Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Biblical Vocabulary

I wanted to build off of the work “genf” has done in laying out the biblical parallels-- for while I agree with each observation, I think more can be said about the biblical vocabulary from which the infancy narratives have been constructed. Some of these resonances are quite explicit, as when the author of pseudo-Matthew connects an event in Mary's timeline to a prophecy with some variation on “then was fulfilled that which was said by [prophet],” or when, as we observed in class, the Protoevangelium appropriates language from 1 Samuel to cast Anna as Hannah. But I also think there are less explicit, although by no means accidental, connections to be made.

The sparrow nest in the scenes of Anna's lament, for instance, serves as a point of confluence for two biblical references that I think very much typify Anna's experience. Psalm 84/5 (“How lovely is your dwelling place,” itself quite relevant) includes the lines “even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God.” This association with offspring and proximity to the divine is quite evocative. Likewise, the association in Proverbs 26:2 between sparrows and undeserved censure: “Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest.” Both Joachim and Anna are convinced that they have been cursed by barrenness, yet are in fact made special by this inability to conceive (a point made explicitly in the Golden Legend, “when [God] closes a woman's womb, he does this in order to open it miraculously later on... delayed conceptions and infertile childbearing are usually all the more wonderful!"). It seems to me that the sparrows use biblical associations to foreshadow both the appearance of offspring and the denial of a curse.

If that seems like a stretch, the Golden Legend rendition of Mary and Joseph's betrothal contains most unambiguous vocabulary. The priest sets up the test to determine Mary's husbands with explicit reference to the Isaiah prophecy concerning the blooming of a rod from the house of David. Joseph, in the process of seeking Mary's husband, “brought his branch forward, it flowered at once, and a dove came from heaven and perched upon it.” Given the opening of the Golden Legend text, which traces Joseph's descent from David, could this be anything other than a physical foreshadowing of the allegorical fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the advent of the Messiah? We mentioned in class that the earlier accounts seem to use Joseph's anger and incomprehension as a tool to elevate Mary. This later account seems to me to be rehabilitating Joseph, employing the very familiar image of the Holy Spirit/dove and blooming branch from the line of David to cast some reflected glory back onto Joseph.

Mary's weaving the veil of the temple is another important element of this vocabulary-- it bookends the entire Christological narrative cycle. Mary weaves the veil immediately before the Annunciation, and the veil of the temple is torn at the death of Jesus. (Incidentally, I think something could also be said about the changing colors of the veil in the accounts. The earlier texts allot Mary the purple, and her fellow virgins tease her for its royal connotations, allowing the angel to rebuke them and affirm Mary's role as “virgin queen.” The later accounts give Mary the white, which might reflect a shift in emphasis-- she is not a queen who happens to be a virgin, she is a virgin, elevated to queenship on account of her eternal virginity.)

“genf” notes that “My mind is particularly drawn to another great image of a joyful woman, Miriam, dancing with her tambourines, which is not particularly relevant, but perhaps an example of the ways in which women in the Bible seem to be able to express great joy in and because of God.” I quite agree, and I think that the association is in fact very relevant. I too thought immediately of the other dancing Miriam, and think that perhaps the effect is intentional. Mary seems to me to be evoking many important biblical women, starting (as we will see next week) with Eve (we saw this in Joseph's fears that he is a new Adam, and that the new Eve was duped like her predecessor), but also Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, Miriam, etc. This I think is also deliberate, to cast Mary as the culmination, or perhaps synechdochic representation, of all these women, the one who can be all mothers because she bore the one through whom everything came to be.

On a slightly different tack of transferred meaning and biblical resonance, I think there is also something interesting to be said about the slightly differing sequence of events around Anna's pregnancy. In the Protoevangelium, Joachim and Anna are visited separately, and told only that they will conceive a child. In Golden Legend version, the angel comes to Anna and Joachim, separately, and foretells to each the entire narrative-- Anna, in a noble company of biblical barren women, will bear Mary, who will in turn bear Jesus. In possession of all these spoilers, they meet at the gate and are “sure they were to have a child.” Only then is Mary conceived. In the Old English Nativity of Mary, however, it seems to me that the author has arranged the sequence so as to have an internal resonance and parallel with Mary's experience: Joachim leaves Anna in distress, only to be told that she has already conceived a daughter, and that he will return to find her pregnant. His return journey is lengthy enough that in sum, he has been gone from Anna for six months, just as in the Protoevangelium Joseph returns to find Mary six months pregnant. I think there is a transference of qualities occurring here, or at least an argument to explain why Mary is worthy of bearing a sinless being. Her own birth is perhaps elevated by structural association with the birth of her Son.

