Empowering Women Through Mary

It is startling to me that Catholics are perceived as having a negative view of women when Our Lady is so highly honored. In the Catholic faith, The Blessed Virgin Mary is the most exalted of all Christians, she is the first ChristianWorship is reserved for the Holy Trinity alone. But Catholics honor and venerate Our Lady above all other saints.

Oftentimes, it seems that our culture celebrates women who “rise above” their female state. “Look what she accomplished even though she was a woman!” we’ll say, as if being a woman is a handicap or disability to be overcome. We don’t often praise women for being uniquely feminine, perhaps because we don’t hold femininity in high regard.

We don’t honor Our Lady because she overcame her unfortunate plight to be born a woman, but because she did what no man could ever do. Her humility, grace, maternal love, faithfulness, tenderness, strength, steadfastness, and sacrifice contribute to her glory. I’m reminded of Eowyn in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. She doesn’t save the day in spite of being a woman, she conquers because she is a woman: “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.” It is the Second Eve that has the power to crush the serpent under her heel, not in spite of her womanhood, but because of it.

Catholics don’t hold up Mary as the model for Christian women, we hold her up as the model for Christians. Women and men are asked to look at Mary and follow in her footsteps. Not only are men called to honor all women out of respect for Our Lady, but they are called to imitate her example themselves.

There is simply nothing comparable in Protestant life. I truly think that the Protestant avoidance of Mary as well as suppression of Marian doctrine significantly contribute to the experience I, and many women, encounter in the Protestant church. We feel like second-class citizens. When you grow up hearing of Eve’s fall and never understand that Mary is the New Eve who rights the wrongs, opens the gate, and carries our Hope, it’s easy to feel that being a woman is cursed and not blessed.

Doctrines such as the teaching that Mary is the Theotokos, or God-bearer, contribute to a celebration and exaltation of womanhood. Growing up Protestant, I was often told that Mary was the mother of Jesus, not the Mother of God. This is a form of adoptionism (the heresy teaching that there was a merely human Jesus that was later adopted as God’s son) and not Orthodox Christian teaching which is that at his conception, Christ was fully God and fully man. By emphasizing that Our Lady is the Mother of God, the Church not only maintains a high Christology (highlighting that Christ was always divine), but also makes the shocking assertion that God himself chose to dwell in a woman’s body as his abode for nine months. Perhaps even more scandalous, is the emphasis the Church Fathers place on Christ being born of Mary, not merely from Mary. By this they meant that God allowed his very body to be created from Mary’s womb. God chose a plan of redemption in his Incarnation that honors all women.

Furthermore, this plan of redemption was not forced on Our Lady by God. The Incarnation hinges on Mary’s willingness to allow God to enter her womb: Let it be unto me according to your word, she says to Gabriel. In a sense, the redemption of the world spins on her answer, the answer of a woman. Because her answer is a faithful yes to God’s will, the Blessed Virgin is the example for all Christians. We must all say “yes” to God’s desire to dwell in us. In this metaphor, the Christian is taking on a feminine role. In Mary’s case, it was due in part to her literal femininity that it was possible for her to be the God-bearer.

My growing understanding of Marian doctrine makes me joyful that I was born a woman and causes me to celebrate the God-given gift of my womanhood. 

Please keep in mind: I’m not a theologian. If anything I say is ever in conflict with the teachings of the Church, I’m the one in the wrong. Feel free to let me know if this is the case since I like to avoid heresy as much as the next gal. K, thanks.

This is part of an ongoing series on the Catholic Church Empowering Women. You can read part two, Holy Without Holy Orders, on Catholic Exchange. 

 

Haley Stewart

By

Haley Stewart lives in the deep south with her bearded husband, three kids, and seven backyard chickens. She went to a Baptist college and surprised herself by coming home Catholic. When she gets a moment to herself, she loves to read Austen, Waugh, and O’Connor with a strong cup of coffee in hand. Haley muses about cultivating a Catholic family through literature, liturgical living, and urban homesteading at her blog Carrots for Michaelmas and just released her first ebook: Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year.

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  • Martin Schlenz

    You should read Fr. Donald Calloway’s new book “Under the Mantle: Marian Thoughts from a 21st Century Priest.” Best book on Mary in recent centuries.

  • Lydia

    Our society scorns honoring Mary because she embodies the virtues that are looked down upon by the secular elite. Humility, kindness, purity – those virtues are seen as weak and boring. To aim for that, whether a woman or a man, is to be stupid and unsophisticated. A peasant. For them it is all about power, popularity and pleasure.

  • JMC

    You’ve hit the nail on the head: it’s the way womanhood is often treated that makes us sometimes feel being a woman is a curse. Growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I frequently cursed the customs of the time that said that girls weren’t supposed to be interested in certain things. I liked cars and racing. Nobody thinks twice about that today; but back then it was positively scandalous. No one in school would have anything to do with me, and I was the agreed-upon victim of every bully in the school. And this was in a CATHOLIC school! I shudder to think of what my life would have been like in a public school even then.
    My feeling of having been cursed persisted until only a few years ago; it was the writings of Pope Blessed John Paul II that finally let me see the truth. I don’t like the label “feminist,” as it calls to mind the kind of woman who makes no bones about the fact that she hates men.

