Sunday, January 1, 2012

Solemnity of Mary, Theotokos

Given today's special feast day in the Catholic Church, I compiled some of my past writings (both published and unpublished) concerning Mary and revised them for you into a single short essay.  It highlights some of the changes in our own thinking which began to take place after our good saviour took our hands, leading us safely across the Tiber.

I hope you enjoy today's offering, and I pray that you all have a wonderful New Year!  Special thanks to Catholic Answers' This Rock as well as Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong for recently sharing this essay's accompanying artwork, Madonna Del Granduca by Raphael, within his lovely Christmas card.

When my wife and I were studying in preparation to join the Catholic Church some years ago, the concept of Mary was one of the hardest ideas to get our minds around.  Coming from the Evangelical tradition, most of the new concepts we learned were simply a result of a more logical and consistent interpretation of Scripture—e.g. the sixth chapter of John.  Understanding Mary, however, required something beyond mere Biblical interpretation.

It required trust, and it all felt very foreign to us at first.  Once it finally made sense and the pieces began to fit together, I was profoundly grateful for the opportunity to see Mary for who she was and is today.  This Catholic understanding of Mary hinges on an acceptance of her as the new Eve.  Where Eve disobeyed God’s call, Mary listened wholeheartedly and obeyed in a spirit of selfless love.  

While Protestants usually declare that many of our Marian beliefs represent meaningless and extra-biblical concepts which have no value when applied to our faith, there are core beliefs we share which are likewise not clearly defined or articulated in the Bible.  The Trinity, for instance, is never spelled out in so many words, but its truth is made abundantly clear through a careful reading of the Bible and the wisdom of the saints who came before us (tradition).  

In conversations with skeptical Protestants, I often explain the Catholic perspective this way.  The Protestant tradition is like an artist's canvas which contains all the necessary artistic elements in the foreground. The background, however, lies bare of color or shape, simply white canvas awaiting the painter's brush.  The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is represented by a canvas of rich and vibrant colors which seem to leap forth from the painting. Every inch of the canvas is used and it is filled seemingly to the point of bursting with color, textures, motion, and deep meaning.  It’s one of those pictures from which you can actually imagine catching the scent of roses or pine.  

The mainline Evangelical, for example, arguably has access to the minimum elements necessary for salvation in Christ, but he's missing that bigger picture. His understanding could be so enriched if he caught sight of the second picture and drank in its rich meaning.  Sadly, he's content to limit his understanding of the nature of God and man to an unfinished painting reflecting an essentially identical truth.  It is by God’s grace that Catholics have access to this larger picture, a perfect dovetailing of faith and reason.

As we are reminded in Romans 14:21, we should avoid creating roadblocks to Protestants who desire to come home to the Catholic Church—such as the author, who arrived from the Episcopal and Lutheran traditions. Some accuse the Catholic Church as being lukewarm to evangelization and prone to following politically correct issues while ignoring some of the more weighty social problems. Are we doing all that we can to obey the Great Commission, or are we making it harder to convert new believers? Pope John Paul II reminded all of us that a "constant awareness of Christ’s will to offer salvation to all cannot fail to inspire us with fresh missionary fervor" (This Rock, Holy Thursday letter to priests, March 13, 2005).

If we truly understand who Mary is, she will become the most powerful aid in our evangelical efforts, but that understanding is critical.  The Catholic Church has not always done a good job in educating new and young Catholics as to their faith. Knowledge without understanding creates more problems than it solves—from witnessing to addressing the moral tragedies of the day.  If we have a sure foundation of knowledge and understanding, though, I wholeheartedly agree that understanding Mary as both the Mediatrix and as the New Eve will be the spiritual meat that will nourish and sustain our walk with Christ. 

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