Is Loving Mary a Distraction From Loving God?

61 comments

Mary and Jesus

I get a fair number of non-Catholics ask this honest question about Mary. They say, “look, I get it, she’s important and a Saint, but I think Catholics just go overboard. I mean, why spend so much focus on her when you can go straight to God himself? Isn’t she a distraction?”

I believe it’s a fair and honest question. They often go on reminding that…

“Jesus commands us to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22: 37). So by spending so much time and energy devoted to Mary, you can’t possibly be loving God with all your heart, mind and soul!”

But I think all of this stems from a false understanding of how Love works. I think we make the mistake of thinking of our Love like we think about our energy or our time.

We have a set amount of time and energy in our day. They are “zero-sum” aspects of our life. The more of them we spend on one thing, the less we can spend on anything else. Love is not like that.

Parents who already have a child sometimes aren’t sure if they can have more children. They think that in order to love another child, they’ll have to love their first child less. But any parent of a large family can tell you that this is not how it works. The love doesn’t get divided among our children like our time and energy do, it is multiplied.

Here’s another way to look at it. I’m married. By loving my wife directly does it mean that I love God less? Does it mean that by spending my entire life (as I’m called to do) serving her that I am now unable to love God with all my heart, mind and soul? No, of course not! In fact, it’s the opposite. As a married person, the practical, primary way that I love God is through loving my wife (and any children we have). So my wife does not steal my love for God. On the contrary, she is a conduit for it.

Even better, she’s a magnifying glass for my love of God! When I love her, my love doesn’t end with her, it in turn flows through her and empowers her to love God and others that much more as well. That’s where the magic of multiplication happens.

And not only does God teach us this magnification trick through the sacrament of Marriage, and through us being The Body of Christ, but he spells it out very clearly in Matthew 25:40 when he says “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

So not only are our marital spouses such magnifying glasses, but each and every one of our fellow humans are, too! So, really, if you have the choice to “love God directly” (bypassing everyone else here) or to love God through billions of walking magnifying glasses God has put into your life, the answer for any God-lover is clear.

And Mary? Well she just happens to be the biggest, purest, strongest and most-directly-pointed-at-Jesus magnifying glass there is. That’s why we love her so much. Scripture affirms this, too, in Luke 1:46 when Mary says “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” There you have it, folks. So the more we love Jesus, the more we should love her. She magnifies Jesus for us like nothing else and does the same with our prayers back to Him.

All of this is confirmed in my personal experience, too. The people I have met in life who most clearly and most purely love Jesus also happen to have the strongest devotions to their fellow Man…and, most especially, to Mary.

61 comments Add comment

Bill c October 9, 2012 at 10:19 am

First issue not being Catholic does’t mean we’re non Catholic. Second issue, we’re all brothers in Christ the Son of God. Yes even sisters and brothers also. To say you love a mortal human being more than you love God the Creator rather, represented in God the Father or Jesus the Son or the Holy Spirit it’s not a correct comparison. How can I love God less than a human being without disobeying a commandment?Unless you wish to go to sources outside of the Canon of scripture the Word of God you won’t come to that conclusion, even the apocryph. Mary was nothing more than a mortal woman chosen by God to give birth to our Savior Jesus and to be able to raise him to adulthood, that reason I respect and thank her very much, but more than that to love God less than Mary there is no comparison.
Question, why isn’t Joseph the father of Jesus according to your reason of thought?
God Bless You.

Matthew Warner October 9, 2012 at 10:33 am

Bill – actually, to the extent that someone is not Catholic it does indeed make them non-Catholic. It’s two ways of saying the same thing.

Second, I think you misunderstood me. I never said anything about loving a mortal human being more than God. In fact, that’s the underlying point of the whole post. That the object of all of our love must ultimately be God. But one of the primary ways God asks us to do it is through loving others.

And Joseph is the foster father of Jesus. Clearly scripture tells us that Joseph is not the biological Father of Jesus, so he didn’t provide Jesus’ with a body, etc. But he was a model Dad to him growing up and a model husband to Mary. So certainly a great saint! But not sure what you’re getting at here, exactly, but hopefully that answers it!

Greg Serrano October 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

What a great explanation. Response to bill: Another food for thought, Mary wasn’t just created to nurse Jesus to adulthood and just to be the facility used by God to bring Jesus to the world; Mary was predestined to be the mother of Jesus. When Gods plan for salvation occurred he didn’t just choose a random women and bang Jesus happened. She was in any case already created for that purpose. Another thing to look at is Mary as the new ark of the covenant. The old ark held the old laws and presence of God. She as the new ark held the living word and living presence of God so she had to be one of God’s most purest creations hence why the angel appears to her and states that she is full of grace from before her pregnancy.

billc October 9, 2012 at 2:29 pm

To say “non” implies inferiority, the reason Joseph was not involved as Mary was, is because God shares His Glory with no one. Joseph falls off the pages of the bible for this reason, as Mary does at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus begins. Mary is awesome for her faithfulness.
We need to be careful not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for what we desire. God is no respected of persons, and we shouldn’t be either.

Matthew Warner October 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Bill – non does not imply inferiority. Here’s the definition. It literally means “not. I’m sorry if you interpreted it otherwise.

billc October 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm

The key word I used is “implies” I don’t know why you chose the definition. I’m taking in reality, not some bubble of intellect. Maybe for you to understand is difficult being Catholic. I think you would understand if I referred to you as “non evangelical”. It’s implies an offensive feeling doesn’t it? Understand I consider you my brother in Christ.

