Somethings About Mary

Last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation, marking nine months until the Nativity. Catholics often receive a lot of questions about Mary from non-Catholics, especially non-Catholic Christians, so here are some FAQ talking points:

Catholics don’t believe that Mary is divine or to be worshiped as God.  We believe that God is One Being in Three Persons, those Persons are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Catholics do believe that Mary is the Mother of God, or Theotokos. Specifically, we believe she was the mother of the Second Person of the Trinity, when He became Incarnate as Jesus the Messiah. We do not claim that she existed eternally, but that God stepped into history as a human person at a specific moment in time, and selected her to be His mother.

Catholics do believe that Mary was conceived without sin and remained without sin her entire life through a special act of grace on the part of her Son, Jesus. This is called the Immaculate Conception. Why do we believe this? Lots of reasons! To start, Mary is addressed by the angel Gabriel as “full of grace” and “highly favored,” yet it is impossible for a sinful human person to be either of these things (Lk. 1:26-38). Likewise, we know that God is highly demanding regarding the purity and quality of materials to be used for those vessels which carry His covenant, see Exodus 25:10-22). Yet Mary isn’t a box carrying, the presence of the Lord, a set of stone tablets, and a bit of the manna from the desert wanderings of Israel.  Mary is a human person, and what she carries is the Second Person of the Trinity, God Incarnate – the Kingdom of Heaven in Person, the new and everlasting Covenant, the true Bread from Heaven, which Israel and the tablets and manna only foreshadowed.

Catholics don’t believe that Mary didn’t need salvation. We believe that all human persons besides Jesus require salvation – a salvation only made possible by the graces emanating from the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus. In the case of Mary, we believe these graces were given to her pre-emptively. Imagine a giant pit representing sin. Jesus saves most of us by pulling us out of the pit, but He saved Mary by preventing her from falling into it. Either way, salvation only comes through Him, and is absolutely necessary for all of us.

Catholics do pray to Mary. But we understand that prayer and worship are not the same things. To pray literally means “to ask,” and a Catholic praying to Mary is only asking for her intercession – similar to how the couple getting married in Cana in John chapter 2 relied on Mary’s aid, and similar to how many of us ask our family, friends, and other loved ones to regularly pray for us.

Related to this, Catholics do believe that Mary, as Queen of Heaven, has a special intercessory role in our lives. Mary is the Queen of Heaven because in the Davidic Kingdom, the mother of the King, not the wife of the King, was the Queen of Israel.  A King could have many wives (just look at Solomon) but only one mother.  Queens in Hebrew history also brought requests to the King, see the book of Esther, and 1 Kings 2:19.

Catholics don’t believe that Mary saves us from our sins. But we do believe that her “yes” (or fiat) to God in Luke 1 represents a special cooperation with God in salvation history that is unique. Nowhere else save perhaps in the Gardens of Eden and Gethsamene do we see God giving human freedom so great a scope and power to affect the course of history, which is part of why we also call Mary the “New Eve.” Had she, like Eve, said no, who can imagine the course of salvation history? That she said, “yes” to God is the source of all the blessings which Luke’s Gospel claims she will receive, for truly without Jesus there is no Mary, but without Mary, there is also no Jesus.

Kathy Peterson

I am a “cradle Catholic” and have been a member of OLV for 25 years.  My husband Randy and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage and have three children – Joe (graduated from college), Erica (currently in college) and Carrie (will be entering college).  I have lived in the Quad Cities my entire life and completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees from St. Ambrose University.  I have been involved with youth for many years as a Boy Scout Leader and through school organizations.  I enjoy camping, gardening, music and spending time with family and friends.


