instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Mary in the Gospels, iv

Still, even if we resolve the "Mary of Scripture" and the "Mary of Tradition," so to speak, there remains a certain unmet and half-expressed expectation that, somehow, Mary should be different, that, if she doesn't actually glow in the dark, there should be a faint shimmer about her as she moves through the streets of Nazareth. How do we resolve this tension, this apparent ordinariness where we expect something almost magical?

It seems to me it wasn't necessary for Mary to entirely get what was going on in Jesus' life (and here I'm straying from the Catholic tradition of arguing for the fitness-nigh-unto-necessity of Mary being practically perfect in every way). Also, her not entirely getting it signifies a bunch of things to the rest of us; e.g., we can't count on entirely getting it, either, and we should always be prepared for God to surprise us, and even where to look for Jesus when we find we've lost Him.

So given a) that it wasn't necessary for Mary to have complete understanding of Jesus' mission, and b) that her incomplete understanding would teach us more about ourselves than her complete understanding would, the tension implied in a Mother of God who does not completely understand her Son seems worth it.

Mary's great (even defining) act of faith was her answer to Gabriel, at a moment when she was not yet a virgin pregnant with a child who would be called Son of the Most High, and of Whose kingdom there will be no end.

Remember, faith is "a participation in another's knowledge," not credence in one's own senses. So while the fact that she did bear a son while a virgin gave good reason to trust the further promise of the angel, that of Jesus' kingdom there will be no end was still an object of faith for Mary throughout her life, since she had no direct knowledge of eternity.

And yet, the half-expressed expectation of someone midway between human and divine can still nag at us.

Let me suggest a reason for this expectation, without implying anyone who might have this expectation does so for this reason: Maybe some of us, maybe myself included, half-think that if Gabriel appeared to us and we gave birth to the Son of God, then we would glow in the dark. Maybe we figure that a contact like that with God would raise us into a higher order of being, somewhere between man and God.

And maybe, if we half-believe this even as we know it's not true, maybe we half-believe that the fact Gabriel hasn't appeared to us explains why we don't glow in the dark. More seriously, maybe there's a half-belief that God hasn't done enough for anyone to seriously expect us to have Christ living in us. Maybe there's a half-belief that God better get cracking with the fancy stuff if He really wants us to be, you know, saints.