RyanEdward January 16, 2013 at 10:50 am

I was a ‘non’denominational Christian once but then became Catholic. To be honest, the offense is really over nothing at all and, yes, a distinction can clearly be made between Catholic and ‘non’Catholic. Also, Mary didn’t simply fall off the pages at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as you would suggest. It was at her request that Jesus brought about his first miracle (a sign of the coming redemption) in which she delivered the words “Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you”, she is considered to be the model Christian disciple (even in ‘non’denominational circles), and she was with John, the beloved disciple, at the foot of the Cross, and she was also in the upper room with the rest of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Mary is very much so interweaved throughout the pages of the New Testament.

Marc Cardaronella October 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I see this a lot when we do a consecration to Mary in the parish. People are very interested in furthering their Marian devotion but not to the extent that St. Louis de Montford would have them. And, they freak out about consecrating to Mary because they think it means they can no longer have devotions to any other Saints.

But it’s like you said with loving God through your spouse. Devotion to Mary doesn’t negate other devotions, it enhances them. Marian devotion can draw you to love deeper and give you a greater capacity for loving Jesus. And, other Saints are like brothers and sisters in the Faith. You can have devotion to them too because they lead to God through different expressions of personality and charism, but Mary is their mother too. They lead to her and she leads directly to Jesus.

Tom Perna October 10, 2012 at 1:14 am

I always had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but it wasn’t until my relationship with Blessed Mother increased after learning more about her in graduate school that my relationship with Jesus grew even more so. She as our Queen Mother brought me close to her Jesus. She also brings my prayers to her the Son who is our King. She is the maternal intercessor for all of us.

To answer Bill C – Mary does not fall off the pages once Jesus’ ministry begins. At the Wedding Feast of Cana, after the miracle, Jesus is now walking to the Cross. Mary walks with him! She is at the Cross with Him! There is so much good theology in the Gospel of John, however, it’s late and bed is calling my name. I write about the Blessed Mother on my blog weekly. I have written on Mary and Jesus at the cross.

Kyle de Beausset October 10, 2012 at 7:28 am

I love the metaphor of a magnifying glass. Well said.

Patrick October 10, 2012 at 9:25 am

Ever since you used the word “magnify” here, I had waited for you to refer to the Magnificat. Anyway, great post.

Matthew Warner October 10, 2012 at 9:36 am

Fine guys…I added a reference to it. :-) I was trying to keep it short, but it definitely deserves a mention, you’re right. Thanks!

Patrick October 11, 2012 at 12:26 am

Didn’t expect you’d actually go ahead and re-edit the article. Hehe.

I can attest to Alex’s response below. It seems a lot of Protestant to Catholic conversion stories I’ve read have Mary as the biggest hurdle to their conversion (e.g. Scott Hahn). I am a Catholic by the way and it is strange because I do go to Jesus more directly now after I started taking my faith more seriously. But even more strangely now is I’m finding that I need to revive my Marian devotions too. It has been my experience that Jesus is easier to follow with Mary helping you too.

Alex October 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Thanks for the reply and for your reflection, Patrick. I am a Protestant, but I come on the blog to seek greater understanding between my Catholic brethren, and I always appreciate reading personal reflections.

This may be require a lengthier reply, but I am interested to know (from anyone who reads this comment) how marian devotion brings one closer to Jesus in a better way than going straight to Jesus? I understand the importance of asking others to pray for you, bearing each other’s burdens, and living out your faith in community, but it’s my earnest belief that we can accomplish all of those things with other Christians and when the focus of all our devotion, reverence, honor, and prayer is directed at God and to him alone. (I understand that there is a distinction between latria and dulia / hyperdulia, but from my point of view, it’s easy to blur distinctions, especially when you have such prominent markers of worship that are dedicated to Mary — statutes, prayers, hymns, etc.) I appreciate all the responses, God bless.

JJM January 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Straight to Jesus or through Mary?
My children ALWAYS came to me when they needed something from their father, even though they could go straight to him.
No other creature knows Jesus better than the Blessed Mother Mary, for she carried Him in her womb for nine months, the same way all sinful mothers do. Mary is so in Jesus that her divine Son does not deny her anything she brings to Him as at the Wedding of Cana.
Catholics DO NOT worship Mary, we venerate and love her so much for her fiat to the Father and for co-operation with His Plan of Redemption.
Blessings.

Alex February 13, 2013 at 2:44 am

I have really tried earnestly to understand marian devotion, and as I mentioned earlier, it is perhaps the biggest aspect of Catholicism that I cannot accept. I do not mean to downplay her important role in Christ’s ministry; again I acknowledge that she is truly blessed and certainly a godly woman.

I have to admit that the amount and magnitude of devotion Mary receives in the Catholic Church is truly distressing to me. I am quoting the Prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help below, not to say that it encompasses all aspects of marian devotion, but rather as an example of the type veneration that I believe truly believe borders on idolatry — especially from poorly catechized Catholics, as Matt notes.

“Thou art the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners…”
- But the Gospel of John very clearly states that the Holy Spirit is our advocate. Specifically, Jesus states that the Holy Spirit will help us and be with us forever.

