My earliest memories of the Catholic faith all involve Our Blessed Mother. A love of the color blue, in its various beautiful shades, coupled with an interest in Mary’s countless titles, sparked my longing to be with and like Mary, my Mother. I thank God that He gave me a deep desire for a relationship with her, because I know that my experience learning about and falling in love with Mary is a gift.
During my freshman year of college, I sought both to draw closer to Mary and to be a feminist.
In my brazen youth, I had little idea what feminism meant aside from women’s health issues and equal pay. Attending a liberal-minded state university forced me to ask what meant to be a feminist. On campus, I heard self-described feminists rage about women’s reproductive rights and the equality of men and women in all things - sometimes even going so far as to say that women must become like men or that women are superior to them. Their claims were presented through flashy rhetoric, but it was from our Catholic Faith that I learned the truth: that a feminist is someone who seeks the truth, advocates for others, and fights to uphold the dignity of women and men - no matter what.
This led to my next question: what about Mary? She is the model for all Christians, especially women, but often portrayed as meek and humble. I didn’t associate feminists with being dainty, delicate, and quiet. Could I be a feminist and still be like her? Looking at the Gospels, I began to see how Mary herself models authentic feminism.
What about Mary? . . . Could I be a feminist and still be like her?
We only scratch the surface of who Mary is when we see her silently praying in her grace-filled perfection. Yes, Mary listens, prays, receives the Holy Spirit, and praises the Lord. And she also does so much more.
Mary is a woman of action.
As Catholic feminists, we have much to learn from her. She teaches us how to live, love, and make a difference in our families, communities, and the world. She teaches us how to be feminists. Here’s how:
We first meet Mary in the Gospel of Luke. She is praying when, all of a sudden, the archangel Gabriel arrives with a message for her, from God. Gabriel shares the amazing plan that God has for her and who her Son will be, if only she accepts His invitation. Mary responds with a question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34).
Her question does not doubt God’s ability to do the impossible. Rather, by asking “how,” she acknowledges that this miracle defies all human understanding. Far from being driven by doubt or fear, this is a question full of wonder, courage, and faith. When confronted with this new and incredible situation, she has the courage to speak up. Mary’s trust in the Lord emboldens her to ask a question so that she might participate fully in God’s plan. Her inquiry reveals her faith in God.
Mary’s trust in the Lord emboldens her to ask a question so that she might participate fully in God’s plan.
Even the apostles do not always demonstrate the same depth of faith. Sometimes, they allow fear to creep in when Christ describes the impossible. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus explains to His apostles that the Son of Man will be killed and then rise in three days - a humanly impossible feat. The apostles “did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.” (Mark 9:32). Fear silenced them.
When God shares the unbelievable, Mary enters into the incredulous. She asks questions because she desires to know, love, and follow God.
Before Gabriel departs, Mary proclaims, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). “May it be done to me according to your word” is Mary’s call to action. Pregnant with the Son of God, “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” (just under 100 miles, by the way) to help her cousin, Elizabeth (Luke 1:39).
“May it be done to me according to your word” is Mary’s call to action.
Mary embarks on a treacherous journey while young and pregnant to serve someone else. Wasting no time, love compels her to act.
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus states, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). While Mary’s Magnificat reveals how her heart, soul, and mind are moved by her love for God, her strength might not always be so magnified for us.
Yet, Mary rushing to Elizabeth’s side highlights both her physical and maternal strength. Each woman possesses the ability to be a fierce mother, to make room for another and care for them. We do this in the workforce, our communities, our wombs, the public sphere, and in our own homes. We can serve others and we can do it now, no matter our state of life. God will always provide an opportunity. When Mary recognizes her opportunity, she hastens to take it.
At the wedding in Cana, Mary tells the servants to do whatever her Son tells them after they run out of wine (John 2:1-5). She does not demand that Jesus perform a miracle. She knows what He can do and what the people before her need, so she commands the servants to go to Jesus and do His will, using her influence to bring others to Christ. She also implores her Son to provide for the wedding guests.
Within our own sphere of influence, we can choose to bring life or destruction into the world, to love or use others. We see this choice play out with other women in the Gospels.
Contrast Mary’s influence with that of Herod’s wife and daughter. Herodias’ daughter danced and delighted Herod, who then told her, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you” (Mark 6:22). After consulting her mother (who had her own malicious motives), Herodias’ daughter asks Herod for the head of John the Baptist on a platter (Mark 6:25). The opposite of Mary, who uses her influence to bring life to others, Herodias' daughter uses her influence to have another person killed.
“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother. . .” (John 19:25).
Bleeding, scourged, gasping for breath - Jesus, in agony, hangs on the cross and Mary stands right beside Him. She remains, sharing His pain, suffering with Him. Mary witnesses her only Son be mocked, sentenced to death, beaten, and hung on a tree to die. Crowned with thorns, Mary sees her Son in His gruesome glory. But she does not turn away.
Christ's death not the first time Mary suffers in the Gospels. When the child Jesus was lost, Mary battled worry and fear as she searched for her dear Son. Jesus' public ministry brought Him away from home, away from her. Through it all, Mary encourages His work. She knows her Son and what He came to accomplish. Mary understands the price of redemption and she freely enters in suffering, out of love for her Son and for the world.
Mary also remains with us in our suffering. She plants her feet at the cross of the dying Christ and at the foot of our own crosses. With open arms, she receives the body of her pierced Son and our own hurting hearts.
She plants her feet at the cross of the dying Christ and at the foot of our own crosses.
Like Mary, we too encounter the effects of sin in this world. We too have been pierced by suffering. And we too are invited to stand steadfast at the foot of the cross, arms open and ready to receive a hurting brother or sister.
Mary asks. Mary hastens. Mary influences. Mary suffers.
As Catholic feminists, we can dramatically change the world in a Marian way by being women who seek the truth, advocate for others, and uphold the dignity of all. When we say yes to God, we say yes to becoming feminists on fire with Christ’s love.
The world needs more women who freely and fervently respond to God’s invitation to love and be loved. In embracing our call to be feminists, we follow in Mary’s footsteps, emptying ourselves so that God may work incredible wonders in and through us.
Want to be Catholic and a feminist? Go to Mary. She’ll show you the way.