Monday, October 31, 2011
Out of Eve's Shadow II
“If you are delivered of a child [before I come home], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it!”
-Letter from Hilarion to his to his wife Alis. 1 B.C.
“The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”
Part II: What Mary Meant for Women
1. Mary: The New Beginning
At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, there is a long lineage of our Lord’s ancestors. Among all of the fathers and sons listed, the names of five women appear: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) and Mary. The four women that precede Mary all have been marked by some imperfection. Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes, Ruth was a Gentile and Bathsheba was an adulteress. Out of the five women, only the Blessed Virgin Mary was found to be “full of grace,” that is, without any mark of imperfection. Implied in Matthew’s Gospel genealogy is that with Mary there would be a new beginning; not just for humanity at large but for women in particular.
As God, Jesus Christ would have the opportunity to create his own mother. Taken on her flesh and dwelling within her womb, it is Catholic teaching that he created immaculately as he did Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Scripture, there are allusions to this effect. When God pronounced his sentence upon the Serpent, he included this promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) The woman refers to Mary and God had put enmity between her and Satan. Enmity, of course, means having nothing to do with; a total separation. Hence, a chasm would exist between the Blessed Virgin and all contagion of evil.. Indeed, she would be the first person, the first woman conceived outside of Eve’s shadow. In her Immaculate Conception it was if God had taken the womb of St. Anne, Mary’s mother, outside of Eve’s shadow so as to create Mary, the Mother of God, in the brightest of lights. Perhaps, this is why the angel Gabriel declared her to be “full of grace.” Perhaps, this is why St. John, author of the book of Revelation, saw her as being “clothed with the sun.”
The Son of God would use this special creation of his to not only save souls but to restore dignity and status of women. Immediately after having conceived Jesus, Mary went in haste to assist her relative St. Elizabeth in her last three months of pregnancy. Through her greeting, the first graces of the New Covenant given and inspired by the Holy Spirit “Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” (Luke 1:42) Isn’t it interesting that St. Elizabeth did not say, “Blessed are you among all people?” This would have been a true statement. But she said “blessed are you among women.” This is as if to say, “Blessed are you among Eve and all of her descendants. Yes, among all women who toiled under Eve’s shadow.”
Isn’t it also interesting that St. Elizabeth added, “…and blessed is the fruit of your womb. She could have said, “…and blessed is baby Jesus” or “…and blessed be the child in your womb.” But no, she referred to the unborn Messiah as the “fruit” of her womb. Kind of an odd thing to say! As far as I know, it is not a common expression of among the ancient Jews. The term “fruit,” however, hearkens back to the fruit Eve gave Adam. With the Incarnation, it is Mary who offers the fruit to the Son of God in that she gave him her flesh. She also offers it to the world. The flesh and blood of Christ would be like grapes crushed in the wine-press of suffering. The fruit of the vine, namely wine, would then be consecrated into the blood of Christ at every altar throughout the world.
Jesus referred to his Mother as Woman. This was not out of any disrespect at all. After all, he fulfilled the fourth commandment perfectly. But his mother Mary was to fulfill what Eve lost and that is the dignity and status of being a daughter of God the Father as well as his exclusive possession. Mary was not only the daughter of God but she was a Mother and Virgin at the same time. In Genesis 3: 15, when God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers,” there are some translations which render “offspring” as seed. This was a common translation up until recently. As you know, women do not have seeds. Men do. The seed of Mary seems to prefigure the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. She would be fruitful without the intervention of a man. A kind of independence from man is communicated here. Whereas before men bestowed dignity and social worth to women in the Old Testament. With the Blessed Virgin, it is God taking that initiative. Indeed, what seems so theological and dogmatic, at times unrelated to the real world, had social and political implications for women.
In his public ministry, Jesus had women disciples. His healing and defense of women, both the infirmed and sinners alike, was but an expression and continuation of Mary’s conception outside of Eve’s shadow. It was becoming more evident that the chains had been broken.