“In thy hands I place my eternal salvation; to thee I entrust my soul.”
- Salvation rests not with Mary, but with Jesus Christ.

“yes, for if thou protect me, I shall fear nothing; not my sins, for thou wilt obtain for me their pardon and remission; not the evil spirits, for thou art mightier than all the powers of hell; not even Jesus, my Judge, for He is appeased by a single prayer from thee. ”
- I am not sure how to respond to this. Does this mean that Mary’s protection will make us fearless of even Jesus Christ? I would hope not.

“My dear Lady, obtain for me the forgiveness of my sins…”
- This is most troubling to me. How can Mary obtain our forgiveness? So what about the cross?

Perhaps some will accuse me of cherry picking. But those lines from the prayer are very real concerns for me — a guy who simply wants to be obedient to Christ. Yes, as I have learned from this blog, there is a difference between veneration and true worship as defined by the Catholic Church. But the above prayer only reaffirms my belief that marian devotion leads to some very troubling propositions — that need Mary to even get a whiff of Jesus; that Mary’s help is greater than Jesus’ — for if we have Mary’s protection, we will not fear even Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior; that Mary, not Jesus Christ, secures our forgiveness. If there is no contradiction between Scripture and marian devotion, why does the Prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help say those troubling things? By making someone so important standing between us and Jesus, it only serves to make Jesus into an aloof Savior.

As always I appreciate feedback to my very real and honest concerns. Peace be with you all.

gntlmnr February 13, 2013 at 3:19 am

I am Catholic, and I do have to admit that our relationship with Mary is a complex one to understand, especially for Protestants who are accustomed to have simply a relationship with Jesus alone and nobody else, and I do have also to admit that it borders idolatry specifically to the poorly catechized individuals.

Last Sunday was the Sunday of the wedding in Cana in Galilee. After reading the Gospel of John where he tells us about the first miracle of Jesus Christ, the priest gave a homily about that reading, and he pointed to us the role of Mary in that story.

He told us to note that it was Mary that found out that they were running out of wine. He told us that it was Mary that told Jesus to resolve the issue, and in spite of “My hour has not yet come”, Jesus did as Mary said. It was Mary who told the servers “Do whatever he tells you.”

So Mary played a pivotal role in that story. Did that reduce the importance of Jesus? Did that reduce the importance of what Jesus did?

Alex February 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Thanks for your reply, gntlmnr.

I do not doubt that Mary played an important role in Jesus’ miracle at Cana. I also do not doubt that Mary’s obedience was pivotal for God’s redemption plan. I just don’t see how that would lead to the institutional veneration of Mary in the Catholic Church. There are other people who have also played pivotal roles in God’s plan for salvation, like the Apostle Paul whose Gospel ministry — which Scripture devotes much more space and detail than it does to Mary — lead to his imprisonment. Even then I would never think to venerate Paul through hymns, prayers, and statues.

JJM above stated that nobody knows Jesus better than Mary. I would submit that that is not true — as I read Scripture, there are countless instances where Jesus talks about his fellowship with the father in such a way that it cannot be doubted that his relationship to the Father was the most important to him. The depth of Jesus’ fellowship with God is such that he says in Scripture that we cannot know God if we do not know him. It is the Father who knows the Son best and vice versa.

The prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help illustrates the unnecessary divide between us and Jesus that I believe is created through marian devotion. I have read that marian devotion leads to knowing Jesus better, but Scripture teaches (John 6:44) that we can never come to know Jesus unless the one who sent him — God the Father — draws them to Jesus. Again we see such an interconnectedness between the Father and Son. Jesus speaks with such boldness and clarity about his relationship with the Father. But what about Mary?

I came to this blog, in part, because I wanted to know more about Mary,and thanks to Matt and some of the comments I’ve received, I have been able to do that. It’s not my intention to belittle her; I’m just struggling with why she is so magnified in the church as a way to know Jesus when Scripture clearly points to the way to truly know Jesus. (I know that may appear to some to be “oversimplifying” faith — we do need more: prayer, fellowship, repentance, etc. — but we cannot deny what Scripture says and does not say).

Peace and blessings,
Alex

Matthew Warner February 18, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Alex – I appreciate your effort. I know that if you are truly open and seeking that God will help you find peace on this issue.

I think a lot of the challenge is that the Catholic Church has had the advantage of 2000+ years of perspective, stories, miracles, personal experience, saints and doctors of the Church, etc. that make up its body of knowledge. So sometimes it’s difficult to see things the same way from our limited perspective. I think one of the beautiful things about the Church is that God gave it to us to take us on a journey as The Body of Christ. So over the years we gain a cumulative knowledge about who and what we are and how all of us fit into this mysterious body of Christ the Church. Attempts by a lot of modern day folks to try and be in exactly the same place the Church was 2000 years ago I think misses much of the point and much of the richness of what God gave us on this journey.

That said, I do think a lot of what you are wrestling with is a difference in use of language. Many of the prayers you are citing and using are written with this 2000 year perspective and context. And one primary aspect of that perspective and context is that they are all pointing toward Christ. They are ALL ABOUT Jesus. If they don’t lead one closer to Jesus in a more effective way than otherwise, then we are doing them wrong and understanding them incorrectly. And there is no doubt a lot of people are led astray by them or don’t fully understand them. But, then again, there are even more people who are led astray by simply reading the Bible by themselves and being lazy in their faith and interpretation of it…often twisting it to support their own agenda and lifestyle. So certainly the answer is not to get rid of scripture because people abuse it. It’s similar with Marian devotion.

