Sweet Mary

Last night, after going to a vigil Mass at St. Catherine’s, I walked out the door feeling ashamed. The priest hadn’t talked about sin or Hell. The passages were actually pretty uplifting. The whole Mass was very moving, but I felt dirty at the end of it.
Today is the feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Last night, in honor of the day, we went to a Mass that was all about that event. The event itself – Mary being taken up into Heaven, body and soul – is debated in the Eastern Orthodox church and is disregarded as rubbish by nearly every other religious group because there is nothing about it really in the Bible. But I am a Catholic, so Christian tradition, along with infallible papal declarations, carry just a little more weight with me and those of my ilk.
But don’t worry, I’m not going to go into some long-winded defense of the Assumption, because what struck me didn’t really have anything to do with that. It’s Mother Mary herself that puts me to shame.
It’s hard to think of any woman more subversive and counter-cultural today than Mary – especially the Catholic Mary. Just a few differences:
Women, generally being more vulnerable in societies, are commended for sticking up for themsleves, for being twice the men men are, for being independant. Mary is commended for being the submissive servant of God and His Son.
Women in our culture are encouraged to feel free to abort their babies when those children thwart their personal life goals. Mary sets her own dreams aside, volunteering to bear a child who, all her life, she would most likely be stigmatized for having and who would be crucified in the prime of His life.
Women are constantly depicted in the media as being valuable because they are sexual objects – a man’s plaything. Mary gives her body to no one but God.
Women, after fighting so hard to be sexually free and independant in the 60’s and 70’s have ended up with hardly any more respect today than they had 50 years ago – maybe less – from men. Mary, ever-virgin, has been blessed and adored for centuries, inspiring some of the most beautiful music and art in the world.
It’s not that everything our culture has to say about women is wrong, or that women can’t feel like they need to defend themselves. I’m not advocating some throw-back to the days when women were treated like property. But if she walked the halls of our schools or the streets of our cities today and we didn’t know it was really her, would we love her all the same? Would we respect her purity or scoff at it?
That is the reason I walked out of Mass with shame. I know far too well the way our culture views women – the way men use and abuse them, the way the most vulnerable and beautiful parts of them get exploited and trampled on. I know the ways in which I have contributed to that. But I know far too little about the kind of dignity each woman actually has – and far less all that a woman can be. Remembering Schubert’s Ave Maria being sung last night, I hope this would only be the beginning of my education.


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