Everybody loves Mary. If you’re a Catholic reading this on its original publication date, you have recently gone or will be going to Mass to honor her as the Immaculate Conception. (Otherwise, the next page you visit might be the closest parish’s confession times.) You probably heard the same homily reminder you get every year that the Immaculate Conception is Mary, not Jesus. Or maybe you heard something different. And if you’re not a Catholic, Mary is probably not particularly important to you on this specific day.
But she may well be important to you anyway. Even non-Catholics have a great affinity for the woman whom Maureen Orth, writing for National Geographic Magazine, recently declared “the world’s most powerful woman.” I know I wasn’t the only person pleasantly startled by that headline, so I dug in to the article to see how, from a journalistic perspective, the Blessed Mother has enraptured so many.
Orth notes that “as a universal symbol of maternal love, as well as of suffering and sacrifice, Mary is … a more accessible link to the supernatural than formal church teachings.” Well, Mary’s role as the mother of God is a “formal church teaching.” That was such a controversial statement—that a human, non-divine woman could be the mother of our divine Lord—that it required the definition of Mary as theotokos (Greek for “God bearer”) that Orth does include as a factoid. “Accessible,” however, is on just the right track. I once heard a Hispanic priest describe the significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe alone to Mexicans as equaling the bald eagle, the flag, apple pie, baseball, and Independence Day to Americans. God might seem far away, but Mary is right next to us.
To her credit, Orth gives a brief nod to Protestant Christians, noting that devotion to Mary fell out of fashion during the Reformation. Most of the Mary devotees profiled are Catholic or Muslim. Furthermore, I noted that, even in the article’s title, Mary retains her most common epithet, “the Virgin,” which is a specific point of contention for Christians who don’t believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity. Orth doesn’t disclose her religious affiliation in the article, but whether referring to the Blessed Mother as “the virgin Mary” is a personal note or a nod to others’ speech, I appreciated it all the same.
“The Vatican would never approve an alleged apparition whose message contradicted church teachings, and the faithful aren’t required to believe in apparitions,” Orth writes. That is absolutely true. Also, as I noted in my review of Looking for Mary; or, the Blessed Mother and Me, apparitions are never approved by the Church until they have completed. So, Medjugorje fans, you are just fine. Until the apparitions cease (and as long as the seers keep telling us that Mary wants us to repent, be faithful, and pray the rosary), it’s all good. Your earthly mother probably says the same thing.
Overall, it is the attitude of sharing facts and sharing stories that characterizes Orth’s article and makes it appropriate for a secular, inquisitive audience and a religious one alike. If you’re looking for something to nurture your personal devotion to Mary, this is probably not it. This is, however, an incredible feature for a secular publication to release at all, and I’m hoping it plants some seeds in hearts to turn them toward God and the hope of salvation.
Advent Challenge: Investigate an apparition or vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary that you don’t know much about. She has been reported to appear to people all around the world. Even if you choose not to believe in any of the apparitions, you might find inspiration in the changed lives of those who say that they’ve seen her.