I feel like these examples could be endless-- the young Jesus encountering snakes and lions, his concern with the alphabet and its first letter, Mary's feeding by the angels, etc. Though perhaps non-canonical, these texts participate extensively in the economy of biblical language.


Biblical Parallels in the Infancy Narratives

In class, we talked about the parallels that Mary's infancy narratives have to other Biblical stories. I think this resonance is very purposeful, in that it gives these apocryphal narratives the ability to stand in the midst of scripture. We talked about these stories functioning as answers to the questions that linger in the Gospels, and the reason I think these stories are successful in that aim is due to the familiar stories of going off into the wilderness, the mother's barrenness, and the unsureness about a physical body. 

First, we get the image of Joachim going off into the wilderness, after being shamed because of his failure to produce a child. The Protoevangelium of James tells us that Joachim "went into the wilderness; there he pitched his tent and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying to himself, 'I shall not go down either for food or for drink until the Lord my God visits me; my prayer shall be food and drink.'" This is extremely similar to Matthew's account of Jesus' journey into the wilderness. Matthew says, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights and afterwards he was famished." Obviously, Joachim is not tested by the devil, but the otherwise similar descriptions of their journey into the wilderness suggests a desire to have Mary's infancy narrative be read from the very start as one that could exist in relationship with the accepted scripture. In the other narratives, there is not as much of an obvious parallel to Jesus' temptation. For example, in Jacobus, it is merely, "He went to live with his shepherds." However, there is present in Mark's telling of the temptation of Jesus an image that appears in all four infancy narratives, which is "the angels waited on him." In the infancy narratives, there is the same image of Mary being waited on by angels; for example, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew tells us that Mary is "fed daily by angels." So, in this sense, a parallel is drawn between Jesus and his grandfather, done perhaps to show a link between Jesus and his patriarchal ancestry, even though they are not technically related according to scripture. The parallel between Jesus and his mother is particularly interesting because it shows that Jesus and Mary are both worthy enough to be waited on by heavenly creatures.

The barrenness of Anna brings to mind particularly the barrenness of Hannah. The similarities with Hannah's story are quite numerous. First, in all of the Mary infancy narratives, Anna promises that if God gives her a child, "I would bring them to you to your temple." (Concerning the Nativity of Mary). There is the same sort of promise in 1 Samuel; Hannah says,"I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death." Both of these women seem to bargain with God in order to receive a child. They are also both essentially forfeiting their rights as mother, to take care of these children until they reach adulthood, but rather they are placing their children in the care of God. In this way, before either of these children are born, they are set aside and designated as special. Perhaps Mary could be seen as being a parallel of Anna and Hannah, because she similarly is chosen to give up her mothering rights, as Jesus is to be the Savior, the one who dies for the sins of the world. Yet, both Mary and Hannah rejoice that they are able to be vessels for Samuel and Jesus, a great man of God, and the Son of God himself. Hannah says, "My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God." While similarly, Mary says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." These women seem to have such joy in their ability to serve God through mothering (and forfeiting their mothering), and perhaps it is partly this that the cult of Mary seizes on. My mind is particularly drawn to another great image of a joyful woman, Miriam, dancing with her tambourines, which is not particularly relevant, but perhaps an example of the ways in which women in the Bible seem to be able to express great joy in and because of God. I think Mary and her Magnificat are the greatest examples of joy in the Bible.

 Finally, there is another parallel drawn between Mary and Jesus in that some aspect of their physical body is doubted, but then proved to be real or intact. Of course, this is seen in the story of Doubting Thomas in the Bible. After Jesus is resurrected, Thomas does not believe that it has indeed happened and says, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). Likewise, the midwife Salome doubts that Mary's virginity is intact and says, "Unless I insert my finger and test her condition, I will not believe that a virgin has given birth" (PJ). In a way Salome and Thomas could represent the doubters of the early Christian church. With that in mind, it is interesting to see the kind of punishments each receive for their lack of belief. Thomas is merely chided: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (John 20:29). Salome receives a much harsher punishment - her hand falls off. She says, "Woe for my wickedness and my unbelief; for I have tempted the living God; and behold, my hand falls away from me consumed by fire" (PJ). Thus, we see the punishment for doubting the virginity of Mary is portrayed as much harsher than doubting the resurrected Jesus, which seems counterintuitive, but shows the kind of devotion that people felt towards Mary.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Marian Narrative: Apology or Fantasy?

