instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What a correspondence with the frailty of man!

Let me emphasize a point in the passage from Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Octobri mense that I quoted here last week. Pope Leo wrote:
Thus do those whose actions have disturbed their consciences need an intercessor mighty in favour with God, merciful enough not to reject the cause of the desperate, merciful enough to lift up again towards hope in the divine mercy the afflicted and the broken down. Mary is this glorious intermediary....
This is a traditional pastoral teaching. Jesus is an "inexorable Judge" Whom we dread, so we go to Mary instead, because "she is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness."

I've run into a certain criticism of this aspect of Marian piety, and I think it's fair criticism as far as it goes.

The argument against going to the gentle Mary instead of the inexorable Jesus is that Jesus is, in fact, gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness. The idea that Mary is "merciful enough not to reject the cause of the desperate," and Jesus is not, is simply heretical. I'll go as far as to suggest that it functions as  polytheism in practice, reducing God to a grouchy Zeus and promoting Mary to a solicitous Hera.

But Pope Leo XIII is not saying that Mary is more merciful than Jesus. He is saying that we fear God's justice, we dread Christ's judgment, and in our own fear and dread we do not dare to approach the Throne of God to ask for divine mercy. It is our own subjective, natural, psychological despair that gives rise to the [subjective, natural, psychological] need for an intercessor like Mary.

The Pope goes on to write:
As such God gave her to us.
The provider is greater than the provision. If Mary is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness, how much more so is the God Who has given her to us as a mother! Given her precisely so we will not fear to ask for His mercy, so we will not hide ourselves when we hear His voice and never encounter the infinite and perfect gentleness, tenderness, and loving-kindness of our Father, and of the Son Who is His image.

And this is exactly what Mary does. She is (as St. Louis de Montfort memorably expounds) like Rebecca in that she helps her children obtain a blessing from their Father, but she is not like Rebecca in having to trick God into blessing them. When we do go to Mary, we find that she always refers us straight to the mercy of God. As I once heard a priest put it, "She says, 'You think I'm gentle and loving? My Son is a creampuff!'"

To invoke Mary as our glorious intermediary takes nothing from the glory of God. If anything, it further glorifies Him, since in His loving-kindness He has given Mary as a glorious intermediary to help the weak and despairing. He loves us and wants to be close to us, close even to those who can only stand in His presence when He is veiled within the heart of Mary.