We didn’t get to have our usual scripture reflection for this past Sunday’s readings as we didn’t have our regular Wednesday youth night last week. So before we reach Wednesday this week, I want to take a moment to highlight some things from the Gospel.
This is a powerful story found in John’s Gospel, and is one of the seven signs that Jesus works in His ministry as John relates it. John’s Gospel tends to focus on especially significant miracles to make certain points about Jesus, rather than trying to include all the miracles of Christ. In fact, John claims that the world could not contain enough books to tell everything that Jesus did on Earth (Jn. 21:25).
So what is so important about this miracle then that it ranks among the great Signs of Jesus’ ministry? There are a few characteristics that make it interesting: the first is that the man is born blind, the second is the manner of his healing, the third is how he testifies about Christ.
Being born blind to ancient Hebrews was essentially considered a tell-tale of sin – either the man or more likely his parents were sinners and God had punished them in this way. More importantly, no one had ever healed a man who had been born blind in Jewish history. In fact, not many blind healings occur at all until the new Testament, aside from Tobit. Blindness is therefore equated with sin, and spiritual disease for the Hebrews, and was beyond even the power of the Prophets.
The man is healed in a peculiar way. Jesus often heals with a mere word, or a touch. In this case, however, Jesus makes some clay with His own spit from the dust of the earth, rubs it over the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam, which John tells us means, “sent.”
Finally, the man, whose name is never given, testifies to Jesus Christ with increasing certainty as the story goes on, growing in terms of his discipleship, and showing a wisdom far beyond what he could have acquired as a social pariah in Israel at the time, but he also declares something unique throughout the Gospels as well, which we will highlight.
Now, I want you to imagine that you are an ancient story teller – telling the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve. The text of Genesis tells us that the Lord formed Adam from the dust of the earth. The text says that a stream welled up and watered the dust of the ground, but think for a moment where that stream must have come from. We all know story tellers who like to embellish details to make a point, and so to make this point I’d like to draw on an embellishment of a professor at Franciscan University, Dr. John Bergsma, who imagines the ancient myth involving God, the Artisan, spitting into the dust to make the stream, and then using the resultant mud to sculpt Adam in His image.
Blindness represents spiritual disease and sin. In this sense, the blind man represents us all – all of us have sinned, we are all spiritually sick, we are all blind to God, at least at times. Jesus points out that this man’s blindness will be a means by which the works of God will be made visible. So Jesus spits in the dust, makes clay, and places it over the man’s eyes, then tells him to go wash in the pool of the Sent. Whoa, wait a second. Remember how we said this wasn’t a normal healing for Jesus? That’s because it isn’t a healing at all. It’s a renewing of Creation. Jesus is God the Artisan, again returning to the clay, re-sculpting Fallen Man in His own Image. God returns to the clay to make a new Creation. And the mark of it is that the man is told to wash in the waters of the Sent. Jesus is the One sent by the Father, these waters are the waters of baptism – which are of death and rebirth.
This is given extraordinary proof in what the blind man says of himself to those who are wondering whether he is the blind man or just someone who looks remarkably like him. He answers, “I am.” English doesn’t really capture the power of this statement. This is the Tetragrammaton, the Name of God as it was given to Moses by the burning bush, the unpronounceable and great statement of God’s own nature. Only Jesus in the Gospels ever uses this construction, because Jesus is God. He tells us “before Abraham was, I AM,” and when they seek Him in the Garden, He assures them, “I AM.” Usually people immediately follow a statement like this with hefting of stones to kill Jesus, because it is blasphemy! Yet here we have the formerly blind “man,” newly remade in Jesus’ image, returning from the waters to declare with His Master that, “I am.”
This causes quite a stir, because as usual Jesus was healing people on the Sabbath, and making clay counted as work, and the local religious authorities come into the story for the first time. They interview the man, who tells them what happened to him. First he tells how the “man called Jesus” made clay and anointed his eyes and told him to wash (Jn. 9:11). Then, as they debate what this sign can mean (work on Sabbath = evil, but how can a sinner work such signs?), they ask him what he thinks, and he now declares Jesus to be a prophet (Jn. 9:17). They think he lies about being born blind, so they bring in his parents, who tell them to ask him as they were afraid of being kicked out of the community for acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah. So they return to the man, and he now asks them if they want to become Jesus’ disciples, too. When they become angry and claim to be disciples of Moses, and not of Jesus, and are confident that Moses came from God but not of Jesus’ origins, the man seems almost to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything” (Jn. 9:30-33). The Pharisees become even angrier, and throw him out, claiming that as he was born totally in sin, he cannot teach them.
Jesus finds him once he was cast out, and asks him a simple question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man” (Jn. 9:35). Once it is made clear that Jesus, the one who healed him, is the Son of Man, he declares that he does believe, and worships Jesus. Do you see the progression? The man who is made new starts with the statement that Jesus is a man who healed him. Then that he is a prophet. Then that he is something more than a prophet to have healed his particular blindness, for it is “unheard of.” Jesus must be from God, and he wants now to be his disciple. Finally, Jesus Himself asks him if he believes, and once he knows who Jesus is, he believes and worships, ie he acknowledges that Jesus isn’t just a man, a prophet, or from God, but that He is God, and it is this being God that made his re-creation possible, that allows him to share in the life of the great, “I AM.”
Brothers and sisters, the man born blind is all of us. The pool of Siloam is the Sacrament of Baptism. The realization and confession that Jesus is God is one we must all come to to be His disciples. And we, like him, will share in the glory and eternal life of Jesus. Well and truly is the Sunday on which we hear this Gospel named Laetare, which means “Rejoice!” We have much for which we can rejoice – our blindness is healed, our lives renewed, our God is made man, and we will share in His nature and in His Resurrection!

