The birthday of Mama Mary

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By Arnold Van Vugt

The Living Spirit

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


TODAY, September 8, we celebrate the feast of the Birthday of Mary.

In the Christian tradition, the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is surrounded by many different stories. The question is how do we have to understand all these stories? Where do they come from in the first place?

The Bible, of course, is one source. It tells the story that is related to the conception of Mary by her mother Anna. We have to understand them like so many other stories in the Bible, as allegories. We should not take them literally.

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There are many other stories told in the so-called Proto-evangelium of James. This evangelium is not part of the Bible but part of the Christian tradition. They are pious stories, mere speculations and not based on historical facts. But these stories do show that in early Christianity, there was already a strong popular devotion to Mary.

First, there is the story related to Mary’s conception. The parents of Mary were already old and they didn’t have any children. This was felt as a shame, a curse, but both of them had great faith in God and without having intercourse Anna got pregnant.

During the 12th century, there developed a fierce debate among theologians with respect to the pregnancy of Anna: whether Mary from her conception was freed from the original sin.

From that time on until the 19th century, majority of the theologians started to believe that Mary was “conceived without sin.”

In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared her “Immaculate Conception” a dogma. Four years later, there was an apparition of Mary in Lourdes where Mary told Bernadette Soubiroux: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

When the Church says that Mary was freed from the original sin, I believe, it depends very much on what you mean by original sin. Sin is always a consequence of a moral choice. That is a human act, you cannot inherit that. What you can inherit is a condition of the human existence, the condition of human weakness. The weakness of the human being is that he or she is never self-sufficient. We always have to rely on others for our development towards perfection and ultimately we must rely on the Other who is God. A life towards perfection is grace.

I like to interpret the immaculate conception of Mary in that way: that Mary during her life totally relied on God’s grace that His will be done in all the circumstances of her life. But in all those situations, Mary may have also felt temptations, like her son Jesus was tempted to fall for power, wealth and pride, and maybe she also for impurity, when she went to bed with Joseph her husband.

The temptation itself is never a sin. We may believe that Mary did not know what sin is. If Mary would not be subject to this human condition of weakness, she would not be a real human being, neither would her son Jesus be a real human being if he never were tempted.

The proto-evangelium of James tells the story of the birth of Mary. “In the ninth month Anna gave birth. She asked the midwife: “What is it?” And the midwife replied: “It is a girl” Then Anna said: “My soul magnifies this day”. And she lay down. And when the days were completed, Anna purified herself and started to breast-feed the child. And she gave her daughter the name Mary. Day by day the child grew strong; when she was six months old her mother stood her on the ground to see if she could stand. And she walked seven steps and came to her bosom again. And she took her up saying: “As the Lord my God lives, you shall walk no more on this earth until I bring you into the temple of the Lord.” And she made a sanctuary of her bedroom and did not permit anything profane or unclean to pass through it. And she summoned the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews, and they served her.”

The story of Joachim and Anna tells us that both of them were open to the workings of God in their life. Through them, Mary was born as their daughter and the woman through whom eventually God could become flesh in this world.

In the same way is that story a mirror for us of the story of God with each one of us and our story with God: a matter of being touched by God and that His will may be done in us.

(For your comments, email nolvanvugt@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 08, 2011.

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