Problems with Depictions of Mary

Not too long ago, I finished reading A Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers. The book is an anthology of five of her novellas, each about a significant female character from the Bible. (I hate to say “character” when these women all lived in the real world. “Character” makes it seem like someone invented them.)

The first four stories, about Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, were very good and convincing in the way they were written. I thoroughly enjoyed them, and they inspired me to stay closer to God and have faith. (I’m sure there were elements of those four stories that clashed with Catholic teaching, but to be honest, I don’t know enough about the Old Testament to recognize anything.) The fifth story, which was about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, bothered me for multiple reasons:

  1. There were four wise men who visited Jesus after his birth. I’m really not sure why the fourth wise man was necessary; in the Bible, there are only three wise men.
  2. Mary and her husband Joseph had six other children after Jesus: James, Joseph, Anne, Simon, Jude, and Sarah. I was always taught that Mary remained a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus.
  3. Mary was not assumed into heaven when she died, but she simply “went the way of all flesh” like any other human being.
  4. Mary was “a woman like any other, as impatient as her children.” No, she was not. She was extraordinary. As Catholics, we believe that God made Mary immaculate, as would be fitting for the mother of his only son.
  5. Mary was not sinless. Again, God made her immaculate. She was free from sin at conception.

I understand that the author is not Catholic and probably does not view Mary through the same lens. From reading the five novellas, I gathered that Ruth and Bathsheba were more free from sin than Mary, which is totally incorrect in Catholic theology (Mariology, to be more specific).

Would I read anything else by Francine Rivers? Sure. Her books are uplifting and refreshingly free from sex scenes. They also give a glimpse into the world as it was in the days when the events of the Bible occurred. But I will have to keep in mind that my beliefs differ from hers.

The Baby Jesus

Lately, I have been thinking about the baby Jesus. When I was younger (and by that, I mean only about a year ago), I imagined a tiny baby, looking as perfect as one of those Ashton-Drake dolls, wrapped up in a flawless swaddle, in a manger. Mary and Joseph are perfectly calm and nonchalant, as if in a nativity scene.

Like many things about the life of Christ, that was a completely idealized vision. We never think about the one-second-old baby Jesus looking gray and wrinkled, with an umbilical cord, covered in blood, wailing into the cold Bethlehem night. He is always perfect, like when a gorgeous blonde on a soap opera miraculously gives birth to a six-month-old.

We never think about Mary being exhausted from the birth or the constant feedings. She always appears angelic and serene. Yes, she was sinless, but she was still human. I can imagine that she felt much like any other new mother after one of those endless days in the first month or so: hungry and thirsty, totally exhausted, and wishing Joseph would hurry back from his trip to the market so she could have one minute to close her eyes.

Babies are hilarious little creatures. They make weird noises. They pop up in their crib to greet you at 3 in the morning, when any reasonable person would be asleep. They grab their feet and stick them in their mouth. They suddenly shriek with joy at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason. They fling food all over the place when eating. I’m sure the baby Jesus did all these things. He probably kept his Mother awake all night long when he was teething or had colic, but he must have kept her laughing, too.

Babies are also, quite frankly, disgusting. I’m not going to describe the bodily fluids or the incredible degree of literal crap one has to put up with as a parent. I’m sure you can imagine it (and you might have been there). Again, I’m sure the baby Jesus had his disgusting moments. True, he was God himself. But he was fully human and subject to all the nastiness of the human condition. It did not make him less holy, just like all those gross-out times don’t make regular babies any less lovable.

Maybe this Christmas, we should look closer at babies and be reminded that Jesus was once a baby, too. We might even be able to take that a step further and look at grown adult people, especially those who get on our nerves, and be reminded that Jesus was once a grown adult, walking among us, capable of feeling everything that we feel.

Those Who Do Not See But Believe

A couple nights ago, I had a dream that I was at church, and after transubstantiation, the host fell to the ground and began to bleed. The amount of blood was great for the size of the host, and eventually the host could not be seen at all because the blood overtook it. Everyone at church saw this, but only some began to believe in the Real Presence thereafter.

Worst, it was mostly the children who did not believe. A group of our friends from church decided to band together and form a new church, leaving behind the rest of the parishioners who did not believe despite seeing the Eucharistic miracle of the bleeding host.

The reality is that I probably had that dream because I read the Pew article that revealed that most Catholics do not believe the core Church teaching that the bread and wine literally become the Body and Blood of Christ.

I don’t know why they don’t believe. I suppose it’s a combination of poor catechesis, priests not talking about the truth in their homilies, and the belief that science is the be-all and end-all and that if something cannot be proven using the scientific method and empirical evidence, it cannot be true.

The dream was something of a wake-up call. I learned that I need to stop trying so hard and rely on God’s grace. Because we are mere human beings, salvation is impossible for us to achieve by ourselves. It is only possible through God.