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Monday, December 31, 2018

Guest Post by Fr. Tom Collins -- Mary as Co-Redemptix, Part I: The Covenant

Mary, Mother of the Savior, Pray for Us.
Editor's Note: Read the premises and foundation for Mary's title as Co-Redemptrix here. 

Mary and the Incarnate Lord Jesus are so closely united it's hard to think of one without the other. Jesus dwelt in Mary's body for nine months. Her "fiat" is what began the central chapter in salvation history and the opening of the doors to heaven. Those who believe devotion to Mary insults or lessens Jesus' as Savior of the World, fail to understand the profound humility of Mary and God's desire for us to be little, humble souls. 

When we come to Jesus through Mary we imitate Jesus Who came to save the world through Mary. God used a woman to send his Son to earth. What is surprising about using that same woman to bring us to her Son's cross holding us close while we are washed in the Blood of the Lamb before going to the Father. Mary "magnifies the Lord." Why would we not want to imitate her?


Petitions for the Holy See to proclaim as a doctrine of Faith that the Blessed Virgin Mary is Co-Redemptrix in union with Jesus, her Son, has been viewed by some as a major new obstacle to ecumenical dialogue. Although carefully nuanced to emphasize that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, alone was capable of effecting the salvation of  humanity by His saving life, death and resurrection, there is a lingering uneasiness on the part of many about accepting Mary's title as Co-Redemptrix in any more than a figurative or poetic sense. Thus it would seem appropriate to address this difficulty in a way that, by God's grace, would help both to address the concerns of our separated brethren and to promote a more profound appreciation of certain dimensions of the mystery of Redemption, which seem to be largely overlooked in the New Evangelization.

The underlying basis for this reflection is the fact that our culture needs to seriously re-examine its understanding of the nature of man in the light of Divine Revelation. By using the conventional term "man", I wish to indicate the individual human person as well as the collectivity of human society. A major problem that Western anthropology has with regard to man is that it tends to see each human person as a unique individual, while the covenantal bonds that form society  are seen primarily as structures for the orderly development of human life and relationships. Although this may be helpful in philosophical and legal deliberations, it does tend to create a distorted image of integral humanity by viewing the human person's being as somewhat aloof from any real self-investment into the human family. The individual is seen as contributing to society and benefiting from the contributions of others in a somewhat healthy symbiotic relationship. Such a functional perspective of man, however, tends to overlook a more profound ontological perspective of man presented in Holy Scripture, a perspective which presumes that man's relationships are not merely a mode of his functioning in the world, but rather an integral aspect of his very being. The following reflections will seek to show that, in Holy Scripture, man is seen as essentially a covenantal being.

In order to appreciate this perspective, it is important to note that Scriptural portrayals of integral humanity are only given in the first two chapters of Genesis, in some of the wisdom writings and in the Gospel accounts of Christ and His ministry (In the Gospel accounts, however, it should be noted that the integral humanity is not in the Sabbath rest of a completed creation, but rather is profoundly engaged and disfigured in a struggle against the power of evil, whereby humanity is being re-created in the image and likeness of God).  All other accounts of human life and endeavor in the Scriptures portray individuals and societies that are caught up in the power of sin and struggling to come to terms with the call and grace offered to them by God. 

We see what God originally intended man to be dramatized in the very beginning of the Torah. This follows a basic wisdom, which affirms that, in any discourse, one should clearly define the meaning of terms in order to ensure that no misunderstandings develop in the sharing of ideas and perspectives. And so it is that, in Genesis 1:26-27 and again in Genesis 5:2 (cf. also Mal. 1: 14-15), "man" is defined as being God's image and likeness precisely in being "male and female". The intriguing thing about this is to be seen in light of the fact that the Mosaic Law was very insistent on the fact that there is only one God. In light of the prevalent pagan religions of Israel's neighbors, especially the cults of the god, Baal, and of the goddess, Astarte, it is difficult, at first, to reconcile the strict monotheism of Israel with the idea that God's image and likeness is male and female. The sacred author is definitely not trying to affirm that there are two varieties of God.

The only way this dilemma can be reconciled is by a deepening appreciation of the covenant theology, which is so central to Israel's spirituality. Since God's image and likeness is not "male or female", but "male and female", the image and likeness of God is not proclaimed to be found in some sort of rugged individualist, nor is it manifested in a glorified version of the turf battles between the sexes, but rather in the covenant relationship, into which individuals invest themselves in obedience to God's call. By way of analogy, we should call to mind the fact that the covenant relationship we allude to under the title, the Holy Trinity, is not merely a functional relationship of the God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is God, and each distinct Person in the Godhead is God. Likewise, in the original plan for both creation and redemption, God's image and likeness is also to be one humanity, in which many individual human beings share through their communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit.

