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Dignity of Mary

I was doing research on the Internet in connection with my work at RENEW, and I came across the names of actresses who have played Mary, the mother of Jesus, in conventional re-tellings of the Gospel story in the movies or on television.
The names included Ruth Hussey, Olivia Hussey, Dorothy McGuire, Siobhan McKenna, and—the most recent one—Keisha Castle-Hughes. Each of these women brings a slightly different interpretation to the role.
One thing that doesn’t vary in their performances, though, is the dignity with which Mary is portrayed—probably because producers, directors, and actresses realize that hundreds of millions of people hold Mary in high esteem.
It’s a significant, hope-filled thing in the time in which we live that so many people still have a special regard for a woman who lived two thousand years ago, a woman about whom we know so little.
There are several things about Mary that make her the object of such devotion.
One of them is the fact that Mary—alone among ordinary human beings—was conceived in her mother’s womb without original sin.
Another is the fact that Mary was chosen to bear a son who was both human and divine, both man and God, the one foreseen by the prophets, the savior, who would overcome the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve.
These two things were gifts from God, gratuitous gifts—meaning that they were gifts that God did not have to give—not to Mary and not to the world.
Both of these gifts make Mary unique—the only woman of her kind who ever has lived or ever will live on earth.
Another thing that arose from Mary herself helps to account for the influence she continues to have so long after her life on earth: her respect for the will of God.
In the Book of Genesis we read that Eve, the first woman, and her husband, Adam, made their own will paramount to the will of God.
The story has to do with eating the fruit of a certain tree, but the details of the sin are not important. What’s important is that Adam and Eve knew the will of God, but they acted according to their own contrary will—in other words, they made themselves gods.
If we accept that God exists, then we must accept that his will is supreme. At whatever point we act as though our will is supreme, we make ourselves gods. And we human beings do that every day; we do it every time we sin.
By contrast, here is Mary in the gospel story, learning through some mysterious means that she will bear a son through divine intervention, learning something that had to be both frightening and confusing.
But because she understands it to be the will of God, what is Mary’s response?
“Let it be done to me as you say” (Luke 1:38).
This sentence defined Mary’s life on earth; she submitted to the will of God.
It doesn’t make her a weak personality; far from it.
When we consider what she endured—trying to understand her own role in God’s plan, trying to understand her son’s behavior, fearing for her son’s well-being, witnessing her son’s humiliation and death—when we consider what she endured because she accepted God’s will, we know that she was a very strong woman.
Moreover, after the Easter miracle, we find Mary in the company of other women and the apostles as the infant Church begins to take shape in a hostile environment.
So it’s no wonder that thoughtful people in the twenty-first century still honor and love Mary.
They do not see in Mary only God’s unique gifts to her—her immaculate conception and her role as the mother of the savior. They also see in her the model for every person, the model who teaches all of us that the key to everlasting life is contained in her simple response to the will of God: “Let it be done to me as you say.”


Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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