Of the many possible motives behind the composition of early Christian texts concerning the life of Mary such as the Protevangelium Jacobi (PJ), apologetic considerations certainly emerge as some of the most compelling and immediately identifiable. Early Church members were desperate to defend the legitimacy of their faith to the skeptical (and often polemical) anti-Christian philosophers, Jews, and polytheists among whom they lived, and the gospels inconveniently left an immense dearth of background information and supporting details concerning the lives of Jesus Christ and his first followers. The mysterious development of the Christian movement in a backwater province of the Roman Empire necessitated the appropriation of an older theistic tradition in order for the Church to assert itself as relevant in its contemporary religious context, and this it found in Judaism; however, the obscure heritage of the movement's founding figure provided an easy target for writers seeking to undermine the upstart cult's increasing popularity.

Origen wrote his extensive and seminal apologetic treatise Against Celsus solely to defend the Christian faith against one such attack, the philosopher Celsus' True Doctrine, which has only survived to us in the fragments quoted by Origen. In one especially useful passage (Contra Celsum 1.28) Origen relates the charges presented by Celsus against Mary, who claims that she came from a poor family in a nondescript Jewish village and made her livelihood by weaving. After she married Joseph, a poor carpenter, she was convicted of adultery and driven out of the house, so she wandered down to Egypt where she gave birth to the illegitimate child Jesus, and when he grew up he learned magic and acquired miraculous powers from the Egyptians and returned to his homeland to be worshipped as a god. The outrage such accusations would have provoked among the early Christians is obvious, but Celsus apparently goes even further and claims that the perpetrator of Mary's infidelity was a soldier named Panthera, making Jesus the bastard son of a mixed union between a Jew and a Roman of the lowest classes (Contra Celsum 1.32). The Jewish Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli) contains a similar account (in less explicitly vitriolic rhetoric), indicating some kind of common tradition among anti-Christian communities. Such attacks on the blessed Virgin could not be left unresolved if Jesus' ministry and message were to be believed, so the composition of such a text as PJ clearly became an excellent and necessary vessel for rebuttal.

We see in the PJ narrative that all of these counts against Mary's life and background are addressed in detail, so that no further doubts might surface. Instead of a poor family from a small rural village, Mary's parents are some of the richest Jews in Jerusalem (PJ 1.1-3) and also belong to the royal tribe of David (10.1); Mary does not work as a seamstress for wages, but was appointed only to sew a sacred curtain for the temple of God, presumably the same which is later torn during Jesus' crucifixion (10.1-2, 12.1); Joseph (an innocuous old man) is not merely a poor home carpenter but a successful building contractor (9.2, 13.1). Perhaps most importantly, Mary's virginity is safeguarded from her birth, first in the temple and then as a ward in the house of Joseph, until the time of divine conception; her purity is tested and proven by the Jewish high priest in a strange ritual, and finally Salome's postpartum inspection demonstrates the anomalous intactness of her virginal hymen, even after giving birth. Throughout the narrative, there is not a single moment of her life left unaddressed when she could have been defiled. This is arguably the most important doctrinal innovation of the entire PJ text, since it established the concept of Mary's perpetual virginity, and also provided a foundation for virginity to be viewed as a virtue in Christian women, leading to the development of ascetic continence and related movements in the early Church.

With this background established, it seems that critics of Jesus' parentage would have been satisfactorily quelled, and later texts regarding Mary would not need to present further apologetic reinforcement. However, comparison with later writings in the PJ tradition reveals that this was not the case; the "Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew" written several hundred years later even further emphasizes aspects of Marian veneration, and many details are embellished to make her conception and childhood even more glorified. Her father becomes even richer and more pious; Mary is not only protected from defilement, but willfully vows her perpetual virginity; she is constantly accompanied by a group of other dedicated virgins; the high priest's purity test is administered not once but seven times; and the postpartum virginity is confirmed not by only one but by both midwives. The later "Old English Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew" makes Joachim even richer (the wealthiest Jew alive!); Mary's order of avowed virgins in the Jewish temple becomes a standard fixture; she creates the first regimented monastic schedule; she becomes the foremost expert in Jewish law and worship; Joseph is grafted into the tribe of Judah so that Jesus would have both a royal and priestly lineage; and the high priests confirm Mary's purity not only by seven tests, but by countless signs of divine mysteries. Finally, Jacobus de Veragine's Golden Legend creates an entire family tree of apostles and early Christian saints around Mary's lineage, and she receives visitations from angels and the vision of God on a daily basis.

