Mary: The First "Feminist"

Her role goes a lot further than you may have thought
1998-09-09

Every time I think I couldn’t possibly learn anything more from John Paul II, I learn something more from John Paul II.

This time it was in re-reading his 1988 document on women, Mulieris Dignitatem. (I know -- why didn’t I learn this stuff the first time I read it? Chalk it up to a long-term memory problem, I guess.) I was reading the document in preparation for a class I was teaching, and I ran across a few nuggets I didn’t remember.

The Holy Father opens Mulieris Dignitatem by discussing, of course, Mary. It’d be difficult to discuss the dignity of women without addressing God’s “most highly favored daughter,” the most perfect person ever to walk the face of the earth. (Except, of course, for her Son. But He was also God, and therefor had a pretty serious leg up on the whole perfection scale.) I’ve always known, of course, that Mary is the model for Catholic womanhood and all of that jazz, but it’s difficult sometimes for a career woman of the ‘90’s to relate to an ancient Jewish carpenter’s wife.

JPII helped me clear all of that up.

First of all, he points out an interesting fact. Throughout the Old Testament, when God was making his covenant with man, He always did just that. He communicated with men. Noah, Abraham, Moses -- all guys. Good guys, for the most part, but guys nonetheless. “A sexist God?” you ask? Not so fast.

The Old Testament covenant was only the first of God’s covenants with us. It wasn’t the final, nor was it the biggest. The New Covenant -- the one in which He sent His only Son to become the bridegroom of His Church -- that’s the real covenant. And, for that covenant, whom did He use as an intermediary? A woman. A poor teenage woman from an obscure town. Mary.

Mary isn’t just a mom, a wife or a virgin. She is the prophet of prophets. She didn’t just bring the words of God to the people, as the Old Testament prophets did. She brought the Word Made Flesh. She brought the New Covenant to us. Without her, there would be no New Covenant, no Christ. Remember, we have no reason to believe that God had a “second string” choice for the mother of His Son. Mary held all the cards. She could say “yes,” or she could say “no.”

She said “yes.”

Once again, for a long time this fact didn’t really impress me. “Of course she said ‘yes’. She was born without original sin. She was already programmed to do the right thing. How hard could it be?”

But then I thought about Eve. She was created without original sin too, wasn’t she? She lived in a whole world without original sin. And yet, she managed to say ‘no’ to God. So obviously it’s not impossible to do. Apparently, in fact, it was pretty easy for Eve.

So now it makes a lot more sense to me to see Mary as “the new Eve.” Eve was our biological mother, and she made a bad choice which has affected her children ever since. Mary is our spiritual mother, and she made a good choice which makes it possible to eradicate the lingering damage of Eve’s choice.

One more cool insight into Mary. Throughout the Old Testament, God keeps harping at Israel to get them to understand that he is one God. They obviously have to understand that before they can get to the advanced stuff, like the fact that the one God has three Persons. And when He’s ready to reveal the Trinity, how does He do it? Through Mary. Where is the Holy Spirit first mentioned in Scripture? The Annunciation. Mary is the person through whom God reveals his three divine Persons.

So I’m seeing Mary in a whole new light these days. She’s not just any old mother. She’s not “just” the Mother of God (as if there could be such a thing as “just” the Mother of God!) She’s the ultimate prophet. She’s the person who makes God known to man in the fullest possible way.

And all of that makes her a very good role model -- even for a career woman of the ‘90’s.


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