Of all the artistic renditions of the Madonna and her child, I find the one above, a Haitian Madonna and her son, captures best the fullness and richness of Mary’s life—one of poverty, yet filled with the wealth of home and family. The Haitians, like the Jewish people, were dispersed from their rightful homes, yet many chose to live rightly in their present locales. I dedicate this piece to my faithful friends of Haiti.
The country of Haiti is dear to my heart. Two of my four children invested their hearts in this small island. Our son recently returned to the U.S. after working over two years in Port au Prince, the Haitian capital. During the recent political unrest, he was there. He can attest to the hope of the Haitians who daily endure a depth of desolation none of us from the U.S. could imagine or survive.
Our daughter spent years as a midwife, catching babies born in the poverty-stricken regions of Port de Paix, in northern Haiti. She married a Haitian and has gifted us with a beautiful grandson. When over 200,000 Haitians lost their lives in the worst earthquake imaginable, she was there.
Mothers suffered unimaginable loss. Some lost one child while others lost every one of their precious ones beneath the rubble. A remedy was offered: It is rumored that a few international agencies, concerned about poverty and overpopulation, promised aid to mothers who would accept sterilization. In the poorest country of our hemisphere, during the wealthiest time in Western history, women chose children, family still mattered, and faith survived.
Many refused this quick fix, recognizing the hope of Haiti rests in future generations. The remnant of faithful Jews, living outside of Jerusalem in the region of Galilee, realized this as well. They tenaciously clung to the hope of a future birth of the one who would rescue them and set them free. Mary was among them.
Those of us who are not Catholic not only avoid speaking about Mary but become squeamish and uncomfortable when doing so. I know, because I’ve felt this way myself. But we are poorer theologians because of this. After completing my master’s thesis, “Mary: Mother May I?”, I realized there is so much more to discern from this remarkable woman.
Those who recite creeds on Sunday recite the doctrine of the virgin who conceives by the Holy Spirit and gives birth to Jesus. Those who cast-off all creedal works are reminded about Mary and the virgin birth once a year—at Christmas. But that is about as far as we dare go into doctrinal reflection about this young mother who answered Gabriel’s call to the holy work of birthing and raising Jesus, our Lord.
Yes, I believe Mary was called to holy work, and one that I now view as priestly work. How so, you may wonder?
Of course Mary did not stand in Herod’s temple performing the rituals reserved for the male-only priesthood. The priesthood had become devoid of meaning and rituals of religion were without power. The ancient prophet Ezekiel had warned of this day! Thank goodness for Mary and other faithful followers—the remnant few— hoped for a new day when God would work.
The concept of the priesthood is a mammoth subject, far too much to cover in a short blog post. But I venture out with a few questions: Was the Levitical priesthood the only legitimate priesthood in that day? What did God have in mind when God told Moses that the people of Israel were taken out of all the nations on the earth to be “a priestly nation and a holy nation” (Deut 19:5,6)?
Did this call to priesthood come to an abrupt end? Did this include only men? I doubt it, and I imagine you agree with me. The priestly nation, this holy nation, consisted of women as well as the men. God’s work mandated that all voices, all hands and all bodies—male and female—answer the call, to be a blessing to others and to declare the praises of the One who called us out of the darkness of the tomb (1 Pet 2:9). We are yet called to priestly work!
Mary fulfilled priestly work when she offered her womb for the one who is Life, the One who would free humanity from the tomb.
Mary fulfilled priestly work when she completed the daily rituals required of mothering and when training and teaching the one who would become a forever, High Priest (Heb 4:14; 5:10; 7:21).
Mary fulfilled the ancient call to priesthood when she birthed the One through whom all future families and nations would be blessed (Ps 72:17b; Acts 3:25).
Mary glorified the Lord in song and fulfilled priestly work when she raised the One who ransomed from every tribe, language, people and nation those would sing a new song and become future priests in service of Almighty God (Luke 1:46-55; Rev 5:9).
I’ve been a mother for nearly 40 years now. They say all little girls dream of motherhood, but that was not the case for me. I recognized early on the oddity of that. I never planned my future wedding—much to the chagrin of my best girlfriend who was enamored with the whole idea and cut out pictures from wedding magazines.
I disliked playing dolls and house and instead, when given a rare opportunity to join my brother in play, pretended to be Little Joe Cartwright, from my favorite TV show Bonanza. What a courageous girl I became when I donned my vinyl holster and pointed the cheap silver pistol at the many imaginary injustices.
There were many injustices—too many for a little girl to witness—and these injustices warped the beauty of motherhood and family for me. But those very injustices compelled me to strive to be a better mother for my children and for the sake of future generations.
A woman may bear the moniker ‘mother’ by giving birth, but becoming a mother is another matter altogether. It is a journey of risking and surrendering, of rejoicing and sanctification.
For the woman who follows Christ, this mothering is embarking on a holy work, a priestly work!
Thankfully, for me I realized this sooner than later. When my first child was placed in my arms I said yes to the holy, priestly call from God to raise this little one just as Mary raised her little one.