Friday, December 18, 2009

Mary: Exalted Virgin or Suffering Servant?

Going back to the infamous billboard of Mary and Joseph (see yesterday's post), today we have the reading from St. Matthew about Mary and Joseph and the virgin birth (Matt 1:18-24). The lectionary text stops just short of the 25th verse at the end of the chapter, the one that supports the Roman Catholic dogma: "He [Joseph] had no relations with her [Mary] until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus."

Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, the well-known Hispanic theologian, uses this text as one example of how he learned to interpret the Bible "from below" (as the liberation theologians say), from the perspective of the people. From his A God of Incredible Surprises:

...As we were studying this text, I extolled the virtues of Joseph, who went against social tradition and took her in as his wife, One of the groups [of people from the barrio] had a different reading of this text. "Yes, to a point Joseph was a hero, but he was equally cruel and insensitive. How terrible and lonely it must have been for Mary, the young and inexperienced girl, to just be taken into his home but for him not to have relations with her, not to have anything to do with her, it must have made her feel dirty and at best merely tolerated."...

...I [Elizondo] do not question this permanent virginity, but I wonder if this was not part of the ongoing suffering of Mary: the suffering of being rejected, of not receiving the loving and tender gestures and touches that are supposed to be there in marriage...

...So once again, Mary enters into solidarity with women who are taken in as wives only to cook, clean, do the dishes, clean house, bear children, and maintain the family without any trace of loving relationships between her and her husband...

Fr. Elizondo affirms his belief in Mary's permanent virginity but I suspect that for many Hispanic Catholic women this dogma is psychologically incomprehensible, especially the assertion of Mary's virginity after Jesus' birth. We want for our Blessed Mother what we would want for ourselves: a good and loving husband in both the physical and spiritual sense of the word, and a family, defined as more than just one child. The absence of abrazos, besos, and other signs of cariño -- this exalted loneliness of permanent virginity -- does not seem to us to be a blessing unless lived out in a context that fits our paradigm, e.g. a monastic community.

I draw this conclusion because I am also an anomaly. I am an older, single, childless woman, yet I am not a nun. In my work in Hispanic ministry, people frequently assume that I am an hermana. When they find out that I am not part of any religious congregation, they take pity on me and try to fix me up with someone, either seriously or in jest. At first, this concern about my marital status used to bother me, but now I recognize the generous spirit behind it.

With all due respect to the institutional Church and its dogmas developed by celibate men, I think that if Mary were to come into a Hispanic community today, the ladies would wonder why she did not have any more children after Jesus and would be quietly beseeching God for her womb to open and for her to be blessed anew with the gift of life.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post. It helped me to understand better the culture I live in.
    Interestingly, people here in Honduras always ask about my family. I explain I'm single, a "soltero". They then ask if I have kids! And so I'm confused at times for a padre - but I tell them I'm not a father in any sense, which gets a chuckle.

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