Dear Edith: I Don't Relate to Mary

May 16, 2017

Dear Edith,

I have a confession: I don't 'get' Mary. Most of the time I feel like I don't relate to her at all. Honestly, sometimes I don't even really like her.

I was raised Catholic, so I know Mary is essential to the faith. But all the things we honor her for - her virginity, humility, being quiet and meek - honestly sound like a pretty archaic and oppressive definition of women. But this is the Catholic Church's "ideal woman." How as a real-life modern woman am I supposed to relate to her  at all?? I try but she just seems so out of reach.

I know she was human, but she was also perfect. I can never live up to that! I feel like she's that girl who's so perfect that... you just kind-of despise her sometimes. (Am I a terrible Catholic??)


-- Anonymous

Dear Edith Response #1 - Anni

Not being able to relate to Mary is a common feeling at times... it does not make you a bad Catholic! Especially for those of us who are women, and feel the impression that perhaps we must "be perfect the way Mary was perfect!" I know... because I struggled to I get her in my past. Keep in mind that although the Vatican has approved Marian apparitions since her death and ascension into Heaven, they don't require any of us to believe in any of the apparitions in order to "be a good Catholic."

Throughout my journey of Catholicism, and my study of Mary, I realized she wasn't as meek as we typically, initially believe. First, the woman agreed to become the mother of God, even though she was not married. She risked her life, to bring the Savior into the world! She had a choice, and she accepted the request made to her.

She had a choice, and she accepted the request made to her.

But the biggest example of her strength I would point to, is her instruction at the Wedding Feast of Cana - in which Jesus informs her in John 2:4, "My hour has not yet come." And, His mother, in John 2:5 simply, "said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.'" Essentially, she recognizes His time has come before He even recognized it - and, gave Him a gentle shove into His public ministry. I like to think she recognized He was ready, even when He didn't.

She was far from meek, as she stood by and watched her Son travel His path toward Calvary, and subsequently die on the Cross.

Perhaps it may also help to recognize, although she was perfect, she needed Jesus' saving grace that we all need. Only through Him was she able to be saved. And, my chaplain also pointed out to me recently - her perfection, and inability to be tempted by the devil, was because her soul was without the stain of Original Sin. I took his guidance to mean her personality and approach to life's situations were vastly different than ours would be.

although she was perfect, she needed Jesus' saving grace that we all need.

Yet, through her, we do see the embodiment of humility. And, that is what we must focus on when we look at Mary. She is the shining example - she is the perfect (literally and figuratively) example of having true faith, trust, and fidelity in God and His plans. Think of how, when Jesus was presented in the Temple as a baby, her heart was pierced with a thousand swords when Simeon cautioned her of what was to come. She carried "all these things in her heart." She worried, she grieved; yet, she took those worries and grievances to God alone - she shared herself, wholly, to God.

And, that is what we are challenged to emulate... challenged being the operative word!

He does ask we give Him our everything... the same way Mary gave her all!

God is not expecting perfection from us, but He does ask we give Him our everything... the same way Mary gave her all! And, as Jesus hung on the Cross, He gave her to us to be our mother - which is her role now.

To show us, in a faithful, loving, motherly manner, the way to Christ. She leads us to Him.

It doesn't make you a bad Catholic to struggle to connect with her... it makes you human.

Dear Edith Response #2 - Image of Mary

Hello! Thank you so much for verbalizing what so many of us feel, and don’t worry- this doesn’t make you a terrible Catholic at all! I know that for so long, I have found it so hard to relate to Mary, and even just to approach her in prayer. You hit on a core problem that I am sure many of us encounter in our growth in being Catholic.

When I read your question, I began to ask myself the same thing. I can honestly say it has only been about a year since I have been able to be comfortable going to Mary and actually seeing her as someone I can relate to. And one thing that changed it for me was praying on very human aspects of her as well.

Mary was born without sin, but there are many other aspects in which she is so very similar to us. And actually, I have found reflecting on her emotions and responses to certain events to really help me with this. In particular, I found praying with art to help with this.

In particular, I found praying with art to help with this.

Below is an image of Mary that really makes her seem so very real to me. In this image, she is expressing a lot of fear that she felt at the Annunciation, along with many other emotions. She was young, and probably could have preferred the Annunciation to happen at some other time in her life. She probably thought, “What would Joseph think?” Many responses and emotions were a reaction to such a proposition at the Annunciation, along with other big moments in her life.

I like to pray and reflect on these emotions that Mary had that I relate to in such pieces of artwork, as I feel they help me to see her as more human. I hope this helps!

"Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Tanner, via Wikimedia Commons

This author would like to remain anonymous.

Dear Edith Response #3 Mary as Queen

I used to struggle in understanding why Mary was always depicted with her eyes downcast. This was a problem for me because I saw it as submissive, a demeanor I don't particularly like.

I decided to read up on it and found artists depicted her that way to indicate that she was detached from worldly things, and while her eyes were looking down her heart was lifted up towards Heaven. So it wasn't man she was showing humility to, but she was basically scorning the temporal, physical world. I thought this was pretty radical. And this is how I also learnt about the virtue of detachment. It's sort of like experiencing your world from a third-person point of view, as opposed to first person. This really helped me put my day-to-day experiences in perspective.

So it wasn't man she was showing humility to, but she was basically scorning the temporal, physical world.

Also, Mary is the queen of Heaven and our Mother. She suffered terribly during Christ's Passion. I think she is a figure to be admired, loved, and to request powerful intercession from, rather than to be able to relate to.

She was the mother of God - how can we compete with that? We can't. And we aren't asked to.

This author would like to remain anonymous.

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