Picture a friend of yours. She has always been
active in the Church, has a nice family and is great to be
around. She has recently gotten engaged to a really nice guy
you know and they plan to get married soon. They are the perfect
couple and you know they'll be quite happy.
Then the news spreads that she is pregnant.
The story is that she had a vision of an angel from God who
came to her and told her that she was to become pregnantnot
by a man, but through the Holy Spiritand this child
she carried was to be God's son.
This seems like some complicated cover-up for
the fact that she and her fiancé couldn't wait. But
then you find out that her fiancé is in disbelief.
It is not his baby. Wow, a huge cover-up.
Now picture that it's against the law in your
state to be pregnant without a husband. Her family is disgraced,
her fiancé is astonished and you are not allowed to
be seen with her because of the embarrassment to you and your
familyshe is alone.
As a college student myself, I have had friends
who were young, pregnant and unmarried, but I never connected
their troubles with the experience of the Blessed Virgin.
Mary was both this pregnant, unwed teenager and the most perfect
human being God ever created: the mother of Jesus. (Jesus
was not only completely human but also completely divine,
so he's in a unique category by himself.)
Few people imagine Mary as a vulnerable, isolated
teenager. In fact, many young people have come to see Mary
as an "ideal woman," according to research done
by the International Marian Research Institute at the University
Father Johann Roten, its director, surveyed
6,000 students between the ages of 15 and 24 in 12 countries
and his findings show that though many young people are attracted
to Mary, they have limited knowledge of her. Loving someone
without knowing that individual sounds more like a crush.
Infatuations can't become real love and affection unless you
really get to know a personand still like that
One way to meet the real Mary is through Church
dogma, the official teachings. All that theology can get a
bit heavy so this Youth Update offers a micro-summary
of the four basic pillars of Church teaching on Mary: She
is Mother of God, ever a virgin, conceived without Original
Sin and assumed into heaven body and soul. I've attempted
to connect those teachings with my life and yours.
We all know that Mary is the mother of Jesus
(who is God), but what are the special "perks" of
this position? We believe in one God in three divine persons:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The second person of the Trinity
became flesh in Mary's womb. He was named Jesus. Therefore,
as the mother of Jesus, Mary is the mother of God. Because
she gave birth to God, her title in the Church is Theotokos
Mary has a special function in being the Mother
of God. She is the mother of the head of the Church, Jesus,
and she is also honored as mother by its memberswe who
are the present-day family of Jesus.
Besides this "family connection,"
we also base this belief on a passage from John's Gospel.
From the cross, Jesus told his disciple John, "Behold
your mother," telling him to care for Mary. To Mary,
he said, "Woman, behold your son" (John 19:26-27).
Jesus was concluding his life's work and making his final
arrangements. The Church has long thought that those words
to John included us as well. We also are to be the sons and
daughters of Mary.
According to Father Roten's study, over 83 percent
of young people in fact see Mary as a mother who cares about
them. They see Mary as someone who has an answer to some of
their needs. Father Roten speculates that those needs include
"affection, acceptance, security and love." Others
felt more admiration than affection. A third group revered
Mary as a model of faith and other religious attitudes.
All of these attitudes are expressed in the
Hail Mary, one of the best-known and loved prayers in Catholic
tradition. That prayer reminds me of my own family experience.
When I wanted something from my parents, sometimes I'd ask
Mom first. She would talk to Dad and "soften him up"
before I asked him myself. This would really help, especially
on those rare occasions when I got into trouble.
In the Hail Mary we ask the Mother of God to
"pray for us sinners now." This is not bypassing
God. This is asking for help in communicating with God directly.
A little extra help from Mary couldn't hurt. She watches over
all of us and worries about us when we make choices that separate
us from her Son and from the family of God.
Free From All Sin
For us to be good parents in the future, it's
important to care for our physical health now and not to expose
ourselves knowingly to chemicals, medications or other dangers
that would disable our children. Our health affects not only
us but also the next generation to be born. It's not hard
to see that our values, our moral beliefs, our faith will
also affect the following generation.
God's plan warranted some special attention
to the woman who would choose to accept the motherhood of
Jesus. To be worthy to bear God's son, Mary had to be perfectso
God created her that way. When Mary was conceived by Joachim
and Anne, she was already free of Original Sina freedom
we gain a bit later when we are baptized.
This belief in Mary's sinlessness is called
the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Mary could
be conceived without sin because Christ was coming to save
everyone; Maryas Mother of Godsimply had access
to that saving grace sooner. The Immaculate Conception is
not about Jesus' conception but about Mary's.
God's immunization of Mary from Original Sin,
her holiness from the beginning, does not mean that she did
not have free will to choose whether or not to sin. She did.
In fact, she also had the freedom to say No to the angel Gabriel
when that messenger appeared to Mary, asking her to be the
mother of "the most high." Luckily for us, she chose
to say Yes.
Father Roten sees Mary's free will as an important
part of her sinlessness. He explains that there are two different
aspects of freedom. One is freedom from things like
addictions and personal concerns. The other is freedom to
do something or choose a course of action. Therefore,
"Mary was free to say No to whatever might have been
an obstacle for her [and] at the same time, free to saypositivelyYes
to God." She was not just a "passive instrument
of God's will," Father Roten explains. Over 75 percent
of the youth surveyed saw Mary as actively and freely choosing
to do God's will: She said Yes to God and No to sin.