Also, I think a good understanding of Mary must be rooted in the very Catholic teaching of the Communion of Saints. I’d encourage you to study more about that and to read what the Catholic Catechism says on these topics. The idea (and great mystery) of both the communion of saints and the Body of Christ the Church are essential here. How we are all connected. How Christ IS in each of us, especially in the least of us. How we ARE Christ’s Body in some mysterious way. I’m not getting all new age on you, these are Christian fundamentals. But they aren’t followed to their radical conclusions very often in contemporary Christianity. When we pray for each other and ask each other to pray for us, the power there. The communion there…with each other and with Christ is a glimpse of heaven. Mary is a hyper-example and model of this.

There is so much more to it. But I can assure you that your wrestling with it will only lead you closer to God. And, dare I say, Mary.

Here’s what I know from experience, too. The people I’ve met in my life who have radiated Christ the most…also had very strong devotions to Mary. It’s not a coincidence. I’m not exaggerating either. The people I know with the strongest devotions to Mary are by far and away the most devoted to Christ and the joy of his friendship radiates from them like nothing I’ve ever seen in somebody who had no such devotion to Mary.

For MUCH more on the biblical/rational side of understanding it. Please check out Scott Hahn. I think you will really appreciate it. He struggled with the issue a lot and has a lot of great resources that I believe will help you: http://www.scotthahn.com/mary.html

Brenda February 19, 2013 at 9:11 am

It helps me understand Catholic Marian devotion when I think of my human experience with my mother-in-law. I was blessed with a husband who loved and understood me better than anyone I had ever known. I trusted him with all my wishes, fears and daily desires and concerns. His mother and I were good friends. When he became gravely ill, she gave me suggestions on some of his favorite foods and things he enjoyed as a young boy — at one point, after making a recipe she gave me, he gave me a hug and said “I’m SO glad I married a woman who loves my mother and listens to her”. I think loving mothers will always know things about their sons that others don’t know — even after 23 years of loving marriage. When Jesus was dying on the cross, historians say he was probably suffocating to death — with his arms bearing all the weight of his body and his diaphragm unable to expand. To speak, he would have had to push against the nails in his feet and pull against the nails in his hands – ‘causing excruciating pain. Yet, he endured this pain to say “there is your mother” — how could any of us ignore such a gift? He gave His Holy Mother to us so that we could love her and listen to her– to learn a greater love for HIM. Mary’s entire purpose is to bring us closer to her son — just like my mother-in-law helped me love her son in better ways.

Mannix Fortz October 10, 2012 at 11:46 am

Thanks for this very beautiful article Matt! Keep up the good work! God bless you and family always!

Alex October 10, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Hi, Matt. Thanks for the thoughtful response in this blog post. While we may differ doctrinally, I have really enjoyed reading your blog to gain greater insights into the Catholic church. I’ll respond to your comment regarding Romans 3:23 on the post we were conversing on earlier so I’ll restrict my comments to your post above.

You’ll find no disagreement from me, brother, in regard to you conception of love. I also believe that our love for our spouses and our children reflects our love of God and magnifies our Christian witness. And absolutely, Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I do not doubt that we are called to live in community so I do not bypass the “millions of walking magnifying glasses.” Indeed, I seek fellowship with other Christians constantly and look for opportunities to serve not only the church but others as well.

I’m not so sure though that I follow your analogy of spousal love in connection with marian devotion. Sure, we love our wives (and children, if any) and through that daily committed love we can love God our Father. But that does not mean that we erect statutes in their honor, pray devotedly for their intercession, and call them “our life, our sweetness, and our hope.” Only Christ brings me life, and only he is my hope. I do not mean to downplay the honor that Mary is due – she is of course blessed and her obedience is exemplary; a truly godly woman.

But admittedly, from a Protestant prospective, it is hard not to look upon marian devotion, especially from those who are poorly catechized, and not see that as bordering on idolatry. I appreciate your personal reflection on your own relationship with God through Mary, but I have to say that I have come across Catholics (some from my own extended family as we come from a predominantly Catholic country) whose devotion to Mary truly surpasses their love for Jesus Christ. Perhaps they are comforted in her as a motherly figure, but they have placed Christ so far on the other side of the water that he is nothing more than a distant God, who we cannot fellowship with but for Mary. If Mary is a bridge, she is a long one indeed.

Again, I enjoy reading your blog because it has certainly cleared up some things for me, but I have to admit that marian devotion is one aspect of the Catholic faith that I have a hard time accepting. I truly believe that Christ’s sacrifice for us has given us the gift of eternal fellowship and life together with God through faith. I know that is what you believe as well, but as for me, while I look upon Mary with deep respect and honor her obedience, I will boldly and directly approach the throne of grace.

God bless, Matt. Keep writing because I enjoy reading!

