They are even an object of fun. This is because we pride ourselves on our grasp of the world. We understand things today. We don’t admire people who do not have their feet on the ground, people who look to something outside themselves to achieve happiness.
This is true also of people of faith. Even they don’t like the word ‘holy’. Ours is a robust faith, we tell ourselves, and we keep within the bounds modern culture will accept. An example of this is our understanding of Mary. We, people of faith, including Muslims, revere Mary as the Mother of Jesus. And we, though not our Muslims brothers and sisters, have willingly travelled the road of the early Church to Ephesus where, in 432, we acclaimed her Mother of God. But many of us do not like what happened afterwards.
There was always devotion to Mary in the East and in the West through the ages but, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this seems, to modern tastes, to have gone to extremes. In 1854 Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary an official teaching of the Church and in 1950 Pius XII did the same with her Assumption into heaven. Many of our fellow Christians who are not Catholic rile at these teachings. And many Catholics too are uneasy about them. They appear to take Mary away from us into a realm that is no longer part of our human experience.
There are three things to say. The popes would not have done these things unless there was a real desire for them from the sensus fidei, the experience of what faith means, among Catholics. Second, when they were proclaimed there was widespread acceptance of them throughout the Catholic world. And, third, we need to ask why the Catholic Church took these steps. Why could they not have left Mary as the mother of Jesus, as Mother of God, and left it there?
Well, the Church wants to stretch our understanding of what it is to be human. We are not just flesh and blood, mind and spirit – beings we can understand and examine. We are a mystery – with boundaries beyond our imagination. We are made for completion, perfection, fulfilment – and “our hearts are restless” (Augustine) until we get there. These teachings on Mary are the Church’s way of reminding us of this. They may appear clumsy, awkward and unpalatable to modern tastes but they may also be the best we can do for now to explain what is inexplicable. They should be given a chance.
22 April 2018 Easter Sunday 4 B
Acts 4:8-12 1 John 3:1-2 John 10:11-18Post published in: Featured