We had enjoyed our morning at the museum whose special exhibition of Italian painting and sculpture was both beautiful and moving. It was a bit crowded, but folks moved along pretty easily, listening to their headphones describing the artists and their works. We were about two-thirds of the way through the exhibit when we found ourselves just behind a trio of teenaged girls. Instead of headphones, they talked quietly among themselves at each new painting or sculpture. It was refreshing seeing them so interested in the art in front of them. We moved into a large gallery with several groupings of statues. I watched as the girls approached a life-sized model of the Virgin Mary with her arms raised in blessing. I looked in my guidebook for some info on the artist and overheard one of the young ladies say, “That’s a weird looking Statue of Liberty!” Her two friends agreed with her and they quickly moved on to the next group of works. What??? The Statue of LIberty? How could they not recognize the most iconic woman in the history of the world?
As a Catholic, the Virgin Mary is a central figure in the story of salvation. She is the pure handmaid of the Lord, chosen by God to be His own mother. Who can understand that? She’s the Virgin who is also the Mother, as well. Who can comprehend that? She’s the Queen of Heaven, given to me as my own mother, by her Son and Savior as He hung on the Cross. And yet, these girls can’t recognize her. I realized that their lack of knowledge shouldn’t surprise me. For the majority of non-Catholics, the Virgin Mary isn’t just unfamiliar—she’s invisible.
Raised in the Baptist church, I remember our simple Christmas play. Each year some young girl would silently kneel by a manger with a doll in it while other children sang carols. That was the extent of the Blessed Virgin’s role in my faith formation. We weren’t taught about the Annunciation, or how she said “yes” to God’s plan for the Incarnation. I don’t think I really believed she was His mother, just a sort of caretaker. I didn’t know about her perpetual virginity, or her example of faith as Christ’s disciple I didn’t learn about Cana or that she was there at Pentecost. In fact, I’d never even thought of her keeping watch at the foot of the Cross, watching her beloved Son suffer and die for us. How could a good Southerner leave “Momma” out of the story? Unbelievable.
I’m sure some protestants downplay Mary because anything about her seems “too Catholic.” And there’s still quite a bit of anti-Catholic prejudice hanging on. Others believe that Catholics worship Mary or somehow believe she is a demi-god. We don’t and she isn’t. We don’t attribute anything to Mary that God Himself doesn’t give to her. Our relationship with her is a perfect example of the communion of saints in which we followers of Christ participate. We ask her to pray for us just as we ask our family and friends on earth to pray for us. In the end, I’m not sure why Our Lady remains unknown and unloved by so many other Christians. It’s as if we could somehow offend God by loving and honoring His mother. I can’t imagine that.
When I think of the young women in the museum, I’m sad for them. At a time in their lives when they’re discovering their feminine identity in the world, it’s a shame they aren’t looking to Mary as a role model. By opening herself to the will of God, a poor Jewish girl brought salvation into the world and became the Queen of heaven. Her humility and obedience to the Creator changed the world. Any young woman who is feeling adrift can look to Mary as a perfect guide. The last words she speaks in Scripture are wonderful advice for all of us: “Do whatever He tells you to”(John 2:5). Teach your daughters (and sons) about the Virgin Mary. Don’t let them journey through their lives without knowing the Mother of Jesus and her love for them.
“Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”
—St. Maximilian Kolbe