by Nan Balfour
It is only recently that i took the time to appreciate the mother of Jesus. I was born in the 1960s, came of age in the 1970s, and soaked in the culture that can best be summed up with the song lyric, “I am woman, hear me roar.”
I never questioned if I had a voice because I just assumed I did. I did not know the woman whose only place was in the kitchen. My mom was a very happy homemaker but never modeled that stereotypical 1950s version. My parents raised five daughters with the idea that our world was open to whatever we wanted to achieve.
My mother has always had a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother, but somewhere along the way I grew in the opinion that she was too meek and timid and no model for modern women like myself. It didn’t help that she was just too perfect and I was far from it. I remember thinking, “It’s easy to be Mary. If I were born ‘full of grace’ and without original sin, I would be holy too.”
I discovered the true Mary one day while meditating on the Joyful Mystery of the Annunciation and on her fiat her “yes” to God.
I compared her life to Eve’s, the first woman born without original sin. I believed Eve had gotten a bad rap: “How can a woman who had no idea about sin or evil know that the serpent was conning her?” Yes, she was gullible and naïve, but culpable?
My Catholic faith teaches that Eve’s choice evicted mankind from paradise and Mary’s choice restored the dignity of mankind; but I wondered, “Who had the easier choice?”
I imagined the culture Mary lived in and saw a young woman living 2,000 years ago in violent and masculine Judea. Much like many cultures in that same region today, Mary possessed no rights or status as far as society was concerned. True, she was sinless and full of grace but must have observed all her life man’s inhumanity to man, and the consequence of sin in her world. She knew Scripture but also had to know what punishment her society would dole out to an unwed pregnant girl. But with no assurance of what the future brings and only a knowledge and trust in God’s love for her, Mary makes her choice: “May it be done unto me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)
In Eden, Eve did not have to work for food, shelter, or clothes. She felt no shame and had all of nature at her disposal. She did not know sin because there was no sin. The only rule was that God forbade her to eat or touch the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden or “You will die.” (Gen 3:3) Her trust in God’s love and care for her should have been rock solid, but “She took some if its fruit and ate it,” (Gen 3:6) choosing instead to trust the words of the lying serpent: “You certainly will not die.” (Gen 3:4)
I had it all backwards. Eve was the meek and timid one; allowing the opinion of another creature to question her intelligence and knowledge.
Mary knew what those around her would think, but secure in her value as a daughter of God, drew on this knowledge and with real courage gave her fiat “let it be done” that in today’s vernacular could have been, “bring it on!”
Mary was a woman who defied what the culture said about her womanhood and stood erect in her personal dignity as a creature made in the image and likeness of God, who loves her unconditionally. She was fearless, she was courageous; a true model for the woman of today.
I regret my former opinion of our Mother. I now know she would have been a great companion along my path of singlehood, newly married, and young mother. What hurt, guilt, sin, and obstacles to happiness I could have avoided had I just drawn on the strength of this woman secure in her womanhood.
With Mary as my model for the modern woman, I grow in the confidence to defy this culture of lies and give my own “bring it on!” fiat. With every Hail Mary I recite, she encourages me to have courage in who God created me to be, to be fearless in expressing my femininity and to welcome a life pregnant with the Way, the Truth, and the Life in her Son, Jesus Christ.
Nan Balfour is a wife, mother, writer, and event coordinator for the Pilgrim Center of Hope in San Antonio, Texas, for their Catholic Women’s Conference. The mission of the two-day conference is to foster the personal dignity of women, to encourage them to know and love God, and to inspire Catholic women to use their feminine gifts for the benefit of the family and society.
To learn more about the conference, visit cwcsanantonio.com; and facebook.com/catholicwomen. Mrs. Balfour writes for the Pilgrim Log: pilgrimcenter.wordpress.com, where this article first appeared, and on her own blog: constantwoman.blogspot.com. Her e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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