Therefore, many of the tenets of Marian doctrine that we find rooted in the narrative of PJ were apparently promulgated by the early Church for entirely apologetic purposes, addressing specific accusations and attacks against Jesus' background. However, we see the story of Mary's life and heritage become increasingly grandiose throughout the centuries, in spite of the fact that it was no longer under attack or even in question. In fact, after Christianity had become firmly established as the most prominent religion of the Mediterranean in the fourth and fifth centuries, there ceased to be any challenges or disparagements whatsoever of the tradition of Mary's background presented in PJ. So what precipitated this sensational enhancement of the Marian narrative evident throughout these later texts? The simplest answer of course would point to the increased elevation and veneration of the Virgin in the Late Antique and Early Medieval Church, but perhaps the question is unanswerable. In comparison with the original outline of PJ, these later traditions seem ludicrous and completely fantastic, and are likely as much a product of their contemporary cultural and literary environment as any indication of real piety towards Mary on a progressively greater scale. However, in order to defend such an argument, the examination would require an extensive analysis of an enormous and unwieldy corpus of literature, so for now the question must remain open for interpretation and theorization.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mary and Development

Yesterday we began our approach to Mary and the Marian cult by the texts of scripture in which readers have found and reflected upon the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I think this scriptural path is the best and necessary first approach to Mary. And what do we discover about Mary, that figure whom Walter of Wimborne and others believed to exhaust all human effort at description or praise? We discover it would seem very little. So, in my mind, a question arises: How did the all-pervasive (or is this too strong?) and deep-seated devotion to Mary in much of Christian experience, east and west, north and south, arise from such meager beginnings? That is, how did so much spring from so little?

Our professor sketched some of the ways that Mary and her devotion has been interpreted as a historical phenomenon. Some have seen the virgin birth as a mythical element drawn (not from Hannah) but from stories of divine insemination and birth of demigods among mortals from Hellenistic religions. Some have seen the Marian cult as an accretion that distracts from or disintegrates the reverence due to God alone, thus a form of idolatry (here especially the continental Reformers, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and so forth). As mentioned, feminist theory can both see in Mary the archetype of the goddess welling up from deep emotional springs, as well as a feminine figure whose subordination to her son Jesus represents the ultimate patriarchal triumph in the subordination of mother to son. I'm sure there are many more theories and interpretations to add here. My point, however, is not to provide a catalogue to point out the multiplicity of interpretations which tackle the same basic problem: How and why did so much arise from so little?

Whichever interpretive grid you or I might adopt, try out or test in our thinking about the Marian cult, it seems clear we are dealing with some sort of narrative of development. In fact, I think one can safely say that Mary is the best case study of development, either in doctrine or liturgy.

I shall say a bit more to fill out that assertion. But first I should clarify what I mean by development. The idea of development of doctrine was classically articulated by John Henry Newman (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845). Newman revised the successivist view of Christian history that sees no real change or alteration between the preaching of the apostles and the ecclesial teaching in following ages. The primary relationship in successivist view of Christian history might be preservation. Newman's idea of development, which has since seemingly gained consensus, argues for continuity of a different sort. The apostolic message remains the same in essence, but over the course of time, thinkers have deepened it by greater understanding, have broadened it by following out implicit notions and ideas already present in the apostolic message. The classic metaphor of development is the oak tree, whose grandeur came gradually and slowly from the little acorn, while remaining the same in essence.

Mary is the best case study of such development, I would argue. While the Trinity is another such development in my judgment, many still deny this. Certain theologians see the Trinity not as a development but as a correct exegesis of implicit relationships between the three mentioned divine beings, Father, Jesus the Son and the Spirit. While explicit Trinitarian statements may be scarce, such proponents might (and I think do) say that the Trinity is nevertheless everywhere in scripture. The Trinitarian ubiquity is evident only to those who see it aright, that is, with the right hermeneutical readings. (I shall return, I hope, to hermeneutical readings of Mary.)

But I do not think the same could be held with Mary, except with only the most devoted readers. In our scripture readings, we most helpfully read up front many of the passages that will later be seen as fore-shadowing or signifying Mary in the Hebrew Bible as well as the direct mentions of Mary in the New Testament. Even these are rather few in number.