The Silent Saint

Let’s talk for a moment about today. Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. A Solemnity is a special type of feast day, typically reserved to events revolving around Jesus’ life or for members of His family. They are holy days essentially equivalent in rank to Sundays (which are miniature Easters). This, just by the way, means you can rest from your Lenten fasting today guilt free!

St. Joseph is a Saint of particular importance, one could say almost for the opposite reason as his wife, Mary. What is Mary’s great claim to fame? Her fiat, which was her free and even cheerful assent to being the Theotokos (the God-bearer) for Christ. On this one moment the whole plan of salvation hung, on this great yes is based all the wonders of Christmas, the sorrows of the Passion, and the glories of the Resurrection. From this yes flow all the wonderful things we call Mary – Mother of God, Spouse of the Spirit, Ark of the New Covenant, Queen of Heaven, New Eve. On this terrible moment the whole of human existence poised on the brink of a second Fall – for Mary like Eve could have said, “No,” to God. And had she done so, no mind among us can imagine the depths to which we might have fallen since, nor comprehend the means by which God would ultimately come to redeem us. Redeem us He certainly would, all we know is that.

As I said, Joseph is really the opposite to Mary. Mary speaks and declares her, “yes” to God. Though perhaps spoken quietly, it is a word heard throughout the heavens and across the Earth, indeed it blazes across Creation like a shooting star, and resounds like a trumpet blast. Joseph never speaks at all. He is the great, silent Saint. Instead, Joseph is like Adam in the account of the Fall – but he is an Adam who fulfills the original purpose of Adam: Adam’s role was to protect Eve and the Garden which contained the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. From who or what only becomes clear when the Serpent appears to tempt Eve. From that story we know that Eve speaks with Evil and chooses to eat from the forbidden fruit. But we also know that it says she gave some to her husband, “who was with her” (Gen 3:6). Adam stood silently by as the Devil tempted his wife, and then chose to Fall with her, rather than remain obedient to God that she might be saved through him. Adam is silent when the world most needed him to speak. St. Joseph, too, is silent. But St. Joseph, “a righteous man, but unwilling to expose [Mary] to shame” is silent in the opposite manner (Mt. 1:19). Deeply pious, St. Joseph doesn’t plan on taking in Mary once she is found to be pregnant before they have consummated their marriage (the only reasonable conclusion being adultery on her part) – but he is also unwilling to publicly expose her, the punishment for adultery being stoning to death. Joseph is not a self-righteous man, but a righteous one. His love of God makes him seek purity and holiness, his love of Mary ensures that he will protect her. He thinks he has found the way to do both in quietly divorcing her – but God has other plans. In a dream, the angel Gabriel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary into his home, and explains the origins of the child to him. Unlike Mary, Joseph says nothing – but he takes Mary into his home, giving her the full mantle of legal and familial protection which a husband provided his wife at that time. Before, Joseph was willing to protect Mary from shame, but remember an unmarried woman had no legal rights or protections – Joseph was called by God to give a greater protection to Mary and her child, Mary the new Eve, and in her womb, the Fruit of the Tree of Life, a new Eden as well.

