The Blessed Virgin Mary of the Catholic Church in the United States has been a fairly impotent Mary. Her characteristics include pure, obedient, submissive, willing, faithful, sexless (they did declare her a perpetual virgin, after all), and suffering servant. She has been espoused as the epitome of what a woman should be: be obedient and listen to your husband, God and the Church (which are one and the same), and be the devoted mother like Mary (although as soon as you’ve had sex, you’ve become impure and stained and so will always fall short. And don’t even think about enjoying sex). It’s impossible.
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I prefer the Mary of Mexico and Latin America. Megan McKenna, in her book Mary, describes her as “the staunch, fierce, determined woman, comadre [godmother] of her people, a force to be reckoned with, faithful, enduring solidarity with those who struggle to make her prophetic words in the Magnificat live in the midst of poverty, injustice, and violence.”
I can get behind that. That’s the Mary who doesn’t take no for an answer. Remember when she overrode her own son at the wedding at Cana? Jesus tried to avoid getting involved in the lack of wine at the party, but Mary simply ignored his protest and told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:1-12). Mary was a person in her own right, strong and courageous. She was a prophet – just check out the words of the Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55). Mary knew, and was fully supportive, of the agenda of God to throw down the proud and the wealthy, to stop the oppression of the people, to feed the hungry and lift up the poor.
In the tradition of the Mary of Guadalupe, she continues to call us to care for the ill, the weak, the poor, the slaves, the displaced and dispossessed.
One must be strong to love … and love makes one strong. Even after all that Mary went through, she never became the victim, but is instead the model for strength in the face of suffering. She draws from an inner reserve, a knowing that suffering is not God’s desire for us, a knowing that love is deeper and longer than death… death will not have the last word. We, too, have the ability to draw from that same well.
Mary is the strongest and most enduring prophet of Advent. Her spirit and her words continue to go before us. Have the strength to love with all of your heart and soul – not just those closest to you, but yourself and the stranger as well. Have the strength of love to work for healing of your soul, your relationships, the world. Have the strength of love to forgive, to hope, to live with joy even in the face of suffering. Have the strength of love to work for justice and freedom for all people. Have the strength of love to trust the Divine within you and around you. Have the strength of love to believe that if one child in a manger could make such a difference, so can you.