What I am trying here to say is this: Whatever your stripe of seeing or interpreting Mary, one has to admit things have developed from such a small beginning to the broad extension and depth of the Marian cult. I might think it a positive development, an idolatrous one, a patriarchal or a development of feminine resistance, etc. but one is still dealing with a development narrative of one sort or other.

If that is the case, in taking this course we can be looking various developmental narratives regarding Mary and testing them to see which fit. While (thankfully) our reading will deal mostly with primary sources and less theory and interpretation, we may not be deluged with narratives, but I am sure we shall each be bringing our own with us or weaving them as we go. Because of this, I am interested now in trying to clarify specific features in dealing with narratives of Marian devotion. First, if it is a positive or negative development, positive or negative in regard to what standard? Where does this standard derive? Have you any other ideas?

I very much welcome insights for examining and scrutinizing narratives, now or as we proceed. But I want to now turn to a thought of my own on seeing the development of Mary.

As we heard, Mary’s first unnamed mention in history is Paul’s Galatians 4.4 (c50AD) (“born of woman”). While Paul was clearly busy with other matters, Christians seem to have developed more and more interest in Mary. Mark (c. late 70s AD) (and Matthew) gave us Mary and brothers as trying to rein in Jesus and a platform to point out those who ‘do the will of God.’ Matthew (c80AD) also gave us Mary as spouse of Joseph, who received the angelic dreams. Luke (c85AD) went further to focus the attention of the infancy narrative on Mary, the recipient of the annunciation, a fulfillment of Hannah’s sign or type, who gave us Mary’s own voice in the Magnificat, and showed us Mary as distressed mother, the addressee of Simeon’s prophecy, and even a glimpse into Mary’s interior life (2.19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.). John, rich in symbolism (c90), passes over infancy narratives (the primary motive for mentioning Mary hitherto). John still includes Mary, not a Mary who fears that Jesus has gone mad, but a Mary intricately linked to Jesus’ ministry, first at the wedding at Cana, where Jesus and Mary share the secret as to his power and his “hour” which has not yet come (2.4-5). Where else does John place Mary? Why, at the climax of the ministry, at the foot of the Cross, where Jesus in agony made provision for her with his disciple. Thus, John passed over the infancy altogether but still inserted Mary into Jesus’ ministry, at its crucial beginnings and climax. So far is this from Paul’s unnamed mention of the “woman.” 

As for the last two points, Acts (c115AD) went on to include Mary, beyond Jesus’ ministry among the apostles and followers, as they chose the first successor and received the fiery anointing of the Spirit on Pentecost. Here Acts placed Mary at the nascence also of the infant Church. 

Finally, Revelation 12 (late first century) seems to depict allegorically or figuratively a Mary in cosmic import. The unnamed mother of Jesus is again unnamed, but now she is “a great sign… in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (12.1)” She is now an agent of in the great divine drama of redemption.

What am I trying to argue in setting up this progression within New Testament texts? Presently, I make only a modest claim. I think the progressively prominent role of Mary, which we find working its way through the New Testament texts, is suggestive. If we take the gospels to reflect not merely one author’s view, but also reflecting the interests and needs of that Christian author’s communities, I think we can then see in this (so rough and crude) sketch an emerging and growing interest and value for Mary among some of the earliest Christians themselves. While Paul had bigger fish to fry in his frantic missions, Christian communities themselves preserved, transmitted and brought forth a greater and deeper importance to Mary.

If we then set up the New Testament texts in this way, and infer from the texts to the Christian communities themselves, as I have suggested, we can see a development of Marian devotion, or at least, interest and fascination within the very New Testament itself.

This idea intrigues me. Most of the time, Marian devotion is portrayed or simply asserted to be extra-biblical or a later corruption. However, the Marian material within the chronological New Testament texts suggests that Marian interest emerged among the earliest Christians. Perhaps, one could even suggest that the New Testaments texts might mark out a kind of trajectory of Marian interest that will continue and flower later. In short, that the seed from which the Marian cult grew is itself biblical.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the texts from the Hebrew Bible (or Septuagint) in which later Christians, searching primarily from prophecies about Jesus, will find Mary. I look forward to reflecting upon the ways Christian thinkers develop Marian hermeneutics in reading such prophetic, typological or allegorical texts as resources to find and to plumb the depths hidden in the figure of the mother of Jesus.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mary Among the Hmong

I wanted to share some excerpts from interviews I did for my BA. These "excerpts" are pretty long, but they're interesting, and they give you some idea of how Hmong Catholics think about and approach Mary.

