Monday, October 19, 2009

Because of Mary, and Ammie

Back on September 8th, we celebrated the Birthday of Mary. It is not possible to say "Why I Am Catholic" without a word or two about Mary. In fact, I have a word or two about two Marys.

First, the Blessed Virgin and a couple of personal thoughts. I spent long enough time in the Congregational and Episcopal churches to understand that there is a certain prejudice against our devotion to Mary.

 I find this ironic, coming from churches that are now in a rush to ordain women. Our Church, the Holy Catholic Church, has honored the Blessed Virgin Mary as not just an important woman but as Theotokos, the Mother of God, for Gosh sakes, for the better part of 2000 years, but that wasn't good enough for you, my Protestant brothers and sisters? So now, by act of human will, and in the times in which we live, you're going to set matters straight by elevating the ecclesial status of women? Cool.

I cannot recite the Cathechism. I cannot give you every why and wherefore for the Church's devotion to Mary(but I bet Frank can). If you haven't figured it out yet, this blog is written by lay converts to Catholicism (and one cradle Catholic) who can only speak their own truth, not even the Church's. I can only write what makes sense to me, and this makes sense to me:

God is great. God is so great that no one can see his face, so great that even to utter his name was something none of our ancestors in faith, the Jews, would even do. God sent his only begotten son, the Word, the Christ, to redeem us from our sins. He suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven. So even direct access, as in "Hello, operator, give me Jesus on the line," is somewhat limited in the case of the Son of God. He sits on high, at the right hand of the Father.

And therefore to come to Him, to make Him a reality in our lives, we need intermediaries, we need intercession, we need baby steps. Mary to me represents those baby steps, those pure, innocent steps toward Him, the way toward the Way. Mary is presented to us as a paragon of purity, of virginity, a state so pure and free of bad thoughts and feelings, that it is something we can only aspire to. Yet aspire we do, because Mary is the way to the Way. Her purity, her impartiality, her devotion are models for all of us.

OK, a third and final thought about this Mary. The gospel for her feast day (long form) offers us that long, long list of names, almost all of them male, in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. We get the rationale. Most of us carry our father's, not our mother's names, through life. Kristin Lavransdatter was the daughter of whom? Right. Bull was the last name of my father and my father's father and so on back.

Isn't it absolutely remarkable, then, that this Church in which we worship and are brought into the presence of the Lord concludes this long litany of male names with the name of . . . a woman? How, by what miracle or grace, did a woman interject herself into the long and bloody tale of mostly male history? And let's face it, the Jews shed their share of blood. This alone is worthy of contemplation, I think.

Now, the other Mary, that cute waif in a turban.

That Mary is or was my grandmother, Mary Heffelfinger Morrison, and I am a Catholic because of her too. When her husband, my stepgrandfather, Brig. Gen. H. T. Morrison, was on his deathbed, he reportedly said to her, "Mary, I won't be cold in the ground before you convert to Catholicism." And he was right, give or take a degree Fahrenheit. Ammie, as all of her twenty-six grandchildren knew and loved her, converted after "Grampa" died, and I know from her own testimony that this gave her great joy. There is a picture (I'll publish it if I can find it) of Ammie "outside the ropes" at a Vatican appearance of His Holiness John Paul II. He is passing her, and she is absolutely hysterical—like a Bobby Soxer in front of Elvis, like all those girls on the Ed Sullivan Show during the Beatles' first TV appearance.

The last time I saw Ammie, she said to me, "Dearie, someday soon you're going to hear that I have died. I don't want you to be sad. Because I know, I know that I will be in good hands." I wish you could have seen Ammie's smile. Even better, even purer than the smile on the face of that little girl in a turban.

Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Ammie.