Blogs | Apr. 20, 2017
Catholics recognize and venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, as the exemplar of redeemed humanity.
Miserable sinners like us find ourselves in an awkward position when it comes to God and perfect people like the Blessed Virgin Mary. I would approach this issue from several different angles:
First, since Mary was indeed without sin (both original and actual), in that sense it is of course difficult to “walk in her shoes,” so to speak. Yet, when it comes to imitation, it is a fact of life that in our better moments we all strive to emulate people who are “superior” to us, whom we admire and look up to – those who have succeeded in areas we still yearn for and dream about. That's what all the talk about “role models” is about.
Second, what Catholics have most revered about Mary through the centuries (I think) is her humility and willingness to be mightily used by God as the Theotokos (God-bearer). In this sense she is like us: a mere human being who said yes to God, thus reversing the no of Eve (hence her designation as the Second Eve in the Church fathers). This is the Mary of the Annunciation (Lk 1:38; cf 1:48).
Now, one might counter with the objection that she had to say yes, being sinless. Yet Catholics would not hold to that assertion, since we also believe in free will. We all (including Mary) must agree to accept and cooperate with the graces that always originate from God (e.g., 1 Cor 3:8-9; 15:10; 2 Cor 6:1). We are (as St. Paul says) “co-laborers” with God.
Third, Mary is not intrinsically superior in essence to the rest of us. She received from God all of the grace that she possessed in abundance (Lk 1:28 – full of grace). She was merely given more of it at one time, and earlier, than us. All human beings who are to be saved for eternity in heaven will one day be without sin, unstained, immaculate, just as all of us were meant to be, but for the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Fourth, God chose to act in a special way to preserve Mary from sin, since this was appropriate for the ark of the new covenant who carried God incarnate and shared even her own blood with Him in utero. After all, He will eventually totally cleanse all saved persons so that they will be fit for heaven (Rev 21:27). It seems only fitting and proper, then, for the Mother of God to possess a commensurate righteousness for her unfathomable task, privilege, and unique honor.
Fifth, there are plenty of sinful, “weak” models in Scripture that we can relate to as like us in that sense: vacillating, overzealous Peter, perhaps proud, tempestuous Paul, stuttering Moses and his wimpy brother Aaron, blame-shifting Adam, murderous and adulterous David, doubting Thomas, deceptive Jacob, sexually weak Samson, drunken Noah, etc. It's not at all implausible for God to spare one, lone human being (the Mother of God the Son) from the onslaught of original sin.
Finally, we are commanded to imitate the Apostle Paul and other saints (1 Cor 4:16; Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:7-9; cf. Jas 5:10-11; Heb 6:12 and ch. 11). Paul sinned as we do, but he also did extraordinary things. He was an apostle! Yet we are called to “imitate” him. We may not achieve a 100% grade in our attempt, but we can shoot for a 90%, or 80% (speaking of sanctification, not the grounds of salvation), as we are faithful in allowing God to do His work of grace in us.
Paul in turn, imitates Christ, and calls for us to do that as well (1 Cor 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6). Again, we will not imitate Him perfectly, but we are called to do our best, and live by His example. And in our Lord Jesus we find an even more profound humility than we find in Mary: He humbled Himself by giving up divine prerogatives and becoming man (Phil 2:5-7) and then dying on the cross (Phil 2:8).
That is the glory of the incarnation: the fact that God would become like His own creatures. C. S. Lewis compared that act to a person becoming an ant. We don't say that we can't relate to Christ because He is God, but that we can relate to Him since He is also a man (Heb 4:15-16; 5:7-8).
Therefore, since we are expressly informed in Scripture that Jesus our Lord and God, who did not and could not sin, can nevertheless relate to us, “sympathize with our weaknesses,” and has been tested like us “in every respect,” we can relate all the more so to Mary, who is a creature as we are, yet without sin.
Sinlessness is not inherently opposed to human nature, as if it were the “normal” state. Sin is “unhuman,” since it stands in the way of what will one day indeed be accomplished among the saved and the elect.
Thus, because Mary is more “human” than all of us, she can help us (by example and intercession) to be what we should be: more like Jesus, her beloved Son. She is the example of what all of us can be more and more in this life, and what we assuredly will essentially be in the next, if we persevere in the faith.
Catholic Christianity recognizes and venerates the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, as the exemplar of redeemed humanity: the forerunner, the quintessential Christian and symbol of the Church itself, our Spiritual Mother and Queen of Heaven, who was spared the curse of death and immediately received her glorious resurrected body at the end of her earthly sojourn.
Mary is always glorifying God the Father and Jesus, never herself. This is why Catholics have venerated her above all creatures, and why any Christian can indeed “relate to” her, because she glorifies and imitates God, and that is what all serious Christians want to do – and are commanded to do.