Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Journey to Rome: How I fell in love with Mary (part II)

A portrait of Mary in our hotel room.  Rome, 2011.

Well, buckle up folks.  Because today I'm sharing how exactly I came to terms with some of the harder Marian dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic faith.  If there's anything about Catholicism that makes Protestants want to run far, far away, it's Mary.

And, I kind of get that. 

Quite frankly, Mary was one of my "hang-ups" with the Catholic Church for some time--even after educating myself on what the Church actually teaches (and doesn't teach) about Mary the mother of God.  It was all very new for me, and I struggled to understand why any of it mattered, and how Mary's place in the Church fit with the worship of Jesus.  Was it idolatry?  What was the point of praying to Mary when I could just, you know, pray directly to God?

But I'd also come to believe that the Catholic Church is true.  And the fact is that the deposit of faith (the Bible + Tradition), handed down by the Apostles, includes ideas like the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.  So I kept reading, and kept praying.  I read what the early Church fathers and Christians wrote about Mary.  I read the Bible.  I read works by various apologists, both Catholic and Protestant.  I read statements by the Reformers.  I even read a book about the Vatican-approved Marian apparition in Rwanda, Our Lady of Kibeho

I was not an easy sell.  :)

But...I kept coming back to the idea that Jesus has given us the Church, and from very early on, well, the Church venerated Mary.  Not to mention, Mary-as-the-new-Eve (Paul of course tells us that Jesus was the new Adam) is incredibly compelling from a theological perspective.

Whatever you believe, God used Mary to play a significant role in salvation history: to carry and birth and raise our Savior--and through giving birth to Jesus, she essentially gave birth to the Church.  She said yes to God when Eve said no.  She is a shining example of sacrifice.  She is the mother of my Lord, and how blessed we are to have her for our mother as well.

So as Catholics, we venerate (or honor) Mary, which is not the same as "worshipping" her the way we would God the Father, or Jesus the Son.  (That has never been taught by the Church, ever.)  And we honor her because Jesus honored her.  Rather than taking honor away from Jesus, Mary points us toward Him.

The Catholic Church teaches that when Jesus placed Mary in John's care, as He was dying on the cross, He was ultimately giving her to the Church, as a mother.  (John 19:25-27.)  So we believe that she is the loving mother of all Christians.  And just like we hang family photos in our homes, we oftentimes also have artwork depicting the Holy Family.  We like us some statues for the same reason.  And we believe in the Communion of Saints and so believe that Mary prays and intercedes for us.  Which is all kinds of awesome, no?

When Catholics pray to Mary, they are asking her to pray to God for them--just like sometimes we ask our friends or religious leaders or coworkers to pray for us.  The more prayers on my behalf, the better.  The more prayers on my behalf spoken by Jesus' mother, the better.

And yes, all of this is based on the Catholic understanding of scripture (both Old and New Testaments), as well as a historical and traditional understanding of early Church history.

I want you to check out this fascinating and beautiful video.  The symbology is pretty astounding--an 11 minutes well spent.  :)

I am honestly falling more and more in love with Mary the mother of Jesus.  I love knowing that she prays for me, and for the Church, and that she knows what it is to be a mama.  When I start to wonder if God is asking too much of me...I think of her and how she said yes to Him.  When my children are hurting or suffering...I think of her and how she watched her beloved son die unjustly on a cross.  And I love that God uses the stuff of this earth--bread, wine, humanity, water, a virgin from Nazareth--to do His supernatural, Heavenly bidding.  What an incredible miracle and mystery. 

If you're interested, I highly recommend Scott Hahn's Hail, Holy Queen.  He writes in a super engaging way, it's not a long read, and hey, he used to be a Protestant.  :)

I'm so very grateful and humbled that God has brought me to accept--and celebrate!--the Catholic Church's position on Mary.  I do understand that it's difficult at best (and offensive at worst) for many Protestants.  But when I sit at Mass each Sunday, as I pray to Jesus and prepare to receive Him in the Eucharist, I love to look upon the statue of the Blessed Virgin.  And when I do, I love to think about the amazing gift she gave the world when she simply said yes to her God. 

May I have the grace to do the same.

{Part I of my journey from Protestantism to Catholicism can be found here.}


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