Alex

Brenda February 19, 2013 at 9:29 am

Matt,
I think you hit a key point when you said “especially from those who are poorly catechized”. In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges in the Catholic Church is the number of people who call themselves Catholic who know so very little about the true teachings of the Catholic Church. It makes it very difficult to discuss Catholic teachings when the behavior of Catholics you know demonstrates a contradiction to what is being said. A friend (former Catholic, now in a non-denominational church) were talking about Marian devotions and I said, “Just as the bible tells us that John ‘took her into his home’, we take her into our hearts. We do not worship her, we only worship God.” She replied, “Well, I know some Catholics who DO worship Mary!” I did not know how to reply. Upon later reflection I thought, Well I know some Americans who break the law, that doesn’t mean America encourages or teaches all citizens to be law breakers. I grew up in a Catholic community, went to Catholic schools 1st grade through college, married a Catholic man, raised a Catholic daughter — and didn’t really begin to study the teachings of the Catholic church until my husband died at the age of 52 — when I began to see how much I didn’t know. I always wonder how many of the 54 million Catholics in America have been adequately catechized. I fear the number is very small. So, when you want to know what the Catholic Church teaches, and why,I would encourage you to ‘know your source’ — ask the person how much they have actually studied the teachings of the church — perhaps they are ‘cultural Catholics’ — going through motions with no understanding of why — often distorting the original teaching. So glad you read Alex’s blog

Brenda February 19, 2013 at 9:42 am

oops – I switched the names of Alex and Matt — sorry

Tom Perna October 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Hi Alex – I would enjoy speaking to you via email about Marian Devotion, however, at this very moment, I am on little break from work. If you want to check out my blog, I have lots on the Blessed Mother, but you can also email me as well. My email is on my blog. If anyone wants to answer you now and you don’t want to talk with me, that’s cool too! Let me know. Hope you get the answers you are seeking. I will say that going through Mary to Jesus is Scriptural, both Old and New Testament. That’s my teaser for you! Peace brother…Tom

Alex November 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Hi, Tom, thanks for your reply to my post. Sorry for my late reply; it’s been a pretty busy month. Thanks, I’ll check out your blog. Peace!

billc October 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm

This is definitely a Catholic gig here. I’m just an a evangelical who believes God’s Word Is Inerrorant, and all I need to enjoy an intimate relationship with God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is Gods Love letter to mankind written over fifteen hundred years by some sixty authors, and all I need to understand what my Father in Heaven requires of me. Everything else is man made religion, a former of worship.

Matthew Warner October 17, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Bill – I think your faith is wonderful! But I think it’s a bit minimalistic. Christianity is not a religion of minimalism (i.e. I ONLY need this book and everything else is useless). Life is much richer than that and so is God’s plan for us.

Jesus founded a Church and the Church gave us the canon of scripture and so many other treasures and sacraments and means to commune with God. These aren’t man-made distractions that snuck in later, they were all there at the beginning…before the new testament was even written. The first Christians did not think like you. Your concept you just described about you and your bible would be very, very foreign to the apostles and the first Christians. They were sacramental. They were structured. They recognized the authority given to the Church by Jesus. They held to the Traditions passed down to them from the Apostles. They were Eucharistic. They were ritualistic. They relied on the CHURCH as the pillar and bulwark of the Truth (as 1 Timothy 3:15 says). They were the organizational beginnings of a great organism that has spread to the corners of the Earth and continues to do so using imperfect, fallen creatures (God’s favorite instruments).

You might like another post I wrote entitled Not Just Another Denomination.

God bless you and thanks for reading!

gntlmnr October 15, 2012 at 10:25 am

This dialog about worshiping God through Mary or going directly to God gets us lost in the way we express ourselves. It sort of, but not exactly, reminds me of the dialog that goes on between the Christians and the Muslims about whether there is one and only one God or there are three gods as the Muslims understand Christianity. I tried to explain to some Muslim friends, whom I really respect, that we Christians do not worship three gods as they think, but those supposedly three gods they are referring to are one and only one God; however, I was never able to convince any of them of that concept, because it is such a strange concept for them to digest. I have to admit that when I was studying Catechism in school and this particular subject was being explained to us, I truly had problems with it myself.

gntlmnr October 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I hear so much about Mary and the saints as being “mortal” people, and that they should be insignificant in our lives; while the scriptures tell us that it is not so.
[(Matthew 17:1 - 3) 1. After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. 3. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.]
Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, Peter, James and John; and Jesus was even conversing with Moses and Elijah. Why would Jesus himself converse with “mortal” and “insignificant” people in the first place?

There are other references to saints in the Bible, and I’ll give you a couple more.
(Matthew 27:52 – 53) 52. tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
(Luke 16:19 – 31) talks about “mortal” and “insignificant” Abraham and Lazarus being in Heaven.

Jane October 20, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Great article Matt. I love the image of a magnifying glass!! What a great way to look at our relationships!

Joel October 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm

The protestant has no conceivable right to base any arguments on the inspiration of the Bible, for the inspiration of the Bible was a doctrine which had been believed, before the “reformation,” on the mere authority of the Church; it rested on exactly the same basis as the doctrine of Transubstantiation and great devotion to Mary. Protestantism repudiated both, and in doing so repudiated the authority of the Church; and then without a shred of logic, calmly went on beleiving in the inspiration of the Bible, as if nothing had happened. -Fr Ronald Knox

Renato November 3, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Mary is one of my favourite topics Matt. She has played a major part in my re-version back to the Church as a teen. I was struck years ago when I picked up a protestant book by a lady who loved Mary greatly. Wow.

Renato November 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm

I didn’t add the following links earlier in case anyone is interested.
http://alegacyofgrace.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/devotion-to-blessed-virgin-mary-from.html

Reflections of a son!

