It’s no secret that one of the most glaring differences between Protestant (particularly Evangelical/low church) and Catholic Christianity is in their beliefs about and attitude toward Mary the mother of Jesus. To a Protestant, the Catholic veneration of Mary looks disturbingly like idolatry. But I’m beginning to have significant qualms about the almost callous disdain some varieties of Protestantism have towards Mary, not least because of the implications it has for their understanding of femininity and their treatment of women.
If we believe that Mary was chosen essentially at random, that God could have used any woman to be the mother of His Son because all He needed was womb space and human DNA, we reduce our understanding of womanhood to that of physical maternity and that all-too-distasteful word, breeding.
If we believe that Mary was chosen through God’s will alone without regard to her personal choice, as strict Calvinism logically implies, we reduce her “yes” to a meaningless appearance and reduce our view of women to less-than-free agents. We open the door to rape and abuse because we turn God Himself into a rapist.
By removing from our faith a vision of Mary’s beauty – of the cosmic power of her choice to cooperate with God’s grace and enter into His redemptive plan – we lose our vision of the full beauty and power of women in general. Sisters, what matters most about us isn’t our ability to bear children and bring babies into the world. What matters most is our choice to say “yes” to God’s plan, our ability to change the course of history by choosing to live for Him.
In the Catholic understanding of Mary, we see God choosing a woman to play the most important human role in His salvific plan. That’s the kind of thing He does: He takes the weaker, the oppressed, the downtrodden, and glorifies them. And people who by nature and social norms are accustomed to power and respect are unnerved or threatened by that. Maybe that’s why the certain churches reduce Mary’s role to her womb. But what Catholicism offers is is a vision of womanhood glorified and beautified by grace, lifted up in queenly majesty as it offers itself to Him in free love and humility.
That is the picture of womanhood I want to emulate and grow into personally, and it is the perception of women that I wish could permeate our families, churches, and society at large.