The Body of Christ under one Head
It should also be noted here that, in the account of creation given in the first chapter of Genesis, the sacred author repeatedly refers to God saying, “Let there be ….”, as He creates each new dimension of the material universe. But when He creates man, he portrays God as saying, “Let Us make man in our image and likeness.” This indicates an intimate investment of Himself into the creation of man. It also indicates an ongoing dynamic, whereby humanity is formed more deeply into an intimate communion with God, whereby the whole of Creation is to be enhanced and brought to perfection

This covenantal nature of man is reaffirmed in the second chapter of Genesis, in which God, after forming Adam from the dust of the earth and breathing His own life breath into him, declares, "It is not good for the man to be alone.” God finally forms the woman from a rib taken from Adam's side. Note, however, that He does not breathe life into woman, the life breath is already in her as she is being formed from the rib. Thus, the life she has is a life she shares with the man - a self-emptying (kenosis) covenant life. The two become one flesh, not in a Platonic sense, in which the soul is divorced from the flesh, but in a way that enables the whole being of each to be perfect gift to the other and, with the other, to God.

The account of the Fall in Genesis 3 also echoes the covenantal nature of authentic humanity. God had told the man in Genesis 2 that at the very moment he ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he would die.  However, when the woman and the man ate of this fruit, they did not drop dead on the spot. But their beautiful covenant relationship of love, respect, trust and mutual support did die as they realized they were naked, as they hid from God in a spirit of alienation, and as the man blamed the woman and God, Who had given her to him, for his sin. (As an aside, it is worth noting that sin is portrayed as a perverted covenant relationship with the evil one by God’s question, “Who told you that you were naked?”, not “How did you realize you were naked?”) This alienation from the covenant relationship is the death that took place as a consequence of their sin. Biological death was merely a delayed effect of this consequence, in a manner analogous to the delayed demise of bodily organs after the brain dies. Here we can also see the beginnings of our distorted, individualistic and non-covenantal understanding of man succinctly expressed. The man and woman are no longer united in a covenant of mutual respect. Instead, the woman will long for the man and he will be her master. In a "sour grapes" attempt to ratify the meaning of life in terms of the domination, manipulation and exploitation that sin has brought into their relationship, the man names his wife "Eve"; i.e., the mother of all those "living" in accordance with this perverted condition. Likewise, God's clothing them in animal skins reveals that, because of their rejection of a covenantal humanity, they have fallen  into a condition analogous to the man's situation when he was frustrated in his quest for a helpmate by his finding merely a functional relationship with the animals. But, to emphasize again that the original and normative nature of man is still covenantal, Genesis 5:2 again points out that God Himself named the male-and-female covenantal being "man".

From this point on, salvation history entails God's fidelity in bringing to realization His original word of commitment to form man in His image and likeness (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11). In the face of human pride, sin, perversion, stubbornness, cruelty and blindness, God  faithfully reaches out to, wrestles with and forms a people, which is to image the reality of a covenantal life to the rest of fallen humanity. (It is intriguing to note here that the covenantal and dialogical nature of  man, in opposition to an individualistic interpretation of salvation history, is indicated in Exodus 32:15-16, where the commandments of the covenant are described as being inscribed by God on both sides of the tablets given to Moses. Thus the commandments could not be seen at any moment by one person alone. A communal activity was required to come to a proper appreciation of the full truth of God's covenant with Israel.) Detailed exegesis of other Scriptural passages which point to this renewal of a covenantal humanity is impossible in the space of this short article. Suffice it to say, however, that outside such a covenantal life, hope is quickly suffocated by the anxieties stirred up by preoccupations with the world, the flesh and the devil. As Genesis 3:14 and 19 point out, man will ultimately return to being the “dust” that will be the food/prey of the serpent. Likewise, all human efforts to form community will degenerate into a form of complicity, wherein certain moral evils will be embraced as both normal and normative by the group. 

The above considerations are important in that they emphasize that God's original creation of man was the creation of a covenantal being, not the creation of a loose-knit group of individuals, who relate to one another merely out of an enlightened self-interest. In line with this, we can see that each person is created as a gift to grace the lives of others (note that for Adam, the woman was not just his wife, but also was the rest of humanity at that time, and vice versa), so as to image that Love, which is the very Life and Being of God Himself. These considerations also help to clarify the fact that human dignity is to be found not in a superficial self-centered spiritual stagnation, but rather in one's being more purely and perfectly gift to God and neighbor. Thirdly, they point out that alienated humanity is desperately in need of God's gracious Self-Revelation and Covenant grace in order to come to a truly integral life (We are not able to pull ourselves out of the quagmire of sin by our proverbial bootstraps).  Finally, since sin is a choice to distort one's perspective before it is a distortion of actions and relationships, salvation from sin requires that man, by God's grace, be willing to embrace a persevering obedience of faith in the truths and disciplines revealed by God, even when those truths do not conform to the perspective of the predominant culture of his age. 

"And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."
The understanding of integral man as a covenantal being helps to bring into focus the profound spirit of self-abnegation (kenosis) to which God the Son committed Himself in the sacred mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption (It needs to be emphasized here that the Incarnation and Redemption are sacred mysteries, and not merely sacred historical events. As mysteries, they continue to engage and transform humanity throughout all of history). If God originally created man as a covenantal being, then the mystery of the Incarnation would require that God the Son take to Himself a covenantal human nature. In such a nature, the work of redemption is a covenantal mission and ministry. (It should be noted that this covenantal human nature, which God the Son embraced, was in stark contrast to the more aloof and hermetically-sealed type of spirituality embraced by many of the Pharisees) And it is shared in such a way that both Jesus and His beloved disciples participate in the struggles, sufferings, frustrations and glorification involved in the mystery of human redemption from the power of sin. 

