Question: I was taught that the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12 was Mary. However, someone pointed out that the woman in that passage has birth pangs in bringing forth her son and thus could not be Mary since birth pangs are part of the punishment of Original Sin, which she did not have. How can we resolve all this?
— Douglas Austin, Boise, Idaho
Answer: As with most things in Scripture, there are several layers of meaning going on. The woman clothed with the sun is described as bringing forth a son who is to rule the nations and who is also taken up to God’s throne. The son can be no other than Jesus, and thus the woman, historically speaking, is Mary. However as is common in Scripture, especially in Johannine writings, Mary (and all biblical figures) represents more than herself. She is an allegory. Many of the things that are said of her also apply to Israel. For indeed Israel, like a mother, brought forth the Messiah for all the nations. The crown of 12 stars points to the 12 tribes of Israel. Still others see Mary also as an image for Mother Church, who labors to bring forth Christ in us.
Hence, in historical sense, the Woman of Revelation 12 is Mary, who alone gave birth to Christ. But Mary is also a sign for Israel, and also for the Church. One meaning, does not preclude another, for Scripture is rich with many layers that include, history, allegory, metaphor, typology and numerous literary genres such as history, poetry, parable and so forth.
As for the birth pangs, even for those who are focusing on the woman of Revelation 12 as Mary, the birth pangs need not be seen merely as the literal pain of giving birth, but more as the pain she endured at the foot of the Cross when, as Simeon foretold, the sword of sorrow pierced her heart. In addition, while the view that Mary had no birth pangs is widely taught in the Church, it is not necessarily taught as being so because she was free from Original Sin. For, indeed, if that were the case then she would have been freed from other forms of suffering too, which she clearly was not. Rather, her pain-free birth would result more likely from the miraculous nature of the birth, wherein she remained a virgin not only prepartum and postpartum but also in partu (i.e., even in the act of giving birth).
Are we really free?
Question: We are taught that faith is a gift from God and that no one can come to Jesus unless the father draws him (Jn 6:44). But this seems to imply that God decides who will be saved and we are not really free.
— Bruce Holland, Silver Spring, Md.
Answer: Not necessarily. If someone were to open his door and call to me to come into his home, I would be drawn by his voice. And the open, unlocked door would be a necessary component supplied for me to enter. However, none of that would compel me to enter, such that I lose my freedom. Further, the notion that God does not will to save some seems a view set aside in 1 Timothy 2:4, which says, God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” There is, to be sure a mysterious interaction between God’s sovereignty and our free will, but we cannot resolve it by picking our freedom or God’s sovereignty. We must hold both revealed truths in balance.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.