“Mary our Mother, Mary our Redeemer.” I was teaching in Manila about fifteen years ago when banners appeared around the city with that phrase. When I first saw one of the banners, I thought: “Oh no! Evangelical preachers will use those banners as proof that Catholics teach idolatry.” Sure enough, it happened the next day on the local evangelical radio station. Fortunately, the archbishop of Manila managed to have the Catholic organization displaying the banners remove them the next day.
Surely, the banners were an expression of sincere piety and an effort at evangelization. However, more careful thought would have prevented the harm that occurred. With my graduate students of theology, I took the opportunity to use the incident as an illustration of why the Second Vatican Council called for caution when Catholics expressed Marian piety, lest they do so in ways offensive to our brothers and sisters in other Christian churches. As the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church urges Catholic leaders:
“Let them painstakingly guard against any work or deed which could lead separated brethren or anyone else into error regarding the true doctrine of the church.” (Lumen Gentium #68)
Unfortunately, the banner incident caused a lot of pain for the Church in Manila. There simply was not enough “painstaking” before the banners were displayed around Manila.
I often reflect on how individuals who are part of my daily life model the selfless love seen in Jesus and Mary. Early in life I was molded by the witness of my father and mother, my sisters and brothers when I was a child. Today I am inspired by the witness of the Lord’s disciples who are all around me. Families living the faith are part of that “cloud of witnesses” the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb 12:1) talks about. Those witnesses urge us to live our faith and to eschew whatever is evil or does not lead to the Lord Jesus.
My favorite approach to Marian piety is reflected in the writings of St. Francis of Assisi. In his “Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” St. Francis refers to Mary as the virgin made church.
“Hail O Lady, holy Queen, Mary, holy Mother of God: You are the virgin made church and the one chosen by the most holy Father in heaven.”
As disciples of the Lord, we are called to give birth to the church by the lives we lead. That is the key ingredient of evangelization.
Image Credit: Ecumenical Society of the Virgin Mary