2. Women’s New Status:
In the Christian era, women were no longer deemed worthy only through their maternity and dependence on men. Keep in mind that even within Judaism women could be divorced on whim, widows were often left to fend for themselves and women not allowed to those inner precincts of the Jewish Temple. Even up to the time of Christ’s birth, as we have seen, social disgrace was associated with being barren; but not so for a man.
On the other hand, the Catholic Church in those early years inspired vocations for consecrated virgins; now better known as Sisters and Nuns. In fact, St. Paul encouraged women to belong fully to God outside of marriage. He said, “Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do… An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit…She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she remains as she is…”
St. Paul mentions Christian women, spouses of Christ, who made “their first pledge.” (I Timothy 5:3) This was a pledge of total dedication to the Lord. And as for widows, they were to be given special honor. Both St. James and St. Paul exhort the early Christians to take care of widows. This was the mark of “true religion.” “Honor widows who are truly widows,” said St. Paul, “…Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years old, married only once…”
And as for married women, husbands were to look upon them as Christ did for his Church. Married men were to love their wives as his own flesh. The two, in Christ’s covenant, would become one. Such a union could not be dispensed with on whim. To be sure, the indissolubility of marriage would serve as a benefactor for women for centuries to come. Leaving his wife out in the cold, as was common place in the pagan world, the husband would to have to answer for it: first to the Church and then to God. As a Christian man it was his sacred obligation to protect, cherish and even die for his wife if need be.
As for motherhood, St. Paul taught that what once was a curse, namely, labor pangs and being valued exclusively as a mother would be an instrument of her sanctification, perfection and salvation. As the Apostle wrote to St. Timothy: “She will be saved through motherhood…” (I Timothy 2:15) All of this was made possible by Christ through the instrumentation of Mary.
3. The Real Benefactor of Women:
So there you have it! Eve, the mother of the living, had cast a long shadow over women for centuries to come. The creation of Mary, the Mother of God, was God’s way of binding up and healing the wounds of womanhood.
As for today, modern day feminism claims to be for women. But it is not. It is for liberal or secular women if only they are politically useful. As for the woman or female as such, the feminist ideology has little to offer and its followers have proven to be quite selective as to who they help. More often than not, feminism champions the liberal politician or celebrity. But females in the womb and women who do not subscribe to the feminist ideology have to fend for themselves. No doubt, the campaign for women’s equality had yield good results in the last century. For instance, a woman getting the same pay as a man for the same work has been a worthy goal. The playing field is still not as equitable as it can be.
Nevertheless, what Margaret Sanger’s feminism did was to promise women political and social liberation at the expense of her marriage, her family and her faith. “Against the State,” she exclaimed, “against the Church, against the silence of the medical profession, against the whole machinery of dead institutions of the past, the woman of today arises.” She declared war on those “dead” institutions that elevated her station in society and protected her against the lustful and political whims of men. The women of today, like those under Eve’s shadow, bear a heavy burden. Being a stay-at-home mother is frowned upon. Fidelity to husbands and persevering through difficult marriages is both undermined in our entertainment, in our education and in our courtrooms. But relationships make up for a good part of a woman’s life. If this is not saved, nothing is saved for her.
Who is the real benefactor of women in our world? The fact is that the Catholic Church celebrates saintly women throughout the liturgical calendar. Catholics celebrate and remember female heroine in their worship, readings and imitation. What other religion, ideology or institution does this? Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is among the greatest devotions of the Church. Second to God, second to Christ, she is given honor. And it is through her maternal love that women are conformed into the image of Christ.
Margaret Sanger’s feminism has given women the illusion of power but has left her female followers destitute. This ideology has led them right back into Eve’s shadow, which still exists. With that said, Mary, also known as our Lady of Fatima, said that her Immaculate Heart will triumph. Eve’s shadow will be forever dispelled and with Christ, Mary will win.
Posted by Joe at 5:43 PM