Mary as Wife and Mother
There are times when we just simply lose the plot; everything falls apart, our reasoning unravels and our tongues waggle with a life of their own. When this happens to a priest giving a homily, this can be most embarrassing. When it happens at a mass which is on a great solemnity and the congregation includes students in a formation house, this can be an occasion of hilarity or mortification, depending on where you are sitting. The sagging heads of the older friars of the community should have been warning enough to just stop, but no...
Twenty-five minutes later as we gather together for breakfast, this officiating priest turns to me with the conspiratorial air, commenting, “I really don’t know why we have to include this feast of the Assumption, it just makes everything more difficult”.
Musing further on this important solemnity, I suddenly realized that there were indeed some very slippery spots besides the role of tradition in church teaching.
Jesus taught by word of mouth. He referred to the Jewish Scriptures but he himself wrote no letters, no instructions, no books and he instructed his apostles and disciples to do the same, to preach the good news to the whole world. Thus they taught what they had heard from Jesus and as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
As the good news of Jesus is spread and the church increased, the various writings that today we call the New Testament appeared but that early tradition of the Apostles continued. Eighty generations of Christians separate us from the time of the apostles. These generations are our brothers and sisters passing on the living truth from one generation to the next, just as we do in families to preserve the memories of our past.
That of course was the easy bit; now for the slippery spot that I mentioned. Our heritage from the Patristic Fathers defended the Assumption on two counts; “Mary was sinless and a perpetual virgin and therefore could not suffer bodily deterioration”. Sin, death and corruption are seen as something emanating from the sexual act, ouch. Eve as the mother of all women is the temptress that leads men into sin. We do not have to scratch too far into the dust to find this ugly portrayal of such a wonderful gift.
Catholic treatments of marriage since Vatican II have adopted a striking optimism toward the marriage relation, its sacramental power, and the Christian family as "domestic Church," developing a hermeneutic of marriage as above all an expression of interpersonal love.
Official teaching documents have recast the tradition's focus on marriage's procreative purpose accordingly, saying that the commitment of Catholic spouses to parenthood is ultimately grounded in their own love relationship, as prior and foundational.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “man (sic) is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation.”
In the writings of St Pope John Paul II, the interdependent love relationships of marriage and parenthood are also based on and require sexual complementarity, including gender roles. We can see here how things get messier around the edge as we begin to listen to stories that have remained unheard until now. Stories that have made us into a humbler people and a humbler church.
Given the dismal state of the institution of marriage in modernized Western cultures, widely differing forms of marriage in other cultures, and continued systemic disadvantaging of women within marriage around the globe, it is imperative that we, as church, listen respectfully and with love as a mother for her children, and especially to those her children who are suffering.
Mary, a real and historical woman, a wife and a mother who has been given to us as our mother and as an example. Someone we can associate with; a human person like you and me. We need to take Mary off the pietistic marble pedestal and place her in our hearts and in our homes as we would to any other beloved mother. Mary must not be de-womanized as the mother who bore Jesus, the incarnated Word of God in her womb.
In 1973, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in their letter Behold Your Mother," stated, "Christ has risen from the dead, we need no further assurance of our faith. Mary assumed into heaven serves rather as a gracious reminder to the Church that our Lord wishes all whom the Father has given Him to be raised with Him. In Mary taken to glory, to union with Christ, the Church sees herself answering the invitation of the heavenly Bridegroom."