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.
Mary’s Immaculate Conception and preservation from sin is a unique gift that the Lord, in his sovereignty, is free to give as he pleases. It is also, as I now saw, a sign pointing to the magnitude of Christ’s power to save us all completely from sin. But still, there’s a temptation here to say, “Why her and not me? How come I have to struggle with the effects of original sin and she didn’t?” I don’t have an answer to that, any more than I have an answer to the question, “Why were Abraham or Moses or David chosen for their call and gifts and not me?” All I know is that, biblically speaking, the chosen are always chosen for the sake of the unchosen. Thus, Abraham is chosen so that all the unchosen nations of the earth will bless themselves through him. Likewise, Moses and Israel are chosen so that they may be a priestly people for all the unchosen nations of the world. And David is chosen so that the Son of David may lead all the unchosen nations to the kingdom of God.
It’s the same with Mary. The complete and perfect salvation God displays in her—a salvation that’s entirely preventive and not curative—is not a sign of our exclusion. It is the sign that Jesus’ awesome power to save is just as available to us who have been permitted, in the mysterious Providence of God, to struggle with the mystery of original sin. Because Mary is the icon of the Church and highest of God’s creatures (yet not herself divine), she could, in her very person, give the lie to the philosophies of pride and their promise of liberation through rebellion by showing that:
• The human person is in the image of God.
• The human person comes from God and is made for union with God.
• The depth of Christ’s power to save from sin is most fully displayed in Mary, so we may know he holds that same power to save us, no matter how grave our sin.
• The human person is the product of fathomless divine love.
• Sin, though real, is neither the foundational nor the final truth about man. Jesus Christ is.
• The human person is defined by love, not enmity.
• The human person is called to love God and neighbor.
• The human person is a reflection of the reason, order, and love of God himself.
• The human person finds his life in losing it and receiving the love of God.
• The human person only becomes more human through love, mercy, and humility.
• The human person grows in love by caring for the “least of these” since they are precious to Christ, who humbled himself to be born in a stable.
• The human person should seek self-donating love here on earth and a reward in heaven, because this life is not all there is.
• It is humble for us to think of ourselves as “made in God’s image” because that is what we are. Humility recognizes our need of grace.
• Since God is the Lord of nature, we are merely stewards of creation. We find ourselves not by worshipping nature or ourselves but by worshipping God, who made and redeemed us through Jesus Christ.
In sum, as nineteenth-century man was busily laying the intellectual foundations of the culture of death, the Holy Spirit moved the Church to hold up Mary as the icon of how profoundly Christ could save us. As the one who is uniquely full of grace, she bore unique testimony to Christ’s saving grace. As the woman who surrounds the man, she again acted as a hedge around the truth of Christ’s saving power. And as the model disciple, she showed us how profoundly Christ’s saving power can cleanse us of our sin and showed forth the true dignity of our origins in God, not in chaos. For as she is, so can the grace of Christ make us, bearing witness to the truth of St. Irenaeus’ saying, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”