  • Elizabeth

    This is beautifully said!

  • Kathy

    Beautiful article!!

  • BillinJax

    Haley, thank you so much for this brilliant essay on Our Blessed Mother Mary.
    I too am a convert to Catholicism who fell in love with her back in the fifties when my eyes were opened to see the truth to which you have eloquently spoken here. The following is one of my many tributes to her loveliness written in honor of Mother’s Day a few years ago.
    My Mother Mary…….yes, that Mary….

    ….who was living a simple life dedicated to serving the God
    of Israel from her very early Immaculate childhood.

    …who was full of grace and awaiting the angel’s salutation
    to share a child with the Holy Spirit and cherish and carry our Lord in her
    womb for nine months that He might carry the Cross of Salvation for all of us.

    …who, in union with God’s plan, willfully in true charity
    and sacrifice accepted the prophecy, announced on her son’s first visit to the
    temple by Simeon, that because of this child her heart would be pierced like
    none before her.

    …who cared for and nourished that child sharing house, home,
    and daily family and personal exchanges of love and devotion with Him for
    thirty years as He grew to manhood.

    …whose mutual love
    had so entwined its trust in her young son that it would allow Him leave of her
    during the journey of faithful from Jerusalem for nearly two days in their
    humble land (a preview of his passion and burial) until she would become aware
    of His absence from friends and her own loving care.

    …who, as His closest companion over many years, knew exactly
    where to look for Him upon her return to Jerusalem.

    …who would accept His decision to “be about His Fathers
    work” but with a mothers love guided His youthful ambitions to a more proper
    time and place for fulfillment where at her wish and petition He initiated His
    ministry with the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana.

    …who faithful to the words of God to Simeon had to watch
    with a bleeding heart the horrid brutality thrust upon her child during His
    powerful passion.

    …and finally that Mary, who though weeping in sorrow would
    be so willing to lovingly listened to and carry out her son’s dying request
    along side the disciple whom He loved well that she now take John under her
    wing in place of Him and that John in turn protect and defend her among men
    until she rejoined her son the Prince of Peace in heaven.

    This Mary, the world’s very first “Christian”, is my mother
    and should be recognized in faith as truly the mother of all Christians.

  • Jeni

    So good! Loved this!!

  • Samuel L. Edwards

    Haley, as I just said in my Facebook share, this is a SUPERB article that ranks with the best I’ve ever read on the subject. It eloquently expands on a theme I touched on in a sermon I preached shortly before the end of my Anglican ministry and my reception into the Catholic Church. (You can read it over at my web site, ThePonderingHeart.net, if you have any spare moments — which may be a challenge with three little ones.) Thank you for your witness.

    Oh, and for what it’s worth from a trained theologian, I found not a thing in it that remotely contradicts the Church’s teaching.

  • pbecke

    I read recently that women who had returned to the Catholic Church after leaving it for a Protestant one, found they missed Mary and the devotions to her most of all.

  • pbecke
  • D.M.H.

    Haley, how beautifully expresse! You would enjoy reading “Mary Reflection of th Trinity and First-Fruits of Creation” by Rosa Lombardi, MPF New City Press, Hyde Park, N.Y.
    I love your sentence: “My growing undestanding of Marian Doctrine makes me joyful that I was born a woman and causes me to celerate the God-given gift of my womanhood.”
    That flys in the face of those who think the Church is second classing women and that ordination of women will fix so many problems. You’ve really expressed the wonderful, exceptional gift that God has given to us women, and He manifested it Mary! Thank you!

  • andre

    Well said Haley.All for the Immaculate.Fr Andre.

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    Thank you for the reading suggestion! I haven’t read that one and it sounds lovely.

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    That makes sense, because discovering Mary has been one of the greatest joys of becoming Catholic!

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    Thank you for your encouragement!

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    Thanks, Jeni!

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    Thank you for sharing this!

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    His writings made a big impact on me, too!

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    This is very insightful. I think our society has a hard time understanding motivations that don’t stem from a desire for power.

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    I haven’t even heard of that one, so I’m glad you suggested it! Thank you.

  • Virginia Zerbe

    Great article! We need more stuff like this. And I would have to agree with the reader that mentioned Fr. Calloway’s book “Under the Mantle: Marian Thoughts from a 21st Century Priest.” That book is out of this world good! You especially will love the last chapter on Femininity. It brought tears to my eyes and is probably some of the best reading I’ve ever read on the mystery of femininity. This priest has a gift for communicating things in such a simple and easy way to understand. Keep up the good work!

  • Pmpc Australia

    To understand Our Lady`s Love for Humanity, And Her Power Of Love, as A Woman, And A Mother.

    Your Heavenly Mother

    Please see this website : http://WWW.MEDJUGORJE-RESPONSE.NET

    And look for this report : OUR LADY OF MEDJUGORJE IN THE HOLY LAND AUGUST 2013

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