I recently stumbled across an amazing article written by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, a Lutheran seminarian, titled "There's Something About Mary," where she relates how she "made [her] peace with the mother of God." This process is interesting, because it is one that a lot of Catholics also have yet to embark on. I was curious to see how she overcame the prejudices that block many from recognizing Mary's role, one which was designated and fought over from the beginnings of the Church.
Mrs. Wilson didn't sit down to wrestle with it as a theological problem one day, at least that's not how she started. She began with prayer, specifically the nightly evening prayer of the Lutheran Book of Worship. The prayer which struck her and challenged her over time was the "Magnificat," the hymn of praise authored by Christ's mother and recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever. (Luke 1:46-55)
This scattering of the "proud in the imagination of their hearts" is something which Mrs. Wilson has described so candidly and with great humility. She was moved to reconsider her difficulty with the exaltation of a creature, and the invitation came not as a result of her intellectual conjurings, but from the impetus of the prayer itself. Prayer is what opens us to grace, and this is why we teach children to pray at the very advent of their understanding, and it is why we continue to pray even as we struggle with our distraction and distance.
After I'd sung this maybe a hundred times, a few important things dawned on me. The first thing, of course, was that I disliked Mary, which was followed quickly by the conviction that this was a totally unacceptable attitude. Next it dawned on me that Mary is theologically important, and fancying myself to be a budding theologian, I had to take that seriously. And third it dawned on me that Mary is the model for the Christian life.
Her strongest argument in favor of Mary's role is an historical one, captured in the title "Theo-tokos", "God-bearer," a debate settled by the Council of Ephesus in 431 which had come to such a pitch that people were demonstrating in the streets over the question of Christ's human and divine natures.
The essential thing about Mary, I discovered, is that she safeguards what we know about Jesus Christ—a most appropriate task for the woman who held the infant Jesus in her arms. She is a christological protector, you might say, making sure we always remember that her Son is both truly human and truly divine.
It may be no more than a hunch, and perhaps weighted by friendship with an evangelical professor, that Catholics and Protestant Christians are finding more common ground than ever as faith in the person of Christ and the Gospel message is challenged and at times marginalized. The discomfort of Christians with our dividedness is pushing us to go back to our origins, to the person of Christ, the Church he founded, and the historical wranglings which have produced a clearer understanding of our common faith. This article is evidence of just such a struggle, coming from the heart of a Christian, desiring that we all may be one in Christ Jesus, our Lord.