. But what’s wrong with that? Certainly women aren’t only capable of being mothers, but to belittle women who accept that vocation is immature and arrogant. Recently I read about Rebecca Walker, 38-year-old daughter of (in)famous feminist Alice Walker, who finds motherhood to be a joy and privilege and loves her children with all her heart. This is beautiful! Good for her! Mary, like all other mothers, laid down her life for her son with she was carrying and birthing him. Women die in childbirth all over the world, and even though the rates have gone down as medical care improves, the gift of life and self-sacrifice that mothers make for their children is invaluable.
Mary, as a mother, did this for Jesus. But she’s also our mother; the spiritual mother to all Christians (John 20:26-27) and the mother of the Church. That’s a pretty big job! I know an amazing women who has eleven children (wow!), but Mary, as everyone’s mother, has many billions of children! Can you imagine keeping track of that many children’s prayer requests, soccer practices, food preferences, and ballet recitals? But she does! She is Queen of Heaven, Queen of Apostles, Queen of Angels. Mary fights for her children when we ask her to. She draws us closer to her Son Jesus. Mary isn’t meek and mild, but a strong, independent women who puts others before herself, lives out her vocation to its fullness, and honors God in all of her actions. Why wouldn’t you want her as a role model?
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, ora pro nobis!