Part 1: "Like when I was talking about like rites and rituals, I mean, like in/like we're saying, like I was saying, I think no one questions communion [mmhmm], you know, we, we understand that. But I think some of the other things that the Hmong haven’t practiced - that I, I’ve noticed big in other ethnic groups - is like, for example, the veneration of Mary [mmhmm]. um, like I know like in the Spanish-speaking community, that, that's really important to them: Mary is a really, uh, a, a real central figure to them, and I don't know if it's be/the reason why it's not with the Hmong is because she has not revealed herself to us - not that I know of, - and maybe that she doesn't resonate with us, so I think some people do - like, I'll admit that she still hasn't resonated with me [mmhmm], and I don't know if it's maybe, because I wasn't/I'm not a cradle Catholic. I under/like, I can look at her from a like an academic view and say, “Okay, I know Mary is. I know why the Catholics find her important.” But, how, you know, or certain saint. I know why this Saint is important, but why doesn't, like, why doesn't this Saint resonate with me? Why don't I feel that same passion? [mmhmm] because may, maybe I haven't come across a situation where I can relate, and I think that's how I learned from [friend], ‘cause I told her, I said, “well, do you think, that's the thing: sometimes, when people are talking about Mary … I mean, like, I'm a mom, but somehow it doesn't/what is/I under, I can understand it from an academic point of view, but why doesn't it resonate for us?” So, she was like, “well, I think it's just like, she can be a figure for like when you are going through hard times. Then you have to think, well, think about Mary, who had to witness her son's death -what she would’ve/what was she feeling? how did she survive that? and look to her to find that strength.” That's how now, that's how Mary started resonating with me, so that, when things do happen in my life, I'll say, well, well, how/I mean, look at Mary, you know, she, um, she had to sit there and witness her son being crucified [mmhmm], you know, and even like everything that's been going on, I'm always thinking - especially with the culture thing, you know, how, how can we the faith through our culture, - the think I always feel, what would Jesus do? (haha) . . . You know, so I, I/I always think like that. I think like/or like Paul [the Apostle], for him, he resonates with me a lot (ahaha). You know, I wouldn't, you know … I would be like, you know, what would Paul have said, or what would he have done, and I/I do once I come across, um, situations or just things/instances, I do question that. I turned to them - those figures."

It's interesting how Jesus and Paul resonate more with the speaker than does Mary, and that, moreover, the speaker even goes so far as to say that Mary does not (has not yet) resonate(d) with the Hmong.

Part 2: "well, I could tell you, um, lot’ta people say that, because we’re Catholic and we believe, we worship Mary, be - uh, eh, eh … and I always tell them, no, we don't worship Mary. Mary is a significant figure of Jesus, and it is Jesus mom, and we recognize her as a mother of Jesus, and we pray, we ask for him, ask her to help us and guide us [mmhmm], but there is no shape or form that we worship her [mmhmm]. Okay? They talk about, uh, uh, you know, they say that the religion that we, that I was in is not as pure as other religion. I say, there is no religion out there that is pure [mmhmm]. Okay?"

