Sunday, March 8, 2009

A stumbling block removed

Earlier I posted about my reading of Heaven's Song by Christopher West. While this week's craziness has prevented me from making much headway, I'd like to add something else to which God opened my eyes while reading it during adoration.

Looking back on my spiritual life, I was effectively brought up as a Protestant with a Rosary, as one commentator on one of the blogs I follow recently put it. I find that God has been drawing me closer to Him throughout my life and a major part of that journey has been to draw closer to my Catholic faith. My own discernment of the priesthood and the two years I spent at St. John's Seminary in college opened my eyes and heart to the riches of the Catholic faith, culture, history, theology and spirituality in a new way for me. (I went to public school.)

Even now that I am married with 4 children--in 5 years,special thanks to JPII-- God is dragging me along a path that intertwines more and more with the Eucharist, the Magisterium and the Communion of Saints, despite my kicking and screaming (hey, nobody said crucifixion is fun). Yet one prayer of mine has continued to be to have a better relationship with the Blessed Mother. It's not that I've been against Mary, in fact I've always honored and respected her. I've prayed the Rosary since childhood and as far as my limited understanding allows, completely accepted the theology surrounding the Mother of God.

And yet there has always been a stumbling block. For some reason in a way I could never put my finger on, I never felt quite at ease with Mary. My prayers to her always felt impersonal and disconnected, while my prayers to God (all three Persons) were completely natural and relational. And while the Protestant or Liberal Catholic voices in my head (no, I don't actually hear voices in my head) would chime in to tell me that I didn't actually need a relationship with Mary, I knew that if Christ chose to honor his mother by making her our Queen and mother to all of us, then I could not only trust that He wanted me to have a relationship with her, but that I should have one. So I have continued to pray my version of "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief:" "Mary, I love you, help me to know and love you."

In God's good time, and when I was still and listening (there's a BIG lesson there) he opened the way. Chapter 4 of Heaven's Song, called "A Garden Closed, A Fountain Sealed" discusses briefly a woman's difficulty in relating to Mary. Kathy (not her real name) was caught having an affair and when she, repentant, was advised to look to Mary, she viewed Mary as "unreachable." "I got the impression from several of Kathy's comments that she, like many, thought Mary's immaculate purity made her a prudish or evan an 'a-sexual' being without any hint of erotic feelings of desires. She said, 'Well, what else am I supposed to think. That's certainly the impression I got from the nuns who taught me growing up."

Christopher's response was eye-opening to say the least:
...I got a lot of wrong impressions about the faith growing up in Catholic schools. Only much later in life did I begin to realize that purity doesn't annihilate erotic desire, it perfects it.

Far from being "a-sexual," Mary is the only woman who ever experienced the fullness of God's original plan for sexuality. God made us male and female and called the two to become "one flesh" in order to point us to our ultimate destiny of union with God in Christ. This is the original and fundamental meaning of human sexuality and this is how Mary must have experienced her womanhood, her sexuality-- as a burning desire for union with God.

Through the gift of redemption, we can begin to reclaim this original truth, but even for the holiest among us it remails muddled to some degree by our fallen condition. To recognize Mary as the "Immaculate One" is to recognize that her sexuality was never muddled my our fallen condition. For she experienced the fullness of redemption right from the first moment of her conception. This would mean that mary's purity allowed her to experience her sexuality in its fullness-- as a deep yearning for total communion with God in Christ. This is why she didn't have sexual relations with Joseph: not because marital union is "unholy," but because she was already living the union beyond sexual union -- union with God. This is not to knock Joseph, but earthly, sexual union with him would have been for Mary a step backwards. Instead, Mary took Joseph forward with her into the fulfillment of all desire.

This was the key I've been looking for. I've had trouble with Mary because she didn't seem real to me, or at least human. While I knew she was human with flesh and blood, and therefore not like the angels, ever present with God, my imagination was limited to the Heavenly Queen, Immaculate, resplendent. She is the woman of the apparitions, the Miraculous Medal, the Scapular, the Rosary. In my mind, Mary was only like the plaster statue in the CCD classroom. But not flesh and blood, burning with desire, like we all are.

But of course she burned with desire. She remained a virgin not because she was stoic or disinterested. She was fulfilled. Her desire was always for full union with God. That doesn't make her less human; it makes her fully human. But she lived and breathed; she got cold and hot; she was uncomfortable at times, joyous and laughing at other times. She got hungry, thirsty, and yes, even had to "powder her nose."

I guess what I'm trying to say is that my disconnect with Mary has been that I saw Mary in her glorification, the end of the story, but missed her earthly life and being, the beginning of the story, and that which is truly our model for life.

The question really shouldn't be "What Would Jesus Do?" The question should be "What Would Mary Do?" And the answer is simple: say to God, "Let it be done to me according to Thy word."

Mary, I love you, help me to know you and love you more.


Bill Donaghy said...

Beautiful thoughts Mike! Thanks for sharing your journey through it all. Beautiful!

Anonymous said...

That's really beautiful Mike
And honest of you. I don't have a problem with the devotions, but I can see how they can almost be stumbling blocks to people trying to build a relationship with Mary. I remember H&H and their uproar over the rosary etc., as if it was hocus pocus. Or sometimes people get so caught up in apparitions and messages or does my scapular have the right backing...that it seems to others to take away focus from Jesus. And if someone doesn't have a connection with Mary yet, it can make her seem unreachable, or maybe that we are putting her on a God status. (which we are not!) But I find Mary's humanity such a source of strength. She helps me understand Jesus' humanity. Maybe it's best to approach her in that simple child-like way that you suggest, saying, Jesus, you are my Brother, so Mary, you are my mother, help me know you better. When I say the rosary, I'm right there with them, thinking about their awesome love for each other and for us.