As scandalous as it may seem to minds clouded by the distorted perspectives of sin, Jesus did not want to be glorified alone, either on the cross or on His heavenly throne. His glorified covenantal humanity is to be an ongoing invitation for all to share in that grace, with which His divine nature invested our frail and fallen human nature. And so, as His Father's Word of loving commitment to unfaithful humanity, Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, perfectly takes to Himself a covenantal human nature by gracing the life of one woman in particular to purely and perfectly participate  in a covenantal communion with Himself in every aspect of her life and being.  Only in this way could it be effectively shown to the world that salvation was not merely to be a change of our condition as humans, but rather a transformation of our very being - our total humanity in all dimensions of its life and relationships. And so it is that the Church proclaims the unique and sinless covenantal bond of Mary with her Son as a truth that must be proclaimed and appreciated by all Catholics. The redemptive gift of Jesus was perfectly given to and received by His Mother from the first moment of her existence. Or, to put it more concisely, the Immaculate Conception of Mary does not just entail her total freedom from original sin, it also involves her being given the grace to be perfectly receptive to and filled with God's gracious gift of Himself, commonly referred to as sanctifying grace. This gift was ratified by her act of total consecration to God's will for her, which is reflected in the Annunciation. 

It is important to note here that, when the archangel, Gabriel, came to Mary in Nazareth, he did not ask her if she was willing to become the mother of the Messiah, but rather informed her of the way in which God was calling her to live out her consecration of her life for the salvation of her people. Thus, by her fiat, she reaffirmed her perfect consecration to God by freely giving the totality of her being as woman to Him, so as to allow the Spirit to form the humanity of God the Son within her very being. Mary's fiat was a participation in the kenosis of her Son, in that it required that 1) she, whose life was consecrated to inspire, encourage and edify all the people in her community, become a source of scandal; [SEE NOTE BELOW.] 2) her reputation in her community be irrevocably tainted by her acceptance of Jesus into her life and her world; 3) she risked being completely ostracized or even killed, for the sake of conforming herself and her life to the will of God.

In deference to those who legitimately point out that Mary and her words are rarely mentioned in the written gospels, it should be noted that the complementary nature of her covenant relationship with Jesus makes this lack of Scriptural emphasis quite understandable. If Jesus is God's Word become flesh, the proper reception of that Word would entail a quiet and vigilant, yet dialogical, receptivity to that Word. Scriptural silence concerning the deeper dimensions of Mary's relationship with the Person, life and ministry of her Son is merely a reflection of the attitude of reverent and receptive recollection needed to properly participate in an authentic covenant relationship with Christ.

It should be noted here that the new covenant humanity actuated in history by the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Incarnation was not a closed relationship. Just as the first man and woman were commanded to be fruitful and multiply, so the new covenant-humanity of Jesus and Mary, formed by the power of the Holy Spirit, was given the command to totally give of itself (to empty itself) in order to embrace and form all peoples into a renewed covenantal humanity. Just as in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity there is only one God in three divine Persons, so in the new redeemed humanity, there is to be one Christ, one Church, one new human covenant community committed to an irrevocable obedience to the will of our loving Father, into which many human persons, through the grace of Baptism, invest their lives and very being.

NOTE: I want to accentuate the profound humility and sacrificial love of Our Blessed Mother. If it was necessary for her to be slandered as a “fallen woman” in order to fulfill God’s plan of salvation, she was willing to suffer that abuse. Also note something frequently overlooked. In Luke’s Gospel, Mary is told that she would name the Child, Jesus. In her society, the only time a mother named her child was when she was a widow or abandoned. Thus it was implied that she would have to be willing to suffer being rejected/divorced by Joseph in order to bring this Child into the world. She could thus be in a situation of dire need as she sought to both provide for and care for this Child.

Thus, by her fiat, she asserted her willingness to suffer slander, rejection, abandonment and extreme poverty in order to participate in the fruition of God's will to save humanity. The stress she had to endure was bearable only because of the profound love that permeated her whole being.

Note also the dilemma of Joseph. Had Mary told him that she was assaulted by a Roman soldier as she travelled to visit Elizabeth, Joseph could have been heroic enough to care for her and for the child she was carrying. But her explanation that her pregnancy was the work of the Holy Spirit verged on being blasphemy. But Joseph, in obedience to the vision he had in a dream, accepted her and her Child and invested himself totally in caring for them. (As an aside, note that Joseph also probably had to suffer humiliation from the local community in Nazareth until he, after weeks of trying to determine what led to this pregnancy, finally [as they would see it)] "manned up" to "admitting" that he was responsible for the Child.)

Sadly, in our sanitized society the harsh realities  experienced in the lives of those living in Biblicaltimes are tragically overlooked.


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