The Roman Catholic Church does not make Mary easy to love. Men in the Church have placed her on a pedestal as a model to us all. For a celibate man, I assume Mary is a safe feminine figure. She will not tempt him with ‘unclean’ thoughts; and that’s good. For the rest of us, however, whether woman or man, she can feel very remote, a standard impossible to emulate. For some of us, she can also be a crushing icon.

Any true relationship takes time and an emotional investment; it requires encounters, trust, and chance. All these have played a role in my relationship with Mary. She has become more real to me.

One thought struck me during my recent retreat. Mary had to have passed something very important to Jesus for him to behave with women the way he did. She must have been an exceptional woman for her son to feel so comfortable with women of all sorts.

I learned from my mother-in-law that a ‘liberated’ (as in ‘feminist’) mother raises sons who expect women to be liberated. Such men are not afraid of feminism and see the advantages of ‘gender equality’ in the building of the Kingdom. My mother-in-law raised three fabulous sons, as well as great daughters.

When I told my director that Jesus’s open attitude toward women had to come from his relationship with his mother, he remained silent for a while. Then he shared out loud, ‘My mother died when I was five. I wonder what sort of man this makes me.’

The relationship of Jesus with women was very atypical for his times. So atypical that his followers were simply unable to change their own bias toward women. They all reverted to the mores of their society. Women were meant to be seen but not heard; like children, they did not count.

If we truly believe that Jesus is in fact the human face of Godde, his attitude toward women comes from his mother as well as his ‘Father’. The fact that our Church cannot give women the place they deserve does not come from Godde, but from hangups that the Church seems unable to grasp and correct.

Mary, like Jesus, Godde, and the Holy Spirit, is a mystery which I cannot begin to fathom. She was a poor very young woman who said ‘Yes’ to a life which was no cake walk. But she had to have something very special which made Jesus compassionate and kind to the women he came across.  That special connection between Mary and Jesus, and the impact it had on him, seems to go unnoticed by most. This part of Mary’s mystery makes her very dear to me.

These days, I am always glad to go for a walk with Mary. I have much to learn from her, and she is quite patient with me. I ask her to bless this New Year for you and me.

Illustration: Marianne Stokes, Mother and Child, 1907-08 (explanations here)