" … one lady approached me with and say your religion is not pure, because you don't believe in God. You don't believe in Jesus. You worship Mary, so, therefore, your faith is not as good as ours, because we believe, uh, there’s God, and there's Jesus, and I told this lady, “you are wrong … I told her right away, up front, “you know, I pray to Mary. I asked Mary to help me. I do all the things that I request from God or Jesus, but on Sunday, when I go into church, mm, Mary have never come to a, a, a conversation or from the clergy or the priests say, we worship you Mary. [mmhmm.] (hehe) We pray for you, we, you know, request prayer from you [mmhmm] to, you know, help us, support us, because you are the mother of, because you know, um, you are the mother of Jesus, so we look upon you for this, that, the service and support that you are - you know, a mother to the greatest creator of us . . . If you tell, if you say to me that I worship Mary, and I think you're wrong, because you don't know the full extent of Mary figure to us, and you just hear people say, “oh, you are Catholic (sle), so you talk a lot about Mary, you must worship Mary.” No! You know, I have a good three hour conversation with her, this lady, she keep bringing up again and again and I, I, you know, you talk to the person who have education about religion [mmhmm], and, uh, you know, you asked me the wrong question. You attack me the wrong way [mmhmm], and you ask me, you know, be honest with you, there is nobody out there worship Mary [mmhmm]. We asked Mary, because Mary is Jesus mother, and is the person that God give a gift to her, so we need to appreciate who she is, and ask for assistance from her [mmhmm]. Now, I praying, and asking Mary doesn't mean that I worship her [mmhmm]. Okay? . . . we only ask Mary for support [mmhmm]. Okay? We, um, understand that Mary is a important figure to Jesus and to God, because they'll give, uh, from him, so, uh, if you talk about going Sunday and talk about it, we don't, we don't go and, and, and, you know, always talk about Mary and Jesus, and we won't talk about God and every figure. We even talk about Moses. We talk about John. We talk about all those … saints - all those people. But are we worship all of them? No. We only worship God. We only talk when we go Sunday's, you know when we go talk about God, we, you know . . . We all follow one rule: you know, Jesus and God. Every other figure are, you're asking for support and for help. Yes, there are, there might be somebody think Mary is very important [heh], and, you know, constant do it [mmhmm], but … how do I know? You know, they might just be asking Mary for support [mmhmm], but I can go and say, “you know what, hey you, every day you eat and drink and you talk about Mary, you must worship Mary.” That's not true. That's not true . . . . I have education about it. I read about it. I had people told me about it, and even my priest, my, um, my, uh, sisters, my parish member, everybody tell me that we not worship her. We, she is a important figure for Catholic (sle) - for faith. Because, we gotta understand that Mary is the mother of Jesus, and we had the children, she should be a mother to us."

These passages highlight, among other things, how people outside the Catholic Church sometimes think about the ways in which Catholics treat and interact with Mary.


Let It Be

I am very excited for all I will learn in this course about Our Blessed Mother. In the words of Paul McCartney, "When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, Let it Be." Mary has been there for me in times of trial, and I hope to grow in my relationship with her through this course.

Lucas Williams

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Contemplation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

[The first post --what an honor!]

I'm currently taking Prof. Fulton-Brown's class on the medieval study of liberal arts. For our final project, we had to produce a rhetorical work in the medieval style. I chose to write a poem about Mary. I didn't attempt to do it in verse (or in Latin), but I did try to use the rhetorical structures that were the foundation of medieval rhetorical style. Despise not my offerings, O classmates, but enjoy!

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. Nowhere is the truth of this moral more apparent than the life of Our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She committed all her works to the Lord, and she reigns now at His side, in blessed communion with Him.

Enthroned at the foot of her Son she sits. All bodily signs of her earthly labors have been wiped away by the healing of God, and her physical beauty reflects the beauty of her virtue. The twelve-pointed crown of heaven rests upon her milky brow, and her slender figure is adorned in rich raiment. Her hair is dark as the midnight sky, and her bright eyes shine like stars. Her mild expression glows with the peaceful joy of her love. Her arms are slim and graceful, so often outstretched to those who call to her, so often folded in pious prayer. Soft are the breasts that nourished the infant Lord, and narrow is the waist to which He clung. I dare not describe that holy tabernacle, the blessed womb that bore Him. And further, to all these she adds complementary attractions: grace, modesty, and sweetness. Yet as great as her loveliness is, admiration for her beauty is a barren study beside contemplation of her life.

O Mary full of grace, Mother Most Pure! You were conceived without the stain of original sin. Sin! That accursed sin that separates man from God! That blessed sin for which Christ became man! From sin springs all that is contemptible in man’s nature. In sin, Eve became the mother of the living; full of grace, you became the Holy Mother of Christ. Unsullied by the pollution of sin, you are the only vessel fit to hold the incarnate Lord.

O obedient Mary, New Eve! You responded willingly to God’s call when told that you would be the Mother of God. Eve rejected the gift of God’s love and hid the nakedness of her body from Him, but you accepted His love and offered your body to Him for the fulfillment of His plan; Eve’s pride brought about the Fall of man, but your obedience brought about our redemption. All creation rejoiced at your words, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” So wide is your obedience to the will of the Lord that it encompasses all of humanity in salvation.

O Mary undefiled, Mother Most Chaste! You bore a Son without ever having relations with a man. Chastity is the virtue to which all spouses are called, and you, the Spouse of God, model that chastity. You remain a maiden, for you have never felt the touch of a man –and yet you are a mother. This is truly a miracle we have received from God: that a virgin should conceive, that the Lord should condescend to descend to earth, that He who alone is able to bear the weight of our sins should be born of a woman.