Art Munarriz November 4, 2012 at 3:24 am

Matt: Many posts indicate that praying to Mary is really praying thru Mary, much like when we go thru a 3rd party to reach a govt. official because he has the “connect” and we don’t. I don’t think that’s the way it works. God hears our petitions right away even as we pray to Mary. What she does is add her prayers to ours, and since “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects…(James 5:16), her help is immeasurable. And her closeness to God is such that her plea for help at Cana was met – even if it required a miracle. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Art

With Love November 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Though we know that all generations shall call her blessed and we respect who she was and so on, she was a human like us that God used. All prayer must ONLY be to God The Father, The Son (Jesus Christ) and The Holy Spirit who is One God (3 in 1). If you pray to any other it is idolatry.

The bible clearly states:
John 14:6
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Which means you cannot pray to Mary (Hail Mary Prayer) to reach God the Father, but only through Jesus can you reach God and your prayers be answered. He is the only way. In Romans 8:34 it says, He is at the right hand of God and maketh intercession for us.. not Mary.

Matthew Warner November 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm

With Love – These things are not contradictory and your logic doesn’t follow.

Yes, Jesus is the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by him. But if somebody asks you about Jesus, do you say, “don’t ask me, I can’t help you! If you ask me for help, then you’ve turned me into an idol!”

Of course not. You help them. That doesn’t violate John 14:6 anymore than somebody asking Mary to help them. In fact, you become Christ TO that person…fulfilling John 14:6. Christ works through you. And Mary does so even more profoundly than we do because of her closeness to Jesus and of who she is.

Additionally, if somebody asks you to pray for them, do you say, “NO! Don’t make me an idol! Only Jesus can intercede for you!”

Of course not. You pray for them. And that doesn’t violate Romans 8:34 any more than Mary praying for us. In fact, it fulfills Romans 8:34 as we all mysteriously commune as part of Jesus Christ Body in our prayer as a community.

And I think you have a confused definition of idolatry, too. Praying to somebody (or asking them to pray for you) is COMPLETELY different than worship. It’s also completely different than attributing to them divinity.

If Catholics prayed to Mary in the same sense that we pray (worship/adore/treat as God/etc.) then yes, that would be idolatry. But Catholics don’t do that. Not proper ones anyway. And the Catholic Church certainly teaches nothing of the sort!

gntlmnr November 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm

To With Love – When we say the Hail Mary, we really are NOT praying “TO” Mary. The Hail Mary consists of two parts, and here it goes, in case you don’t know what it says:

1. Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb,
Jesus.
2. Holy Mary, Mother of God,
PRAY FOR US sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

The first part is very Christ centric, because it is angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, and that is taken directly from the Bible itself. In the second part it is very evident that we are asking Mary to PRAY FOR US, and we are NOT praying TO Mary.

Mark T March 27, 2013 at 2:07 am

You might also add that the part that goes, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus” is also from the Bible because it’s what Elizabeth said to Mary.

gntlmnr March 27, 2013 at 11:33 am

You’re right Mark T. Sorry for missing that detail, and to confirm what you said it is taken from (Luke 1:42) “cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Sarah November 21, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Hey! I’m a young female Protestant who randomly stumbled across your blog via facebook. One of my best friends who I live with is Catholic and I know many other Catholics here in university, including one young lady I very much admire who recently entered a convent.
I’ve had many conversations with my Catholic friends about the differences between us, and the one I stumble on a lot is Mary. I totally understand the arguments for asking for her intercession, but have to concur with previous comments about it being a little too easy to blur the line between asking intercession and giving worship.
One of my biggest questions though, is this: The Bible seems to say esp in passages like Matthew 12:46-50 that Jesus had brothers (and perhaps sisters). Tthat is, children of Mary and Joseph born after Jesus came along. Catholic doctrine as I understand it calls Mary the Blessed Virgin, and seem to imply she stayed that way until death. Seems though that Jesus had brothers and sisters…?? Yes, Mary was a virgin when God chose her to be mother of His son, but surely not for the rest of her life, as she was a wife? Otherwise, poor Joseph, that’s all I’m sayin’… ;)
Thanks for your blog, it’s very illuminating. I look forward to your reply. Peace bro.

Matthew Warner November 22, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Sarah – thanks for commenting and reading!

As for the line too easily being blurred between asking intercession and giving worship, that’s hardly a reason not to ask for Mary’s intercession, to call her blessed or to otherwise use her as a model on how to best follow Jesus (her “yes” is the ultimate and perfect example). We don’t define truth by what is easy to understand. We do and believe things because they are true and because they should be done…not because they avoid difficult or potentially difficult scenarios.

And your question about Mary’s perpetual virginity is a really good one. Here are some excellent explanations that might help:

- Good, short video
- Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?
- The case for Mary’s perpetual virginity
- Mary: Ever-virgin

Hope those help at least explain why Catholics believe the way we do. God bless you and happy Thanksgiving!

gntlmnr November 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Sarah, I really want to thank you for being so polite in the way you are asking your question.

The words “brother” and “sister” cannot be taken literally in the Bible, because apparently the Jews used them to mean other things such as cousin, relative, etc…

One of the clearest evidence to that fact is John (19:25):
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

This verse says that Mary, Jesus’ mother, had a sister by the name of Mary. It is highly unlikely that two sisters could have the same name; therefore, the word “sister” cannot be taken literally here.

