Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ecce Mater Tua


“Behold your mother.” (Jn. 19.27)
 (Unable to find photo attribution)
“[Mary] is imbedded in literally everything, in every detail of all things visible and invisible.
That's why she is my mother. And your mother. And everyone's mother. She is the Mother of the Church. She is the Mother of the World.” ~LR (post ‘The Closing of the Day’ 5/31/12, 1:19pm)

What began in my mind as response and follow-up to LR’s inspired post has turned into a post on its own. With LR I share the desire to see in Mary hope for our world. Each of our postmodern authors have taken their approach to Mary in the face of some perceived problem in the contemporary world: Daly, Warner, Boss and Ratzinger each diagnosed the problem differently (sometimes vastly different); excepting Warner, each found in Mary a potential solution (even if only Daly’s “free-wheeling symbol,” 87). In a previous comment to MCW’s ‘Defense of Spretnak’ (5/25/12, 4:14pm), I expressed a shared expectation with Spretnak that premodern Mary can offer hope to our postmodern world. However, instead of Spretnak’s formulation of problem and solution, I have been meditating on another way thinking the problem and the solution. Here are my humble thoughts:
With traditional bulwarks being washed away, you and I, postmodern men and women all, stand on uncertain ground – perhaps, even, upon no ground at all. Our “crisis of meaning” results from a fragmented and chaotic field of knowledge through which the search for meaning appears “difficult and often fruitless.” As a result, values are found to have their value only by and in those who hold them. But, as many discover, values which are only valuable insofar as one holds them are no values at all. Release them and they drop into nothing. Our highest values, at our whim, fall into an abyss – upon which, I suggest, we postmoderns often find ourselves standing.

What is this ailment except nihilism? Who suffers from nihilism but the human person? Acutely aware, John Paul II wrote: “Nihilism is a denial of the humanity and of the very identity of the human being. …The neglect of being inevitably leads to losing touch with objective truth and therefore with the very ground of human dignity.” (Fides et ratio 90; previous quotes: 81) 

Present nihilism dissolves human dignity. (I do not think I need convince many of this, but if I am wrong, please speak up.) I wonder whether Mary can be the champion of the inherent dignity of the human person. 
In our course of reading, it appears we find many different Marys. We find the “Second Eve” who stands beside the “Second Adam” undoing the original knots of sin; Mary is young Jewish girl of Joachim and Anna, a primordial contemplative in the Temple; Mary is Ephrem’s Container of the Uncontained, Cyril’s Theotokos, Akathistos’ protectress, the Assumed Mother who gives comfort to the dying and guarantee of resurrection, Damian’s and Voragine’s jealous guardian of Her devotees, and so on.

But perhaps, these are not all different Marys. Perhaps, perhaps the heart of faith can see in all these one, multi-faced Mary who impossibly contains all the roles and functions of her tradition of devotees. In an earlier post, I mentioned the concept of doctrinal development: In each time, region, culture and state, devotees have seen and thought about Mary is various and different ways. The eyes of faith can see these developmental variations as gradual unfoldings of the single Person of Mary.

As we have seen, I think, each age find in Mary what or who that age needs. Our age, I suggest, needs the Person of Mary, that is, Mary the type, defender and advocate of the dignity of the human person.
Mary’s role for us as advocate of personhood, is not a new idea. Edith Stein wrote, “As co-redeemer by the side of the Redeemer, she emerges from the natural order. Both mother and son spring from the human race, and both embody human nature…they have lived for the sake of humanity.” (Works II.189-190; trans. FM Oben)

Ratzinger also saw Mary’s remedial answer: “Mary is the image of the Church, the image of the believing person, who can come to salvation and to himself only through the gift of love – through grace.  [Mary] – “full of grace” -  represents humankind, which as a whole is expectation… and which can never fill that void that threatens humanity when he does not find that absolute love which gives him meaning, salvation, all that is truly necessary in order to live.” (Introduction to Christianity, 280; trans. JR Foster)

While a Roman Catholic in creed, I have grasped the basics of the Marian doctrines. But prior to this course my imagination had never been fired with the richness and beauty of the Marian cosmos. If I have worn my heart of my sleeve in this post, it is my own confession of the wonder I am beginning to experience in the Blessed Virgin in the face of the grim “caduke”  universe (“Not that all disappears or falls, but all can fall and disappear.” J-L Marion, God without Being, 126; trans. T Carlson). 

For this awakening to the treasure of Mary’s mothership, I am grateful. She is our mother, because She is a gift to us from Christ. On the cross, Jesus spoke the words “Behold your mother” to a disciple. John Paul II noted: 
“It is not merely a gesture of a family nature, as of a son making provision for his mother. But it is a gesture of the world’s Redeemer who assigns to Mary… a role of new motherhood in relation to all those who are called to membership of the Church… Jesus wished to give Mary the mission of accepting all his followers of every age as her own sons and daughters.” (Jesus Son and Savior, 469; general audience 11/23/1988)

I take solace that Mary stands between me and nothing. I pray for her help against my and our ways of dissolving and wounding robust, healthy and joyous personhood:

Sancta Maria Mater,
advocata pro humanae personae dignitate,
ora pro nobis omnibus Deum!



  1. "For this awakening to the treasure of Mary’s mothership, I am grateful." As am I, for the opportunity to share the treasures of the tradition with all of you!


  2. I whole-heartedly believe that Mary is the champion of our inherent human dignity! If in her is the sum of all we were created to be, then she certainly has the power to help each person live to his or her created potential. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights from the course, they are very much appreciated, and I am humbled to have been mentioned. One new thing I learned from your post is that Edith Stein called Mary co-redeemer-- that is significant!

    Also, I absolutely love the image of Mary and child Jesus that you posted.

    Thank you,


  3. As usual, RJP, your "labor of love" comment/post is excellent and much appreciated.