Saturday, August 18, 2012

Should women try to imitate Mary?

This past week was the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, celebrating the hierarchy’s belief that Mary didn’t die but was assumed into heaven, body and soul.  Many people vigorously debate, “Did she or didn’t she die?”  However, since church hierarchy teach Mary represents the pinnacle of being a good female, wife and mother, my questions tend to concern her life more than her death (or non-death).

Mary and I have the same standard equipment package because we are both females.  But beyond broad physical similarities tied to common gender, I mostly see major differences between our lives.

Mary as Portrayed by the Hierarchy
Began life
Born into “original sin” in need of redemption
Born pre-redeemed, “immaculately conceived”, free from sin
Trying to avoid sin but nonetheless committing sins here and there along life’s journey
100% sinless
Was educated
Kindergarten through undergraduate degree in public schools and earned a master degree from a Catholic university
At home and most likely was illiterate
Outside the home providing for myself and my family, and paying taxes
At home as a wife and mother
Conceived child(ren)
Within my marriage
Before her marriage – what today would be labeled a “welfare momma”, assumed to be expecting others to provide for her and her kid
Had first child
When I was in my twenties
As a teenager
Children’s conception occurred
Via sexual intercourse with husband
Via Holy Spirit “overshadowing” her
Learned about pregnancy
Via a pregnancy test administered by my doctor
Via an angel of the Lord appearing to her – a bit more dramatic than my experience
Gave birth
In a hospital paid for by my insurance
In the stable of an inn and who knows how or if she paid for it
Children’s birth was attended by
Husband, obstetrician, nurses
Husband, donkey, sheep, goats, cattle…perhaps dogs, cats, a chicken or two and some mice
New child visited by
Family, friends and the pediatrician
Shepherds and 3 astrologers from Asia who were all complete strangers – did no one they knew visit these people?
Human daughters who are good kids but still commit sins here and there along life’s journey
One son who was a sinless human/god
Multiple children and thus refereed profound sibling interactions such as “Make her stop looking out my window!”
One child so she missed out on lots of parenting’s most challenging and rewarding experiences
Needed to
Deal with children’s sins
Endure watching her sinless kid be killed
Grew by
Learning from my mistakes, and loving kids beyond their sins
????  When you’re born sinless and have one sinless kid, how much growing do you require?
Was pregnant
While raising other children and working fulltime outside the house – this is a HUGE challenge
Without the strain of other children or working outside the home
Emotional and physical intimacy with spouse aligned with church teachings on marriage
Only emotional intimacy with spouse and thereby contradicted church teachings about performing one’s “marital duty”
Spousal physical intimacy is taught by church hierarchy to be
Beautiful, natural and necessary – grounds for annulment if not performed
“Stained”, “spotted”, and “sinful” since her perpetual virginity is taught as preserving her as “stainless”, “unspotted” and “sinless”
Travelled to other countries
By car, plane, boat and train with passport and visa in hand
On foot or the back of a donkey without giving any cares regarding border crossing as an alien
In different towns and states in my home country
In a foreign country as a refugee alien, as well as in different towns and regions within her native country
Will die
Was sucked into heaven as though by a Holy Hoover vacuum

There are vast differences in women’s lives as well as marriage and motherhood experiences.  This is especially true when it comes to Mary.  She was sinless raising a sinless kid.  That’s a very different experience than the rest of humanity.  How do you then say, “But you should imitate it?”  If God wanted another sinless human, doesn’t God have the power to cause another person to be born pre-redeemed, free from original sin?  Quite simply, if God wanted me to be Mary, why didn’t God just make another Mary? 

I think a lot of people experience emotional and spiritual angst pursuing someone else’s calling rather than their own.  Why do Church leaders encourage women to imitate Mary rather than pursue their own genuine and unique callings?  Wouldn’t it be better to advise people to pursue who God asked them to be rather than who God asked somebody else to be?

Do church leaders really want women to imitate Mary which would include her marital relations with her husband?  The church and humanity would become extinct pretty quickly.