There are other examples in the Bible as well.

gntlmnr November 22, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Genesis (14:12 – 14) in KJV is another place where the word “brother” is being used to mean nephew:

12 And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.

13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram.

14 And when Abram heard that his “BROTHER” was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.

Here they are referring to Lot as the “brother” of Abram, when Lot is really the nephew of Abram.

gntlmnr November 25, 2012 at 4:43 am

There is a more direct reference to Jesus’ brothers and sisters:
(Mark 6:3) “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

But a closer look at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion and death reveals to us that James and Joses are not the “true” brothers of Jesus, because their mother is a different Mary. Here’s the evidence:

(Mark 15:40) There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome.

There are logical questions that must be asked here: If James and Joses were ‘true’ brothers to Jesus, then Mary, Jesus’ mother, would be also the mother of James and Joses; therefore, at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, why is Mark referring to Mary as the mother of James and Joses? Why not reffer to her simply as the mother of Jesus? referring to her as the mother of Jesus here would be a lot more relevant in this context. So Mary, the mother of James and Joses, is a different Mary.

bill bannon November 25, 2012 at 11:33 am

I think as Alex notes implicitly by affirming Matt’s relation to Mary and criticizing the specific relation of his relatives to Mary…that the original question should not have an either/ or answer as though every issue must be won by Catholics or by Protestants. Praying to/through Mary can be great in this human and can be an escape from God in this other human.
When I was young, I once worked at a voting location and there was a woman saying her rosary beads at my table as the morning went on. Suddenly she came over to several of us at lunch time and asked if we were interested in buying stolen sweaters from a truck outside. This is what Alex is getting at.
In itself asking Mary to pray for us is a good. But it can be a good that effectively becomes evil by misuse. On TV, you’ll see Marian pictures on walls in drug raids in the South West…in the best cases, the wife is trying to convert the husband; in other cases, both think it covers them for any sins like the sweater lady. Aquinas noted that Judas in the end had fear of the Lord which is a good but Judas combined it with the sloth does not balance
fear of the Lord with considering that God is also long suffering with us (
according to Wisdom 12 and Genesis 15:16, He gave the Canaanites 400 years of lesser punishments before dooming them).
So loving Mary can be good and in another person, it can be a deceptive and using love.

Matthew Warner November 26, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Bill – ANY good can become evil by misuse. ANY good. How many people have a false sense of relationship with Jesus Christ and then go out and do evil? Do we then say, well, you should really be careful about having a relationship with Jesus Christ…as it can be abused?

gntlmnr November 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Hi Bill – Praying to Jesus directly or through Mary doesn’t make any one of us sinless by any stretch of the imagination. While what you observed about some Catholics is definitely foul, our sins sometimes are not really that blatant.

How many people pray to Jesus directly and lie? How many people pray to Jesus directly and commit adultery? and so on…

Just to give you a simple example, Matthew, the author of this blog, has another blog called “Do Catholics Worship Mary?” Search for a person with the nickname of Chivas. While she/he is trying to tell the Catholics how wrong they are in their ways, and she/he obviously prays to Jesus directly, she/he was expressing herself/himself with total resentment towards the Catholics. When your read her/his posts, you would think she/he is addressing the enemy. I think that’s also a blatant sinful behavior.

Jeff November 27, 2012 at 1:40 am

There is something that is missed when we speak of Jesus. No one goes directly to Jesus when they pray. In fact, scripture states that it is only by the Holy Spirit one can recognize Jesus. So in fact, we begin with the Holy Spirit not with Jesus. 1 Cor 12:3 No one in the history of the world has ever gone directly to Jesus without first beginning with the Holy Spirit. Jesus even states that he sends the advocate before one can recognize him. So the 1st evangelist to the soul is the Holy Spirit not Jesus.

The question then begins with how does the Holy Spirit operate in prayer and unify the soul with God. The Spirit of God can use many ways of bringing grace to the soul and revealing Jesus. But the Spirit uses people as channels of grace as when a person spreads the gospel with another person. Certainly he can reveal this by some supernatural revelation but the Spirit often chooses to work through people and events to reveal Christ. Thus, why then would it be different in the Kingdom of Heaven. If the Spirit of God chose a humble virgin 2000 years ago to reveal God’s Son, why would it be hard to imagine that the Spirit continues to use this same virgin to reveal Jesus. Afterall, if she was the channel of God, then why would this channel suddenly end.

Third, NOT ALL PRAYER IS WORSHIP! It is a great fault to think that because one is praying that they are worshiping. Nothing in scripture states this but it is a faulty view that came out of the Reformation. Prayer can be thought of as a spiritual conversation with an angel, saint, or God. Even when speaking with God, a person can be having a conversation instead of worshiping God. Only one type of prayer is actual worship. This is called adoration as when I recognize the divinity of someone when I’m praying to him. So there exists a world of difference bn. a spiritual conversation and adoration.

Matthew Warner November 27, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Well said, Jeff.

gntlmnr November 27, 2012 at 11:41 am

Jeff – In support of what you’re saying about “Not all prayer is worship”, you are very correct on that, because to the Catholic Church “true worship” takes place in celebrating the Mass and participating in offering the sacrifice of the Eucharist to the Father, and taking communion.

Many, but not all, of our Protestant brothers do not understand that, because they have a different concept of worship.

