Inspired by the Spirit by Fr. Kilian McDonnell

  Fr. McDonnell's latest book, The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, is available at our books tore. 

It is sometimes the obvious things that people understand the least. Any attempt to explain what is generally self-evident fails in everything but effort.

The arguments brought forth ring a little hollow, the reasoning seems shallow, and it all ends in murdering the obvious without proving the obvious.

We Catholics usually look upon our love and devotion for Mary as self-evident, something that is completely natural, logical, and reasonable. So much so that we find it difficult to understand why our Protestant friends have any problems at all. That they might possibly be hesitant in accepting the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist or on Confession is somewhat understandable. These doctrines are not quite so much in the realm of everyday experience. They are truths, but they are not obvious truths. But why they should have difficulty understanding the teaching on the Blessed Virgin is a little beyond us.

In philosophy there are what are called “self-evident principles,” or self-evident sayings. The saying “good must be done and evil avoided” is a self-evident principle. Now you do not prove such a principle. You do not prove it simply because it is obviously true and needs no proof.

This is the way we look at our devotion to Mary. We are a little taken back when asked to prove the propriety and fitness of our devotion to Mary. We are reduced to the uncomfortable position of proving what really does not need proof. Everyone believes that one should honor the King’s Mother.

I am always embarrassed in my instructions to converts when I come to speak of Our Lady. In fact, I find it really quite difficult to give instructions on the Blessed Virgin. The difficulty stems not from the profundity of what must be said, but from the simplicity of what must be said. I say “Mary is the Mother of Christ.” And then I am finished. That is all; there is no more. In order not to make it appear that the Church honors Mary without sufficient reason, I repeat the same idea over and over in different ways. But actually it is as simple as that. Mary is the Mother of Christ, the Mother of God.

Sometimes non- Catholics object that Mary obscures Christ.

They say that the love we bear to Mary detracts from the love we owe Our Lord. To this we return a respectful but emphatic no. If I praise the beauty of a full moon, do I thereby insult or neglect the sun? Besides, does the moon have any light of itself? No, it is bright only with a borrowed light-it reflects the light of the sun. So when I praise the beauty of the moon, am I not, in that very act, praising the glory of the sun?

The Church’s prayers speak of Mary and Christ as the moon and the Sun. Of Mary they say that she is “Beautiful as the Moon” and of Christ that He is the “Sun of Holiness.” Mary’s glory is real, and it is great, but it is a borrowed, a reflected glory. Mary is nothing of herself, has nothing of herself. We must understand this first of all if we seek to understand the magnitude of her greatness. She herself has said that God fills with good things only those who parade their nothingness before Him: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” But once God has filled Mary with good things, then she is truly “full of grace,” because the source of all grace is within her: “The Lord is with thee.”

Mary’s beauty is a reflected beauty. All the greatness that is hers comes from Christ: “He that is mighty has done great things to me.”

We cannot come within the remotest possibility of understanding Mary unless we understand that all her titles to man’s devotion and God’s favor are in the truth of her motherhood. There are two classes of people who can do Mary and Christ a dishonor by failing to grasp the meaning of “Mother of God.” In the one class are the Protestants and in the other are the Catholics.

An example will illustrate the two classes. Pretend for the moment that I pick a novel from my bookshelf, open it at random, and read a sentence to you: “The young man in a gray suit carrying a small colored box in one hand and the body of a dead dog in the other entered the house on the corner.” And now I ask you to explain that sentence to me. What is in the small colored box? Why, above all, is the young man carrying the body of a dead dog? You will say, and quite correctly, that you cannot tell me the meaning of that sentence unless you read the rest of the novel. The sentence has meaning only as part of the story. It is a part of the whole. It is not meant to stand alone.

Mary is an important chapter in God’s’ book of creation, Christ, grace. She is not meant to stand alone.

However, without Mary, God’s story, as God Himself wrote it, is not complete. Without Mary you cannot fully understand God’s story. You tamper with an author’s masterpiece if you remove and ignore one of its chapters. God would not like that. This kind of tampering is the error of some Protestants.

On the other hand, you deprive Mary of all her greatness if she is removed from the story and honored in isolation from the whole, which gives her meaning, if Mother is separated from Son. Mary is not meant to stand alone. She is part of a story, an important part, but she loses her significance, loses her importance, if she is not left in the story. If you honor her apart from the setting, which is her glory, you destroy her title to greatness; you separate Mary from Christ. Mary would not like that. This kind of tampering is the error of some Catholics.

These, again, are obvious truths. But they are obvious lessons some have not yet learned.

Condensed from The Restless Christian by Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B. 1957 The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Sheed and Ward, NY


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