Sunday, February 10, 2008

there's something about Mary...

Short excerpts from a long but excellent article from Richard John Neuhaus on Mary in First Things...

Aside from being a thoughtful social commentator, Neuhaus is a former Lutheran minister turned Catholic priest. As such, he is in a position to evaluate what has been, at times, a Catholic over-emphasis on Mary and a Protestant allergy to Mary.

...[T]here are basic differences between evangelical and Catholic attitudes toward Marian devotion, including differences in our response to what both can agree are excesses and abuses.... These questions are helpfully addressed in The One Mediator, the Saints, and Mary, the eighth volume issuing from a Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. What is said of Lutherans in this connection is, I suggest, true also of most evangelicals. The Catholic participants in the dialogue write:

After almost five centuries of living separately, Lutherans and Catholics have come to embody different ways of living out the gospel. One basic theological and liturgical conviction which has carried the Catholic tradition holds that Jesus Christ alone is never alone. He is always found in the company of a whole range of his friends, both living and dead. It is a basic Catholic experience that, when recognized and appealed to within a rightly ordered faith, these friends of Jesus strengthen one’s own sense of communion [with him]. . . . Saints show us how the grace of God may work in a life; they give us bright patterns of holiness; they pray for us. Keeping company with the saints in the Spirit of Christ encourages our faith. It is simply part of what it means to be Catholic, bound with millions of other people not only throughout space in countries around the world, but also throughout time. Those who have gone before us in faith are still living members of the body of Christ and in some unimaginable way we are all connected [through Christ]. Within a rightly ordered faith, both liturgical and private honoring of all the saints, of one saint, or of Saint Mary serves to keep our feet on the gospel path.

Of course, it all depends on “a rightly ordered faith.” The alternative to a rightly ordered faith is a disordered faith. The subject of excesses and abuses in Marian devotion falls under the category of disordered faith....

If you would draw close to Jesus, draw close to Mary; if you would draw close to Mary, draw close to Jesus. That maxim captures a rightly ordered faith and rightly ordered devotion. Anything that pits Jesus against Mary or that depicts them as rivals for devotion is disordered. The entirety of Mary’s role is encapsulated in her injunction at the wedding of Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” These are the final words of Mary in the New Testament and, in substance, the final words of Mary forever.

Catholics likewise take very seriously the words of Jesus on the cross, “Woman, behold your son.” And to John he said, “Behold your mother.” John the disciple is the synecdoche of the entire body of Christ, the Church. Mary is not only to treat John as her son, and John to treat Mary as his mother; they are mother and son—as are all who are the brothers and sisters of Christ and who therefore recognize his mother as their mother. This is the heart of Marian devotion rightly ordered.

Disordered Marian devotion has been with us since the beginning of the Christian story. Needless to say, there have been, and still are, many other forms of disordered devotion in the life of the Christian community in all its parts. With respect to Marian devotion, popes and councils have frequently tried to correct excesses, although it may be readily admitted that sometimes, as in the late Middle Ages, they have acted less vigorously than they should have. This can be explained, and perhaps excused, in part by legitimate pastoral concern not to infringe on the proper freedom of the faithful in their response to the gospel, keeping in mind “the priesthood of all believers,” and, in part, by a concern not to tear up the wheat along with the tares. While it is true that an immature faith is preferable to no faith at all, the Church has a responsibility to encourage growth toward a faith rightly ordered....

John Paul II said that devotion to Mary and other saints, as expressed in patronal feasts, pilgrimages, and other forms of piety, “should not sink to the level of a mere search for protection or for material goods or for bodily health. Rather, the saints should be presented to the faithful as models of life in imitation of Christ as the sure way that leads to him.” The criterion set forth in the Catechism for rightly and wrongly ordered devotion is unequivocal: “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines, in turn, its faith in Christ.” Discerning what is true and what is false devotion to Mary and the other saints engages truths that are trinitarian, Christological, pneumatological, and ecclesial. Any devotion that displaces, overshadows, or obscures the triune God, that impugns the mercy of the one mediator Jesus Christ, that neglects the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, or that tends to separate a particular saint from the whole body of Christ is a disordered devotion....

A concern for Christian unity, as well as missionary strategy, requires that we take great care not to pull up the wheat along with the tares....Nonetheless, there are excesses, abuses, and deviations from the structure of faith that must be firmly addressed with pastoral wisdom. For instance, Catholic bishops and other leaders must strive to correct the widespread idea that Mary or one of the other saints has a particular power over God or Christ to obtain benefits. Some ecumenically attentive Catholics have suggested that we should replace the idea of praying to Mary with that of praying with Mary. This has considerable merit, remembering that Mary is “the first of the disciples” and “the icon of the Church.”

At the same time, if prayer is considered in all its dimensions—including adoration, thanksgiving, and contemplation—the idea of praying to Mary and other saints cannot be discarded. And, as is evident in our asking our brothers and sisters here on earth to pray for us, we cannot dismiss the power of intercessory prayer on our behalf or on behalf of others. What is to be unequivocally opposed and corrected is the idea that Mary or other saints have a certain “leverage” to move an otherwise inaccessible or uncaring God....

With respect to Mary and the saints, Catholics challenge evangelicals to give a clearer and fuller expression of the koinonia of saints, which includes both the present and the departed who live in Christ. Evangelicals challenge Catholics to underscore more clearly the sole mediation of Christ in devotional practices involving Mary and the saints....

1 Comments:

At February 11, 2008 at 3:45 PM , Blogger Martina said...

I remember in my naive youth wondering "How is it people fight over religion? I mean, if you believe in God, shouldn't that give you a common foundation?" Then I started working. I met a Baptist woman, who, when she found out I was Catholic (at that time) went on a tirade about our worshipping Mary and how WRONG it was, etc. I still remember it vividly to this day how bad my blood boiled! It was then I realized "so THAT'S why people fight about religion!"

 

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