Felix Whelan December 16, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Catholic contemporary musician David McDonald (CatholicBridge.com) gives this awesome comparison of Protestant VS Catholic attitudes toward not only Mary but the whole Communion of Saints:

Protestant (to Jesus): I love you so much. I love you so much that I want to spend all my time with you. I never want to talk to your mother. I never want to see your family or friends. I want you to banish them when they come around, I just want to spend my whole life with you and love you.

Catholic (to Jesus): I love you so much. I love you so much that I want to spend my time with you. Your mom is welcome to visit our home. Your family is my family, your friends are my friends. The people you love, I will love. We are one flesh and I welcome everyone you welcome.

I, for one, prefer the later!

Dan July 23, 2013 at 3:00 am

Actually the Protestant prayer would be:
I love you so much. I love you so much that I want to spend all my time with you because you are God. The only God. You have commanded me to love you first and foremost, and then to love everyone else. I will love you most, and share that love to everyone else, including Mary, my own mother, and even the homeless mom in the shelter.

Don’t be so cynical.

Matthew Warner July 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Dan – I agree we shouldn’t be too cynical with each other. And it’s a beautiful prayer you posted. It truly is.

I think the nuance I really appreciate in the Catholic perspective on this is that one of the ways we love God directly is through loving others (i.e. His Body / i.e. whatever you do to the least of these you do to me, etc.). So the idea that you love God and *then* everyone else comes next, while I understand is a way to express something true and practical, is an over-simplification when addressed at a deeper level.

Our loving of God and others is all wrapped up intimately together in this mysterious reality of the Body of Christ.

It’s why God says to Saul (when saul was persecuting Christians) – why do you persecute ME. (Acts 9:4)

Or when John says…’If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God* whom he has not seen.’ (1 John 4:20)

In a sense here, John is saying loving others actually comes first (in the same sense I expressed in my post). That doesn’t mean God is not the ultimate end and goal of all love. But that loving each other is a prerequisite path to loving God. You can love others without loving God. But you can’t love God without loving others.

So when it comes to loving God, it can not be one then the other. Loving others is not a distraction or something that comes second. It’s all wrapped up mysteriously together.

And, in fact, our love of God is magnified in loving each other. That’s why we pray for each other. That’s why we ask each other to pray for us. And this includes, most especially the saints who have gone ahead of us and already enjoy a closeness with God that we one day hope to join. It is a beautiful mystery that is fully celebrated and practiced in Catholicism and a beautiful and helpful nuance that I find a lot of protestant theologies miss.

gntlmnr February 14, 2013 at 2:32 am

Hello Again Alex – Sorry I could not reply to you directly in the space above, because there was no “reply” option after your last response. I think it is because of indentations, the replies would be shifting too far to the right.

I am not a theologian, so I don’t know how deeply I can go with my reply to you; however, I will make an attempt. To a Catholic person, Jesus is the ONLY Savior. This is a very well-established FACT in our minds, and there is NEVER any tempering with that FACT. We may ask Mary or any other saint(s) to pray for us, but whatever results we receive from our prayers, they are coming from Christ himself and definitely not from Mary or any other saint(s). We have a very powerful reverence to Saint Paul, and again this is a very well-established fact. We even have Cathedrals named after him; and we have all kinds of cathedrals named after all the saints, like Saint Peter, Saint Luke, Saint Thomas, and so on… We even have Saint Paul day, we have Saint Peter day, and so on…

But the question here is: Why Mary, among all those saints, is so special to the Catholics? To me the answer is because God took his Flesh and Blood from Mary, and the Flesh and Blood of God lived in the womb of Mary for nine months, and we are saved because of the Flesh and Blood of God, Jesus Christ.

So at least this is the reason for me as to why Mary is so important to me.

gntlmnr February 14, 2013 at 3:45 am

N.B. I think I forgot to mention that, among other things, we read from the Epistles of Saint Paul in every celebration of the Catholic Mass; and that means every day.

Alex February 14, 2013 at 10:54 am

Thanks for sharing your personal reflection, gntlmnr. I will continue wrestling with the issue of marian devotion because I have very strong convictions about it, but I am glad to be able to engage in constructive discussion here.

God bless you,
Alex

gntlmnr February 14, 2013 at 10:58 am

Thanks to you also Alex. You are a true gentleman.
God bless you too.

gntlmnr February 15, 2013 at 3:56 am

Alex, I don’t know if this is going to help, but as I mentioned before, to the Catholic Church, there has to be a sacrifice of the Eucharist for us to call it worship. If there is no sacrifice of the Eucharist, then there is no worship.

We might give all sorts of beautiful adjectives to somebody. We might play all sorts of beautiful music to somebody. We may sing all kinds of songs about somebody or to somebody, but this to us is not called worship, because you can do all these things to any earthly authority such as a king or a president or our mom, etc… To us in order for it to be worship, then there has to be the offering of the sacrifice of the Eucharist. The sacrifice of the Eucharist is offered only to God the Father and never to anybody else.

Cecilia February 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Attended a Seminar by Graham Osborne who was a very good speaker and quote below some of the bible verses :
Rev. 12:1 a woman clothed with the sun ….and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
Rev. 12:17 the dragon….went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring -her offspring: she is a universal/spiritual Mother to all “who keeps God’s commandments.
James 5:16 the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful .
Hope this helps

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