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Born of a woman.

When we were kids, my sister invented a fairy-tale world that kept us endlessly occupied, in which dwelt an arch-villainess by the name of "Bad Mary". Trust a Catholic child to imagine the worst of calamities: a bad Mary. That such a person was after us sent delicious tremors of dread down our wee spines. Of course, we knew this was make-believe--our Mary was the Queen of Heaven, spotless, pure and good. Moreover, she was the Mother of God, our Mother and the Mother of the Church.

But here's the thing: there is no motherhood in God. When I came across this fact so bluntly stated in a pamphlet by Fr. John Mole, entitled Be Mindful of Mary, I was taken aback. But there it is, and how could it be otherwise? God is "first and foremost to be known, loved and honoured as Father," wrote Fr. Mole; while His love is, in the Old Testament, sometimes expressed analogously as a mother's love, "the reality of motherhood does not exist in God." Rather, "it exists only in a human being and is the highest human achievement possible."

This revelation left me feeling, strangely, a bit forlorn. If motherhood is but a human reality, did this then mean that women were less than men, who represent the fatherhood of God himself (albeit, a "pale resemblance" only, as Fr. Mole pointed out)? Perhaps such a question would occur only in a mind conditioned by feminist angst. Nevertheless, to answer this concern, one must go back to the Garden, and with a clear-sighted guide, St. Edith Stein, who distinguishes between the original order, the order of the fall, and the order of redemption.

In the original order, the obligation to remain in God's likeness, to procreate and to care for the created world fell to both man and woman; the implication that man's position was pre-eminent, because he was created first, "is not explained in greater depth" in the biblical account. In the order of the fall, man and woman are both punished, but woman must bear the further penalty of "subjugation to the man"; nevertheless, in the order of redemption, woman is particularly "charged with the battle against evil." (see Edith Stein, Woman, c1996, pp. 63, 70).

The burden of strife and rancour between the sexes that is the legacy of the fall is alleviated, to some degree, in accepting and understanding the depth of the complementarity between them. John Paul II, in his 1994 Letter to Women, described this complementarity as "ontological" (not a word to be used lightly); thus, embedded in the very nature of our being. It is a sign and symbol of the very nature of God himself. For without complementarity there can be no union, and what is love but profound union? The complementarity in the order of redemption is explained by St. Edith: "The pre-eminence of man is disclosed by the Saviour's coming to earth in the form of man. The feminine sex is ennobled by virtue of the Saviour's being born of a human mother; a woman was the gateway through which God found entrance to humankind." (Woman, p 70.)

What then is achieved through the maternity of Mary is the most intimate union between God and humanity, between the Son of God and his virginal Mother, between the Holy Spirit and his Spouse, the Immaculate Conception. This is how God chose to "bridge the infinite gulf that lies between His tremendously divine otherness and our lowly and sinful humanness," observed Fr. Mole. "He has willed to send His Son to us as our Redeemer by having Him born of a woman and thus become one of us, our Emmanuel, our God with us in our human condition."

Now, if motherhood is "the highest human achievement", what of those women--consecrated virgins, women living in the world, or the barren--who do not bear children? They are called to spiritual motherhood--a somewhat elusive concept. Childless women, wrote St. Edith, are asked to become "guides of other persons striving to the light; they must practice spiritual maternity, begetting and drawing sons and daughters nearer to the kingdom of God."

Why speak of this now? Because in the month of September we mark Mary's birthday, and thank God for her. "We do not have," as Fr. Mole put it, "her privilege. But we have her. For all her sinlessness, she is one of us. Let us then have recourse to her maternal love and learn from her how to relate to our heavenly Father, how to be able to stand in His presence as His children."
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Title Annotation:Columnist
Author:Laurence, Lianne
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:767
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