Some years back, I heard a priest say something shocking during a homily. It was before I was Catholic, and I was present at the Mass on a holy day of obligation as a way of keeping a faux peace in my marriage. My wife converted to Catholicism in 2004, a year before we met, and, even after we wed in 2006 and after I agreed to raise our kids in the Faith, I still had no intention of becoming Catholic.
“Mary is a gift to all men,” the priest said rather plainly. I recall we gathered together to celebrate the feast of the Assumption. At first, I thought he meant Mary was a gift to all humanity. Many priests emphasize how our Lord presented his mother, the Woman, to the beloved disciple at the foot of his cross, and how we are all called beloved disciples who must also dutifully take Mary into our own homes. However for me, this argument had no real impact. I resigned ready for this priest to make the same argument. Instead, he took a different approach, even intensifying his tone.
“Mary offers men, in particular, a way out of a difficult problem. For women, loving Jesus comes easily and naturally. But it does not feel so easy or natural for a man to love another man as intimately as we ought to love our Lord. Mary presents men with a solution to this difficult challenge.”
What on earth was he saying? I recall thinking. I sat up straight in the pew and leaned in close. The priest continued to make other good points, but mentally I lagged behind and lingered on his penetrating statement. Mary is a gift to men.
For many years, his words simmered on the back burner of my mind. Eventually, in 2014, I would fully enter the Church on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. However, I never forgot the priest’s words. It was not until years later, after encountering Saint John Paul II’s teaching on Theology of the Body, that the priest’s wisdom finally led to great insight into what it means to be a man.
The New Eve
Mary’s role in the Church is always to reflect and advance the glory of her son. In fact, Mary never ceases to defend and protect Jesus. For example, the Church’s teaching on Mary’s title as Theotokos—Mother of God—merely reflects the truth of her son’s divinity, and is not exclusively a praise of Mary alone. In the Church’s teaching on Mary’s perpetual virginity, the Church protects the miraculous nature of Jesus’ earthly birth, which early church fathers describe as “light [passing] through glass without harming the glass” (Miravalle 2012). This analogy has bears greater meaning as we profess in the Nicene Creed belief in Jesus Christ, who is consubstantial with the Father, as being “God from God, Light from Light.”
Jesus Christ is the divine Light, “the life of the light of the human race” (Jn 1:3b), that passed through the precious womb of the blessed Virgin. As such, we can imagine Mary as a sort of prism for that Light. In view of her singularly unique qualities illuminated by the divine Light, we can see certain mysteries concerning God’s plan for humanity come to life.
In an Apostolic Exhortation titled Marialis Cultus (1974), his Holiness Paul VI writes, “Mary, the New Woman, stands at the side of Christ, the New Man, within whose mystery the mystery of the human being alone finds true light; she is given to us as a pledge and guarantee that God’s plan in Christ for the salvation of the whole human person has already achieved realization in a creature: in her.”
God designed humanity in His image, “in the image of God He created them, male and female, He created them” (Gn 1:27). This incredible passage from Genesis signifies not merely that God created each individual alone to bear the imago dei, but also He imprinted His image upon the communal life of man with woman. In a homily delivered on June 14, 2015, Pope Francis explains, “…not only is man taken in himself the image of God, not only is woman taken in herself the image of God, but also man and woman, as a couple, are the image of God.” Moreover, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Man and woman were made “for each other” – not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be “helpmate” to the other, for they are equal as persons (“bone of my bones…”) and complementary as masculine and feminine” (CCC 372).
This of course makes perfect sense in view of God’s divine nature. Through Sacred Revelation, we know that God is not merely one Being, but also a trinity of Three Divine Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Himself, He brings to perfection both singularity and plurality. This is a rather abstract idea, but what it means for us concretely is that man bears Gods image singularly, as does woman, but then so does the complementarity of the sexes.
We further know from Theology of the Body that the complementarity of the sexes is given a particular grace in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. From the very origins of the human race, man and woman were made “to be a communion of persons, in which each can be “helpmate” to the other” (CCC 372).
The Mother of Men
Here is where the Priest’s words from earlier comes into perfect focus. Mary is the Immaculate Conception, the New Eve, perfectly complementary to every human male. As the New Eve, Mary is our helper, perfectly compatible with every human male and yearning to help us master manhood to become who God called us to be in our families, in our marriages, and in society.
With her aid and graces, we can secure the victory delivered for us by the pure sacrifice of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As men, consecration to her is not merely a spiritual act of faith, but an essential act of manhood. She completes us, which is not to say God left us half-made and incomplete. Instead, God created us to be in communion with perfect femininity, which, we find in her. Like the priest said, Mary is a gift to men.
—The Catholic Gentleman.