This is quite a list of superlatives for a simple woman of such humble upbringing. For both theologians and journalists Mary presents a fascination since any mention of her easily generates controversy. If the Catholic Church makes a declaration or statement of faith about Mary that proclamation can, and usually does, offend and affect other groups of Christians.
It is incumbent on us that we emphasize those great uniting points about Mary among Christians. Mary was a real person and the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. From the moment of becoming a mother, Mary lived and proclaimed that she was chosen by God to become the vehicle of the Incarnation of His Son. Not to emphasize her role in the history of humanity — and particularly in salvation history — is to dilute the importance of the Incarnation. And when the Incarnation is no longer crucial, the basic tenets of the Christian faith begin to crumble. We must move beyond the controversy and discover again the loving Mother of God.
The Blessed Virgin touches the lives of so many people with such a great variety of human experiences, and it is especially important that we realize this. A widow suffering from the recent loss of her husband said that she can relate to the mother of our Lord in her tremendous suffering. Another person who has gone through many life crises said that Mary became for him the model of what it means to remain with Jesus even when events in life make no sense. A mother fell in love with Mary as she allowed herself to talk in prayer with this devoted mother who is a model for all others.
Aside from her Son Jesus, a key reason for Mary’s enduring importance to the entire Christian community — regardless of denomination — is that there is so much that she has to teach us and share with us regarding what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, a woman, a parent or a mother. Beyond controversy there are common perspectives.
Of course different individuals in varying life situations will seek different ways in relating to Mary. Those who struggle to survive economically see her as a crusader for the poor and oppressed. Some will interpret her as a strong feminist concerned for the rights of women. And, for the myriad immigrant and refugee communities in the world, she and Joseph are not only symbols of the Holy Family, but also examples of refugees in a foreign country. Beyond the controversy there is the loving mother for whom those with activist-implicated approaches to life can certainly relate.
There are also the traditional ways of relating to Mary in faith and life. Consider the selfless devoted mother or the committed prayerful woman who entrusted every unpredictable and unforeseen moment in her life to a loving God. Across cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries the world continues to cry out for and demand many things from Mary. Traditionally she has always been intertwined with the culture and faith of Catholic and Orthodox communities across the world, and yet we constantly realize that beyond nations, traditions and controversies, Mary simply has no boundaries.
The Blessed Mother is never a mere passive sidelight to the Incarnation, but rather God’s chosen instrument by which the coming of the Savior became a reality. By our devotion to Mary, the importance of her Son is not minimized; it is ultimately underlined.
We can claim Mary in so many ways because she truly lived a life that incorporated all the events of human trauma that we live with in our world today. She is, in a sense, our eternal contemporary.
When the Church loses its focus on Mary, it loses its perspective on Christ. Recognition of her is a crucial ingredient in the observation and celebration of Christmas. Like the many statues portraying her, Mary’s arms are open, ready, waiting, always protecting her children, always pointing them to her Son. Beyond all controversy there stands the mother of our Lord who greets and welcomes us with open arms. TP
DR. DICKSON is a Lutheran parish pastor, college chemistry teacher, and author of the book A Protestant Pastor Looks At Mary (Our Sunday Visitor).