This is the third post in a series that I am writing about my reversion process. The title of the series is hopefully self-explanatory: I decided that my reasons for reverting to Catholicism were too many, too juicy even, to list in a single blog post. If you haven’t already, check out the other posts in this series first:
I’m sure you saw this one coming. Its fairly obvious that a goddess-worshipping type such as myself would very easily settle into a devotion to Mary. I’ve actually had a life-long love for Mary: even during those times when I identified as mostly Pagan or Buddhist or what-have-you, I still couldn’t resist her image.
Mary carries a certain gravitas that the Pagan goddesses just don’t quite have. This is not because the pagan goddesses haven’t earned it, or because they aren’t fascinating, fierce, compassionate, powerful, complex in either their beauty or in their ability to evoke terror. Au contraire, mon frère: there are many goddesses contained in the history and geography of this planet and each one is more interesting than the next! These goddesses and the legends that they live within can and do undoubtedly bring a great spiritual fullness to many, many people’s lives. Not every Christian will like the sound of that and yet it remains true.
What I am really saying when I claim that Mary has a certain gravitas is that she is acknowledged by the dominant culture in a much bigger way than these other goddesses: even for non-Catholic Christians, she is recognizable and has a valuable holy function. She seems real in a way that bygone goddesses do not. In my part of the country, you see her on every third street at Christmas time, in someone’s front yard as part of a giant plastic, glowing crèche. You may see her plastered to the candles in the hispanic section of the grocery store, tattooed on someone’s flesh in the park or etched on tinted car windows, or maybe smiling on the covers of children’s books spread out on the library floor. Whether you want to or not, whether or not she holds any meaning for you spiritually, you will probably see the image of Mary at least once a week, perhaps even more depending on the culture of your city or neighborhood. She is still here. She is still visible in mainstream culture.
But why should any of us care what the dominant culture shares, recognizes or approves of? Well, I’m not necesarily making the case that you should care, at least I’m not striving to make that case in this blog post. In fact I shirk the opinion of the dominant culture in a great many of my personal decisions. But with regard to religion, I have argued that it is helpful to belong to a community, to know many other human beings who do what you do, who love what you love. I believe that faith should be social: it should unite us to people of different races, classes, nationalities. As my friend pointed out, the roads are dead on Christmas morning. There is that magic hush in the air. That doesn’t happen on the day of the winter solstice because the celebration of the winter solstice is not supported by the community at large. That word supported works perfectly with regard to Mary as well: Mary is supported by a significant population of believers and so she has weight, security, gravitas. Put more bluntly, Mary is taken seriously.
(Just so that there is no confusion, I should pause here to assure you that I am not suggesting that we should all just celebrate Christmas or worship Mary because, well, thats what’s supported by the dominant culture. I am not saying that Jews, for example, should abandon centuries of faith customs that have survived unspeakable human tragedies to become Christians because, hey, Target is closed on Christmas and the yuppies cant shop so lets all just worship Jesus. This blog is only meant to reflect my own reversion process and as an extrovert, I personally gain strength from togetherness. I love the power and glory of a crowd. There is a crowd at Mary’s feet and that brings me great comfort.)
I used to be staunchly against any of the books in the For Dummies or Idiot’s Guide series because, apparently, I am a fragile intellectual bird who takes herself too seriously. I recently found a 2000 edition of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Catholicism at the Goodwill Bookstore and I hesitated over whether I should offend myself by reading a book of that title. I already owned a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is stunning by the way, and holds all the mysterious truths and beautiful explanations that I seek. What the Catechism does not have, however, are badly drawn cartoon nuns popping off the page to, quote, “spice up your journey through Catholicism.” Well, in that case! Why yes, I will take this fifteen year old treatise with the spicy cartoon nuns and let it live on top of the toilet!
The authors, Bob O’Gorman and Mary Faulkner, offer a rather lovely introduction to their chapter on Mary:
It would be impossible to imagine Catholicism without Mary. Her place in the church is unrivaled. Just as Jesus is the sacrament of God, and the church is the sacrament of Jesus, Mary is the people’s sacrament. From the earliest years until the present time, she has been celebrated in prayer, music, song, processions, devotions and special Masses worldwide. The most famous cathedrals and basilicas in the world were built to honor her. Small roadside shrines where pilgrims hold vigils for her dot the countryside. All of this is testimony to the love that the people hold for her. Mary is the people’s ambassador at large. She is deeply and tightly woven into the Catholic fabric.
The authors go on to confirm Mary’s many roles and titles (Mother of God, the new Eve, Virgin Mother, mediator, co-redeemer, Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Church) while, of course assuring the reader that no, Catholics do not actually worship Mary.
Insert sad, Game Over sound.
But! But, thankfully for me, there is a but. But they do venerate her. She is not called divine because she is not God and, as Catholics have been restating for centuries, they are real Christians and Christians are monotheists with One Trinitarian God. So Mary is not the “Goddess Mary” as my three-year-old very blasphemously calls her from time to time. But she is Holy and she is Venerated, both as the mother of God and as the perfect Christian.
I’ll take it.
Returning to the quote above, I want to draw your attention to the word unrivaled. No, Mary cannot be called God. But she can reign within her own territory, her territory which is also ours, and in that territory she remains gloriously unrivaled.
As always, the Catechism offers us the final word on the matter:
The Immaculate Virgin…was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conquerer of sin and death.
The Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix.
The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.
I hope that in reading the official teachings of the Church written above, that you savored the words Queen, Benefactress and Mediatrix the way that I did. I also hope that you sort of wondered, as I did, whether the Church does indeed hate women, as many of us have been told.
I would like to end this post by saying that I have been thinking a lot about this series and how it should play out. I’ve decided that it has to be an open-ended project because reversion and conversion are lifelong processes. To put it another way, I could decide that I am going to give 15 reasons for reverting and cap it there. Actually, this was my original plan and I even jotted down the first fifteen reasons that came to mind.
Jesus -as in Christ, the Anointed One- was not among them.
Hopefully your brain hasn’t exploded after reading that sentence. But the whole truth is, I am just not there yet. And I am okay with that. I am okay with keeping this blog authentically mine and with admitting that Jesus is not the first (or even the fifteenth) reason that I have been drawn to Catholicism. I will get there.
In the meantime, Mary is easier to comprehend perhaps due to her lack of divinity. For people who have grown up within healthy, pious Christian households the Son of God is accepted as bald fact. They have no way to understand the shit the rest of us have to wade through just to begin to see Jesus, let alone believe in him or accept him as our personal Savior. For those of us who were raised within a more secular family or community, in which Christianity was mostly about a velvety fat guy bringing toys down the chimney, finding Jesus is like opening one of those Russian nesting dolls: you just keep frantically opening and opening, tossing aside the empty shell-like pieces, trying to cut through the layers that are plastic or contrived or uninspired, searching for that pure center, for a Jesus who is at once earth and God, who is both ours and His.
So you see, the reversion series has to remain open. At least until Jesus makes the list and probably long after. Which means that I won’t bind myself to sharing a reason weekly, although there may be weeks when I am called to share two or three reasons. I know that I will only encounter these reasons when I am ready for them and that will take time.
So thanks for hanging out.