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.
The purity of Mary’s faith, so closely bound up with her virginity, leads to the other great Marian image found in John’s Gospel. For at the very climax of the story, a curious thing happens that John obviously regards as extremely important. He writes:
One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe ( John 19:34–35).
Why does John interrupt the narrative of his Gospel here, of all places, to make sure we believe blood and water gushed from Jesus’ side? Is he really interested in the anatomical details of pericardial rupture? No. He is interested in pointing out the meaning of this event, which he saw with his own eyes: namely, that the Church, the bride of the second Adam, is born from Jesus’ side in the waters of baptism just as the first Eve was made from the side ofthe first Adam. For John, there’s a clear and obvious connection between “the spirit, the water, and the blood” (1 John 5:8). It is by “water and the Spirit” flowing from the bleeding side of Jesus, that Christ cleansed the bride “by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26–27). The creation of the second Eve parallels the creation of the first. Moreover, it brings us back to the mystical vision of Ezekiel with immense force. For now we’re seeing the source of the waters that flowed from that mystical temple: the heart of Jesus himself whose temple was destroyed but raised up in three days.
So Mary is shown at the wedding of Cana as the icon of the bride but at the cross as the Mother of the children of the second Adam. For John carefully preserves this scene from the crucifixion:
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home John 19:25–27).
John is not simply interested in chatting about first-century domestic arrangements for Jewish widows. As with all the details from his Gospel, this scene also is written down for a theological purpose: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). In other words, he means for us to understand that we are the beloved disciple, that Mary is our mother and we are her children. For Jesus is our older brother, the “firstborn of many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Therefore, Mary is the mother of all Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
So the paradox of the Gospel is made complete. You lose your life to save it. You must admit you’re blind to see. And, as Isaiah prophesied of Israel, so it’s even truer of Mary that the virgin daughter of Zion becomes the mother of a billion people:
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.
Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched
hold not back, lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your descendants will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.
Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be put to shame;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will
remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called (Is. 54:1–5).
The thing to note here is that, once again, Mary’s life is a referred life. The point of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, as of the Virgin Birth, is that—again—the point is not about Mary. It’s about Christ and his Church.