Do Church leaders try to appeal to women’s egos by putting Mary on a pedestal and then encouraging women to strive towards an unachievable goal imitating her?  Is this a feigned “honoring” of women meant to divert attention from marginalization and discrimination of women in the church? 

To me, Mary isn’t any stronger role model for me as a woman than she is for any man.  She shows men and women how to defer their personal will to the will of God.  That carries no gender specificity.  


  1. your comparative chart is joyously accurate and actually useful for teachers - will pass it on. Your questions are somewhat rhetorical given what you previously indicate about "Mary" as she is portrayed, because after the very little written about her in the gospels, and the multi-volumnes filling libraries under the title "Mariology", more correctly "Mariolatry", almost nothing is known about her. Her name appears to be a root of Myriam - a good Jewish name - she gave birth probably in Nazareth at a time of multiple Roman invasions where the troops did nasty things to the maidens of the land, and she was possibly married at some type to a poor worker who lived by seeking daily labour wherever possible - not a tradesman according to todays standards. Everything else is constructed to fit someone else´s purpose. The purpose of the institutional church was of course to provide the framework for the subjugation of women. For young Christian women Mary cannot be a model of anything - they might as well look to Mini-Mouse for guidance. The church starts off by saying that she is a "virgin-mother" which automatically excludes all other women in the world for all times. In our total human evolutionary history our female half has never been hermaphrodite capable. The other image of being "overshadowed by a spirit" is too horrendous to contemplate as anything any woman would want to experience unless they have been spending too much time reading "Rosemary´s baby". Her birth and death are made so unreal that her whole life escapes any possibility to model for others how to live this really mortal life with all the joys and sufferings that this brings. So Christian women perhaps should seek to find models from Christian women who have through their normal lives sought to live the values of the gospel, and that would eliminate most of the canonical saints whose lives were just simply too weird to be useful.

    1. I like your open attitude towards Mary. we have put her on a pedestal, out of touch with ordinary people. remember Mary was a woman in solidarity with people

  2. A very detailed , honest, logical and humorous ledger list/or laundry list, that cheered me today. Thanks. Blessings. Edward Huff

  3. Interesting post and as women it is always hard to accept the church view of Mary - it is an idealised Mother that no one really has. It is much better to relate to her through our own experiences - after all she was human if if we are led to imagine otherwise.
    I believe the tradition is that Mary did indeed die; and only through the late arrival of Thomas did the followers discover that her body had disappeared. They assumed that God had bypassed the waiting period and taken her straight to heaven as she was - Elijah and Enoch also got the preferential treatment - although, given the fashion for relics and the development of DNA - I think taking his mother showed a certain amount of foresight from Jesus.

    I remember reading a reflection about virginity by Rolheiser I think - that viginity is about not letting our spirits be stained, spoilt by cynicism or the temptations of the world and always being open to the experience of God. Perhaps being free from sin is the same thing and I would image not easy at all even in her culture.

    I do like the paradox that if Mary was born without sin then why was it necessary for Jesus to come into the world?

    I agree that the pedestal does not suit her and probably horrifies her. I had issues with Mary when I was younger - but I looked at the reality of her life with Jesus and it was not easy - we can be single parents and not a word is said - she could have been killed, or shunned. Her one child would have been an outcast and fortunate if she had been able to win the friendship of other women in the village. Given the story of the wedding at Cana it seems that she was able to overcome that stigma for the sake of her child rather than herself I would imagine and probably because of the type of woman she was. The compassion and awareness of women, widows and children that Jesus shows was probably taught through her example. And at the end she accepts a responsibility she cannot imagine - and still says yes.
    I used to sit with my nan at the statue of the white and shining Mary and my nan would say - that wasn't how she saw Mary. Mary was always a little bit older, a little bit wiser and always there for a chat and a cup of tea. Now that I am a grandmother I feel the same - and if I can be that to other people then that I how I try to imitate her - no gender problem with that skill.
    The church doesn't do her any favours but that doesn't mean we can't take the time to get to know her ourselves - it is all about relationship.