Having just entered the Church on the Feast of the Assumption, it seemed appropriate next to address perhaps the greatest obstacle to the Protestant considering conversion to Catholicism: Mary. As I drew closer to Catholicism, it was, of course, impossible to avoid this issue. One thing I’d always known about Catholicism was that it emphasized Mary in a way Protestant churches did not. Indeed, at one time, I was certainly under the impression that Catholics “worshipped” Mary. Again, though, as with all of my other
objections to Catholicism, my position was based upon some fundamental misapprehensions about what the Church actually taught and a refusal to acknowledge the implications of the beliefs I already held.
First, on the issue of Mary “worship:” the Church teaches that Mary was a human being, not divine. She is not eternal. Rather, she was born at a particular place and time, just like every other human being. Also, “worship,” as I pointed out here, necessarily involves sacrifice, and there are absolutely no sacrifices offered to Mary. Merely praying to her and asking her to pray for me doesn’t constitute “worshipping” her, any more than me asking my friend at church to pray for me constitutes worshipping him. Similarly, someone honoring Mary by placing flowers in front of a statue of her isn’t worshipping her, just like the folks who placed flowers outside of the gates of the NBC studio here in D.C. when Tim Russert died weren’t worshipping him by doing so.
If praying to and honoring Mary aren’t “worship,” then what are they? Well, I think they’re the way in which we live out and participate in Mary’s prophecy, recorded in Luke 1:48, that “all generations” would call her “blessed.” As a Protestant, I never did that. Not even once. If anything, I went out of my way to denigrate Mary, emphasizing that God “could have chosen anyone.” The fact of the matter, though, is that He didn’t choose someone else: He chose her. And if this woman was special enough to be the earthly Mother of Jesus, she certainly seems entitled to my devotion as well. What’s more, speaking as a man, I know how I’d feel if someone treated my mother with contempt. How did I think Jesus felt when I treated His Mother that way?
These reflections also helped me get over the hurdle of referring to Mary as the Mother of God. This was yet another misunderstanding on my part. I always thought that this title somehow indicated Mary was considered divine. That’s not the point of the title at all, though. By calling Mary the Mother of God, we are simply affirming that we believe Jesus is God. Protestants and Catholics agree that Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and that Jesus is the second Person of the Godhead. Consequently, it’s just simple logic to say that Mary is the Mother of God, right? Saying that is the same as saying she’s the Mother of Jesus. Denying her this title is, in fact, an attack, not only on Mary, but also on the divinity of Christ.
The same analysis applies to the Church’s teaching that Mary is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. If Jesus is the King of Heaven and Earth, which is something that I think Protestants and Catholics would agree on, that necessarily would make His Mother a Queen. And, again, it seems to me that if we deny this, we’re not just attacking Mary. Rather, we’re attacking Christ’s lordship, too.
So far, all of the issues I’ve discussed are ones that were resolved for me simply by finding out what the Church actually taught. That wasn’t the case, though, with getting to the point I accepted the Church’s teaching on Mary’s perpetual virginity and sinlessness. On these issues, my struggle was with how I could accept teachings that weren’t explicitly set forth in Scripture. I eventually did come to accept these doctrines, though, based primarily upon two things: (1) learning that these doctrines have long been part of the Church’s tradition and understanding of Scripture; and (2) reflecting on the fact that Mary carried the eternal God of the universe in her womb. This must have been a very special person. She is the only person in history who can say that God in human form was dependent upon her for His very life. As a consequence of reflecting on this fact, it eventually just made sense to me to accept the well-established tradition of the Church that Mary was set aside in a physical sense (her perpetual virginity) as well as in a spiritual sense (her perpetual sinlessness) in a unique way.
Finally, on these doctrinal issues, there was the question of the Church’s teaching that Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. On this issue, I eventually had to acknowledge to myself that my objection to this was simply that I didn’t believe God would do such a thing for a mere human being. But, how could I believe that and accept what Scripture said about Enoch and Elijah? They were taken directly into Heaven by God. And if God would do that for these heroes of the Old Testament, why was it so crazy to believe He would do the same for His Mother?
So much for all of the pure doctrinal issues. Some of my readers may nevertheless be asking: “Alright, Jason, even if you’re right, why does the Catholic Church make such a big deal about Mary? What’s the purpose of all this in a practical sense?” These are fair questions, and I’ll try to answer them as best I can from my own experience.
For me, these doctrines are a comfort because they tell us we have a Mother in Heaven, as well as a Father, to whom we can run in times of trouble. Maybe you’re not like me, but I sometimes find it hard to talk to God directly. I might be mad at Him or feel far away from Him. I think that’s how we sometimes feel with our earthly fathers as well, which is why God didn’t create us only to have fathers. He also gave us mothers, who tend to be more approachable. And, if He gave us both earthly mothers and fathers, why wouldn’t He give us a heavenly Mother to listen to us when, for whatever reason, we had difficulty approaching Him directly?
I also found the Church’s teaching on Mary to be deeply comforting in another, even more personal way. In June 2010, we lost a little baby girl to miscarriage and, since that time, have lost two sons the same way. At least for this dad, I can’t say what I would have done if I didn’t believe that my three precious children have both a Father and a Mother in Heaven to whose care they are entrusted while Nikki and I finish our races here on Earth. Our two sons are named Zachary and Henry. Our little girl’s name is Mary.
 This, of course, implicates the whole question of sola Scriptura, which I’ve touched on before and may address in more detail in a subsequent post.
 I do understand that there are verses in Scripture which refer to Jesus’ “brothers.” On this, I accept the Church’s view that these verses are referring to Jesus’ cousins, as there was no word for cousin in the Greek used to write the New Testament. If you’re interested in understanding more about this issue from a Catholic perspective, see here. I also recommend checking out what the Catechism has to say about Mary, in general, here. In any event, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, one of the attractions of the Catholic faith for me was that there is an authority to settle disputed issues of Scriptural interpretation, such as this one, when necessary.
 Of course, I didn’t acknowledge that to myself. Rather, I told myself that my objection was based upon the absence of the story of Mary’s Assumption in the pages of Scripture. But I accepted the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity, which also don’t
directly appear in Scripture, without any problem at all.