O humble Mary, Mystical Rose! You proclaimed the greatness of the Lord all the days of your life. Not for yourself did you claim the glory of the Lord’s conception, but for the Lord God, by whose power He was conceived. You received the message of the angel. You believed that God would fulfill his promise. You gave glory to God for his goodness. Your humility glorifies you, most venerable virgin. As a rose is made beautiful by unfurling its petals to the Sun, so are you made holy by rendering praise to the Lord.

O fruitful Mary, Holy Mother of God! You gave birth to a son, Jesus, Our Savior and Redeemer. You it was who first cradled our Savior safe in your arms, who welcomed the Creator to His creation. Through your openness to the will of the Lord, you became the bridge between heaven and earth, allowing God to become man. You bore to us the most precious gift in the most humble form –a helpless baby –and through the most humble method –the bitter pangs of labor. Just as he did not disdain to take on human flesh, so He did not scorn your labor, but rather He honored it beyond all other works.

O gentle Mary, Mother Most Amiable! You nurtured the infant Jesus with tender love and affection. Who but a mother could have cared for Our infant Lord with such devotion? Your breasts nourished the body of the infant Lord, your love his Most Sacred Heart. You stole the cries from his mouth with kisses, and the tears from his eyes with tender embraces. As a drop of dew clings to a leaf, so the infant Jesus clung to your breast. O how loving is your gentleness, O how gentle your love!

O joyful Mary, Queen of the Family! You devoted your life to the care of Jesus, your son, and Joseph, your most chaste husband. In raising your child, in tending your home, in nurturing your family you found so much happiness. For great happiness is not restricted to those of great deeds, but to those of great virtue. What joy to hear Our Lord’s first words, to see His first steps! What joy to guide Him and teach Him! What joy to watch Him grow! O Mary, Cause of Our Joy, heaven itself rejoiced with you.

O wise Mary, Seat of Wisdom! You kept in your heart all the Lord’s words, and you guided your actions by them. In your goodness, Mother of Good Counsel, you gave them to us to follow as well: “Do whatever He tells you.” So small was your speech, but so great was its effect! By your labor did Jesus begin life, and by your wisdom did He begin his labor. Oh that we shared in your wisdom! To contemplate the ways of the Lord should be our highest goal and greatest honor. May your last words to us be always our first rule.

O faithful Mary, Mother Most Admirable! You followed your son throughout his ministry, even unto his last journey at Calvary. Closer than his shadow you followed him, listened to him, learned from him, and when atop Calvary, his shadow melded with his cross, still you remained with him. You were wounded by his every wound –every blow, every insult, every lash of the whip, every lagging step and gasping breath. Your face was wrinkled, your joints stiff, and your back bowed; your aging body was weak, but your spirit is strong.

O mournful Mary, Mother of Sorrows! You suffered great distress at the death of Jesus, your Son. He whom you bore into life you then bore in death, for into your arms they laid the stricken body of Our Savior, the body of Our Lord, the body of your Son. Who can be so heartless as to be unmoved by so deep a sorrow as a mother mourning her child? O Mary, body bent with weeping, soul broken in sorrow, for no small sorrow do you mourn. Yet this sorrow brings us joy, for from His death is born our eternal life.

O glorious Mary, Virgin Most Powerful! You reign as Queen of Heaven, Empress of the Universe, adored by all the angels and saints. Your love for God gave you faith; your faith inspired your obedience; and your obedience is rewarded with power. On earth, you offered your body to be ruled by the will of the Lord; in heaven, it is His will that you should rule over His Body, the Church. The sun, the moon, the stars all rejoice to witness such a perfect communion of Creator and creature, but the light they radiate cannot compare with your heavenly glory.

O merciful Mary, Help of Christians! You advocate for us from your throne in heaven, interceding on our behalf with your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. You are both Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, mother of the sinless and mother of the sinful. Truly you are our mother: you teach us in our folly, guide us in our confusion, comfort us in our affliction, and most importantly, pray for us to your Son. O Mary, in your power, you have mercy on the Church that calls you Mother.

To you, Blessed Virgin Mary, I offer myself: my thoughts, my words, my actions, my hopes, my sufferings, and my love. You walked in holiness all your days, and there is so much that can be gained by meditating on your life. I dedicate this humble work to you, Blessed Mother. Despise not my offerings, O clement Gate of Heaven, but pray for me continuously so that, by the grace of Our Lord, one day I may join you in praising Him without end.