This protection was soon exercised, as Herod plots the death of the infant Christ almost immediately after his birth. The joy of Christmas gives way to darkness and terror as those first gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are sold to finance the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt. Again warned in a dream, Joseph gathers his family in the dark of night, and departs for Egypt – a bare step ahead of the soldiers who murder innocents all throughout Bethlehem. “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation,” but the voice was not St. Joseph’s (Mt. 2:18). Then, once more, Joseph is summoned via dream to return from Egypt to Israel, but instead of returning to Bethlehem, the city of his people, the city of David, the dreams move him to a self-imposed exile in Nazareth of Galilee, a place half-civilized, and of hard-living, in a region that was looked down upon by the Jews of Jerusalem – remember the mockery of Nathaniel, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” – that the prophecies about Jesus might be fulfilled (Jn 1:46).

At this point we should have been reminded of another Joseph of Scripture, another great Father or Patriarch, and yet one also not famous for his own children. The three great Patriarchs of Israel are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – yet it is Joseph alone among the twelve sons of Israel who is sometimes referred to as the Fourth Patriarch for it is through him that God saves Jacob’s people during the great famine. This Joseph, too, was a man of dreams, given to understand their meaning and act upon them accordingly. This Joseph, too, was a man whose life was sought by his people, his own brothers, and who escaped death by only the narrowest of margins. This Joseph, too, escaped to Egypt, to prepare there a place for Israel and provide for God’s people, setting the stage also for the Exodus, the Passover, and the covenant; St. Joseph in providing for Mary and the Child provided for the new Israel, the new Moses, and the new Covenant.

St. Joseph, the silent Saint, gives us the picture of a man who fulfills the duties of Adam even after the Fall, preparing the way for the New Adam who is Christ. He is also the new Joseph, a new Patriarch for a new Israel, and thus the Patron of the Universal Church which is now the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of [God’s] own” (1 Peter 2:9). Most of all he provides the portrait of a man who loves his family, who was so good a father that alone out of all humanity God Himself chose to call him, “Father.”

Celebrate St. Joseph today. Be not silent in praise of this great Saint.

Lenten Penances

I want to take a moment to remind everyone that taking up a penitential practice for Lent isn’t the same as a New Year’s Resolution. The prevailing opinion seems to be for the latter that once you “broke it” you can’t regain it. That’s not true for Lent!

If you mess up and break your fast, that doesn’t mean you give up on fasting, it means you redouble your efforts. If you’re experiencing a lot of temptation and spiritual struggle, that’s good! It means you’re developing new spiritual muscles – no one finds working out to be easy when they are just starting.

Everybody makes mistakes or stumbles once in a while. But part of the power of Lent lies in the perfect complementarity of the penitential practices. What do I mean by that? Let’s try an example: Did you give up pop? Drink one by accident? Every time you realize you had pop out of habit, donate a dollar to charity. Or pray a decade of the Rosary. Link prayer, fasting, and alms-giving together, so that even your mistakes become part of a greater scheme of offering up your life to God. Need help with that? Let me know and I’ll help you brainstorm ways!

Want to know the best part? When you turn your mistakes into opportunities to grow closer to God instead of moments where we turn away from Him, you get to laugh in the face of the Devil. If the temptations and trials he puts into your life have the exact opposite effect from what he wanted … well, let’s just say we call that a WIN!