Why is devotion to Mary important?

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

This question may seem difficult to answer, but its answer is actually quite simple: because God willed it.

We may ask why God would want us to have a relationship with his mother – wouldn’t it distract us from him? Doesn’t it seem quite contradictory?

Not necessarily – and our experience attests to it. Let’s take, for example, a young man who meets his girlfriend’s parents. As he gets to know them, he realizes they’re a good family, enjoys being with them and also starts loving them in a way. Does that mean that by growing in love for them he will love his girlfriend less? Not necessarily. We could even say that the opposite is possible: his love for his girlfriend’s family can help him get to know and love his girlfriend even more.

Something similar happens in our relationship with the Virgin Mary. She’s not there to distract us from God, but to lead us to him.

Mary’s role in God’s plan

But why do we say that God wanted us to have a relationship with the Virgin Mary? Doesn’t it seem like too much of a stretch?

The Bible gives us the answer. In the Gospel of John, we find Jesus’ last words. They hold a special importance because, as we know, no one would waste their last breath by saying something superfluous. They carry a special meaning, they’re powerful. Jesus knows he doesn’t have much time left but struggles to say them anyway. Among these words we hear Jesus speak directly to his mother: “Woman, behold your son!” and to the beloved disciple: “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19: 26-27).

What does this mean? Many think that when Jesus calls his mother “woman,” he’s disrespecting or belittling her. But would Jesus really take the time to do that to his mother as he’s dying on the cross? Probably not. A deeper look allows us to see that the title “woman” carries a deeper meaning in the Gospel of John. 

Annunciation art

Jesus calls his mother “woman” because he’s calling her like the first woman in the Book of Genesis: Eve. John does something similar throughout his Gospel. He begins his Gospel with the same words as the Book of Genesis – “In the beginning” – to highlight that while Genesis tells the story of Creation, his Gospel tells the story of the New Creation brought about by Christ. In this New Creation, Jesus is the New Adam (also see 1 Cor 15: 21-23) and Mary is the New Eve.

Mary is the “woman” who’s seed (Jesus) would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3: 14-15).

So, by calling her “woman,” Jesus is calling Mary the “New Woman,” the spiritual mother of all who are born into the New Creation brought about by Christ. She becomes the mother of every beloved disciple, of every person who follows Jesus. God has given us a great gift – his own mother as our companion.

Our role in God’s plan

But why would God do that? What would we need Mary for?

This has to do with the way God has chosen to act in history, in his plan of redemption. God chose to act through “middlemen” or mediations. If he so wished, he wouldn’t need us to cooperate with him in his plan. He could’ve appeared to the whole world and convinced everyone. Yet, he told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28: 19). This means that God chose to reach people’s hearts and lives through other people, through mediations.

This proves true even in our own lives. How many of us have embraced the Christian faith because of what our parents or someone important in our life taught us, because of someone’s example or invitation? How many times has God talked to us through others? Every time we use the word “through” we’re talking about a mediation – someone in the middle though whom God speaks to us. God acts through others, he uses mediations.

Another example of mediation is praying for one another. The letter of St. James clearly calls us to do it (Jas 5: 16). When we pray for a brother or sister in Christ, we become the “middleman”, like Moses, who begs God for someone else. There’s nothing wrong with being “mediators” in this way.

Only one Mediator

But 1 Timothy 2:5 clearly says that Jesus is the only Mediator between God and man.

As we have seen, God does act through mediations, but only Jesus is Mediator with a capital “M,” we could say. That is, only he was capable of uniting man to God, only he could become the bridge that overcame sin and brought us to new life. No one else is mediator in the way Jesus is. We have the “Mediator,” who is Jesus, and “mediators,” us Christians. Jesus wanted us to participate in his mediation, but this doesn’t mean we replace him or compete with him. This mediation is what allows us to invite people to know him. He willed his plan of salvation to be carried out in this way. So, when we say we or Mary are “mediators,” we’re obviously not saying that we’re “Mediators” like Christ. We’re simply saying that he chose to let us partake in his mission by reaching others through us.

When Catholics “pray” to Mary, we’re not praying in the same way as we pray to God. We’re asking for her intercession, the way we ask our brothers and sisters for prayers. That is what we ask from her in the Hail Mary. 

Here is where the Virgin Mary comes in. She takes a special place among us, who participate in Jesus’ mediation, because God chose to come to us through her and gave her to us as Mother. Her mission consists in always leading us to him: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). She, like us, mediates under Christ’s mediation. When we say she intercedes for us, we are not saying we forget about God. It simply means we turn to her for prayers, something all Christians do when they ask for prayers from their brothers and sisters.

So, when Catholics “pray” to Mary, we’re not praying in the same way as we pray to God. We’re asking for her intercession, the way we ask our brothers and sisters for prayers. That is what we ask from her in the Hail Mary. 

First, we salute her with the Biblical words spoken to her by the angel and Elizabeth: “Hail [Mary] full of grace; the Lord is with you” (Lk 1: 28). “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb [Jesus]” (Lk 1:41-42).

And we end by asking for her prayers: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

What a beautiful prayer! God has given us the beautiful gift of a spiritual Mother to help us become one with him. Wouldn’t we honor him by accepting her?

COMING UP: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.