Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
In the virginity of Mary, we see reflected to us the essential truth of the Gospel: that it’s God who is the author of our salvation. That’s as deeply offensive to us today as it has ever been, because people don’t want to hear that we can no more save ourselves than a corpse can jump. We are much more comfortable thinking of ourselves as heroes who achieve something great and earn the respect of God and our peers through our achievements. In short, we believe in power, not love. It is the poison that has gnawed at our vitals since the serpent bit us in the Garden. It is pride.
And so, the world teaches us to treat life as a power struggle among economic classes, races, man, and woman—and between God and us. Mary’s self-surrendering virginity offends this approach to life deeply because she says, “It’s about love, not power.” To the power addict who can only conceive of a world neatly divided between the cunning and the stupid, Mary’s way is the way of death. So, for instance, Simone de Beauvoir recoils from such surrender when she writes of Mary:
For the first time in history the mother kneels before her son; she freely accepts her inferiority. This is the supreme masculine victory, consummated in the cult of the Virgin—it is the rehabilitation of woman through the accomplishment of her defeat.
For surrender is death, according to the world. And so the world produces men and women who distill the worship of power down to ever more bitter dregs, to gain the whole world while losing their own souls. But Mary’s surrender to God leads to the mystery of total dependence on God—and the paradox of happiness through the cross. The Son before whom she kneels is not some selfish boor of this fallen world, but the second Adam who undergoes a defeat far more profound than her own self-surrender so that he may exalt her to a glory above all other creatures. In him and him alone, power and love are reconciled and we find not servility crushed by domination, but humility crowned with glory.