Though we are born with Original Sin, we have
the same free will Mary did. We also can say Yes to God and
No to sin. It's the strength of God's grace, Mary's Yes and
our own freedom that makes us able to be without sin nowif
not from the first moment of our existence.
Always a Virgin
Though there are those who argue this point,
the Church teaches that Mary remained a virgin throughout
her life, even in childbirth. She was ever a virgin:
This was her choice. Why?
Father Roten is able to give some insight: Mary
made a decision when she was very young to dedicate her life
to God. She gave her heart and she also gave her body when
God asked her to be the mother of Jesus. Mary loved Joseph,
but he and she both understood that she was to mother but
one child: Jesus. This is more mysterious than ever in an
age which sometimes mocks virginity and jokes about it rather
than prizing it in men or women.
Speaking from his priestly experience, Father
Roten says: "At one moment in our lives, we decide that
the person who counts most in our lives is God. To the extent
that you make God the ultimate object of your love, the object
of your dedication and commitment, you are in the true sense
of the word, a virginsomebody who channels all your
life energy into one directionand that direction is
God." This is what Mary didchanneled all her energy
toward God. Joseph did the same.
This may be hard to imagine. So many different
concernsand distractionscommand our attention;
our energies are stretched in so many ways. It is difficult
to be focused and strong in this complex world. Mary's virginity
can teach us to be single-minded, whether we are called to
lives of virginity or of marriage. In The Dictionary of
Mary (1985), the author writes that some believe that
both the parents of Jesus focused themselves on their child's
mission as it emerged.
For Mary, the importance of her choice was her
confidence in God's plan. You and I have an important role
as well. We can focus on learning the divine will for ourselves
and then walk in that way just as Mary did. I think her prayer
in the Bible, which we call the Magnificat, is a good
one for us as we learn to focus ourselves: "The Mighty
One has done great things for me, and holy is his name"
Because of Mary's complete faith in God and
her perfect sinlessness, Mary was taken into heavenbody
and soulwhen her life on earth was over. This is the
doctrine of the Assumption. Not only was her body holy
because it bore God's son, she also was so pure in spirit
that God would not allow her flesh to decay like ours is going
"The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption
are related," says Father Roten. "The Immaculate
Conception [was] the beginning of life, the promise, and the
Assumption [was] the end, the realization of that promise."
God took the same care of Mary's body at the end of her life
as was taken at the time of her conception.
The Assumption has great importance for the
Church and for us. For many years, Father Roten explains,
body and soul were seen as opposing forces for us humans.
It appeared that to be a truly good Christian, the body should
be the less important of the two. This sounds sensible because
it is our soul that lives on while our body dies. But God
created our bodies as well and they, too, are holy, for they
are the way we praise God and do God's will, as Mary did.
For this reason, Father Roten insists that body
and soul "should not be separated and especially not
be opposed." While my body is not targeted for an early
assumption, at least one body has gone ahead to prepare a
place for all of us at the general resurrection of the body.
This puts physical bodies literally on a high plane and also
honors the body for cooperating in harmony with the will of
God on earth. All bodies are in training for this marathon
Olympic event. For us, the mystery will be Resumption, not
Too Good to Be True?
I've already made some connections between the
mysteries of Mary's life and our own. Despite all the honor
that comes Mary's way, her life doesn't seem enviable to me.
Blessings are not synonymous with ease, that's for sure. When
she said Yes to the angel Gabriel and agreed to carry God's
son, she becamefor the momentan unwed mother.
In Mary's time, this was cause to be thrown out of town and
stoned to death. Joseph did not want to be the father of an
illegitimate child and wanted to "divorce her quietly"
Mary had her share of worriesas you and
I all do. While she was better than we may ever be, she had
more troubles than we'll probably ever know. There's a down
side to all this honor. The prophet Simeon told Mary that
"you yourself a sword will pierce" (Luke 2:33).
So much for being May Queen!
For some, the perfection she experienced can
feel like a put-off or barrier. Most of us can't slam-dunk
like Shaquille O'Neal, speedskate like Dan Jansen and Bonnie
Blair or capture a Nobel prize in chemistry, physics or literature.
Yet that doesn't keep us from spending hours following Olympic
events on television, rooting for sports stars in every season
and preparing for our own careers with serious study just
as Nobel prizewinners have done before us. We aspire to achievement
in other areas and need a spiritual ideal to inspire us as
"We all want to identify with people we
like and admire," acknowledges Father Roten, "but
in order for us to grow, we need more than only identification.
We need ideals that challenge us to be somebody better....
Mary is the blueprint of what human beings should be, or at
least are invited to become," he says.
This is a helpful perspective for us who are
still interpreting the blueprint of a life under construction.
Affection for Mary, admiration of her and imitation as well:
These will shape a life like that of Mary's son Jesus. That's
good enough for me.
This Youth Update was reviewed
and critiqued by Amy Maier, 13; Ben Schulte, 17; Katie Weiss,
14; and Ben Wilmhoff, 16. All are students at Covington Latin
School in Covington, Kentucky.