The Virgin Mary, or, Awkward Conversations After Mass

Last night, besides New Year’s Eve, was also the vigil of Mary, Mother of God. Mass was over, as was our rousing piano-accompanied recessional of “Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above.” I was dropping my missal in the rack, preparing to give myself a glancing blow with the holy water and depart via the side door.

An elderly woman stopped me. She is the one who invariably sits three or four rows ahead of me–while Catholics no longer rent pews, it seems we surely do own them–and who always insists on a bear hug, even though I barely know her name and she thinks mine is Jeff.

“Can I ask you a question?” she said. “Maybe you know and maybe you don’t.” I said shoot.

Seeing as it was a feast of Mary, and seeing also as she’d only been Catholic for a year and maybe didn’t know these things, and further seeing as how the church teaches Mary is a perpetual virgin–correct? Yes, I nodded, that’s the official teaching–she wanted to know why Jesus has siblings.

Her face was very intent and very concerned.

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Have Virgin Mary Paraphernelia: Will Display

Virgin Mary Night LightLast month, I moved into my godmother’s home after she vacated it for an apartment in assisted living. My godmother lived here for thirty years, and while her daughters had cleaned out most of her possessions, a startling collection of Catholic paraphernalia remained: Virgin Mary statues and night lights, rosaries, variously decorated crucifixes (sometimes more than one in the same room), and even a bottle of holy water.

The presence of these items in the house brought me comfort; like the family photos she’d left on the wall, they were familiar and part of my history. Although I was given free reign to dispose of what was left behind in the house, I couldn’t part with any of these objects. Now that I’m more settled, one of the Virgin Mary lamps is in my bedroom, a Virgin Mary statuette in the living room, and Holy Water in a little cup outside the door. I also found a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the garage that I plan to dust off and hang somewhere, although I’m sure it will offend my parents’ decorating sensibilities (but that’s really too bad).

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Virgin Mary Weeps

Picture 131

After seeing a story that believers sighted the Virgin Mary statue in Ireland weeping, I again wonder – what is the place in the post-post Vatican II church for such miracles?  And where do I fit on the macro scale of Catholicism?

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, it’s hard for me to consider myself a progressive Catholic.  This is partially because I am very old-fashioned about rituals and holy matter.  Part of me even likes Mass in Latin – except for the not integrating community part.  Socially, I subscribe to a lot of tenets that progressive Catholics hold dear.

I actually think that medieval Catholic thinkers had a lot more figured out about gender, sexuality, and identity than us modern or post-modern Catholics.  Medieval Catholics did not shy away from writing about Heaven as a sexual experience that is well within Church theology.

I think many modern or progressive minded Catholics have gotten all rational Muslim over our asses (God bless rational Muslims, God bless progressive minded Catholics).  In playing down central tenets of Catholic faith and Catholic folk life – Virgin Mary tears (you mean it’s not just about sexism?), transubstantiation (no, it doesn’t just mean community! Although community is good!), apparitions, blood relics,

Oh, the blood relics – as just trappings and baggage that have held the Church down.

As we look for new metaphors to express our frustrations with the Church, let’s not knock conservative Catholics or so-called conservative practices.  Because then we get into this mind warp of thinking like secular folks – oh, the only way to be is progressive Catholic.  And this can get in the way of dealing with other religions, especially Islam, because progressive Catholics tend to romanticize progressive Muslims as the “right” way to be.

And yes, medieval Catholics had those rather big problems with Islamophobia and crusades.  But really, progressive Catholic community, are we any better?