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Mary, the Church, Christmas, and Jimmy Lai

Does the Church, created by God in Christ and formed in the image of Mary, create us? Or do we create the Church?

Detail from "Virgin Mary Annunciate" (1431-33) by Fra Angelico [WikiArt.org]

Now, on Christmas Day, the nine months have been fulfilled. What began on the day of Annunciation is made visible to the world in the person of the newborn babe of Bethlehem, who is both Son of God and Son of Mary. History is forever changed.

The “little flock” of whom Jesus will speak in Luke 12:32 (“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”) is already here: in Mary and Joseph, humble servants of God; in the shepherds who leave the manger rejoicing; in the Magi who will come bearing gifts; in the slaughtered innocents and their grieving parents, precursors of the white-robed army of martyrs who will follow down the centuries. In a formal sense, the Church of Christ begins with the Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost. Yet the Church is also present in Bethlehem in an anticipatory way.

Which is how it should be, since this axial moment in the human story, the birth of the incarnate Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, began with the fiat, the answer of a trusting and obedient young woman to the angelic salutation and summons to motherhood. As St. John Paul II never tired of teaching, Mary’s fiat — “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) — made her the first of disciples and established the paradigm of all discipleship: joyful obedience to the divine call. Everything else in the Church — evangelism, contemplation, authority, service — only makes sense in light of that Marian “yes” and the discipleship it uniquely expressed. Mary is the beginning of the Church. And Mary remains the model of the Church forever, because her Assumption reveals the destiny that God intended for humanity “in the beginning” — eternal life with the Thrice-Holy God.

At this Catholic moment, when so many — perhaps too many — are singularly focused on and disturbed by ecclesiastical dysfunction at every level of Catholic life, from the local parish to the Vatican, it is good, at Christmastide, to reflect on Mary and the Church — and on what Mary’s initial act of discipleship, that fiat which came to fruition “when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2), means for us today. Hans Urs von Balthasar, pondering the First and Third Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, points that meditation in the proper direction:

From the Mother’s disposition grows the disposition of the Church. The Church is not an external assembly of people brought together by a common religious purpose, but rather a reality that exists before we do and to which we owe what we are, through God and by the grace of God. No one helps himself to the sacraments; they are bestowed on a person as graces…The Church is responsible for us before God; she is to rear us in her pure and holy spirit and not in our own…[which is how we become] ‘ecclesial souls.’

One of the great debates in the Catholic Church today touches this issue: Does the Church, created by God in Christ and formed in the image of Mary, create us? Or do we create the Church? To even hint at the latter is to empty the Church of its supernatural character and reduce Catholicism to an international non-governmental organization. Yet is not some part of that going on when it is suggested, in certain exercises of “synodality,” “listening,” “accompaniment,” and “discernment,” that the Church of the 21st century has the authority to modify or even correct the word of God? Or to refashion the Christ-given constitution of the Church? Or to bless in an uncritical way the spirit of the age?

Some months ago, my friend Jimmy Lai, the Catholic convert and prisoner of conscience in Hong Kong (about whose unjust persecution and imprisonment the Holy See has not managed to speak a single public word of protest) sent me from his cell in Stanley Prison a beautiful pencil-and-crayon depiction of the Annunciation entitled, simply, “Yes!” This courageous man with a truly “ecclesial soul” knows that the Church created him in baptism. And that grace has empowered him to live the virtue of fortitude and be a fearless defender of justice, truth and freedom.

Jimmy Lai will spend Christmas in prison, but he will be free in the deepest meaning of the word. For he is free in the truth of Christ, born for us that happy morning in Bethlehem of Judea.

(George Weigel’s column ‘The Catholic Difference’ is syndicated by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.)


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About George Weigel 429 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).

13 Comments

  1. Catholics……hold onto your rosaries. It feels like the church is getting closer and closer to make an official announcement soon to make a creature a permanent part of the redemption process. It definitely needs something BIG to distract from all the chaos within the hierarchy. They’ve been chomping at the bit for years to make Mary co-redemptrix….I think the time has finally come to make the Catholic church dominate into a one world religious order.

    • Catholics already believe that the Blessed Virgin is Co-Redemptrix. Several popes have so taught. And, yes, the Blessed Virgin, a creature, is a permanent part of the redemption process. There’s nothing wrong with that. God chose it that way. Just like there is now a divine Person who also has a human nature (Christ).

      The Blessed Virgin is Queen of Heaven who stands on the right of Christ’s throne (1611 KJV, Psalm 45:9 and Apocalypse 12:1-5). She is Mother of the Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6) and the Mother of “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14). All generations shall call Her blessed (Luke 1:48). Even the rich among the people will entreat Her favour (Psalm 45:12). She will be remembered through all generations, and people will praise Her forever (Psalm 45:17). She was conceived without sin (Wisdom 8:19-20 and Wisdom 7:22-30, 1611 King James Bible).

  2. To disagree on a minor point with a noted academician might be but folly and yet, God is the arbitrator in all matters of faith.

    We find Mary given an office by the church which is not endorsed or verified by Holy Scripture. All the same, a strong argument has been put forward that Church Tradition shows the way on this subject. While reference has been made regarding tradition, we must ask ourselves, why is it not brought forward so that we may examine it in light of scripture. To accept the notion; Holy Scripture and Church Tradition will be in harmony and elucidate the matter, clearing up any doubt or confusion.

    Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, He died for the sins of the world, He was resurrected and sits at the right hand of God interceding for all believers who accept His work on the cross. As blessed, a fine and upstanding woman that Mary was, scripture does not ascribe sinlessness to her nor is she given the powers that God alone posses.

    This is written in the spirit of friendship and concordance. Some will take offence, yet this is not a wish to injure ones faith, but to enhance our understanding of how much God loves us and has good plans for us.

    Bowing heart and knee to the Lord Jesus.

    • “We find Mary given an office by the church which is not endorsed or verified by Holy Scripture. All the same, a strong argument has been put forward that Church Tradition shows the way on this subject.”

      We find Brian Young holding assumptions and accepting presuppositions that are not endorsed or verified by Holy Scripture. He continues to refer to Sacred Scripture as the sole authority for the Christian, but relies upon the Church’s Tradition in order to know what books belong in the canon of Scripture. He has not put forward any argument at all as to why he insists on having it both ways while insisting (politely, to his credit) that others adhere to his non-Scriptural understanding of Scripture.

      • Dear Carl;

        In my mind, I had resolved to leave all things “Mary” alone! So much for the intent of mice and men!

        To your credit, you deal with your nettlesome nemesis. You do not shy away from the difficult 12th round!

        Yet, where are the specifics? Generalities without documentation may not answer the dilemma. Sometimes the accountant will say, I want some figures and not those ones you get off the ceiling! Do I have dig into church tradition when you can recite the relevant example off the top of your head?

        Yet, it brings me sorrow when we dispute. It is important to fight for the Catholic Church, especially in these troublesome times. Still, if ones us has a mistaken view, the Lord is the one to conclude the matter.

        Once more, heartfelt appreciation for your energies at CWR, for the contributors and the commentators which make this a vibrant forum in which to grow in Christ.

        Blessings,

        Brian Y

        • “We find Mary given an office by the church which is not endorsed or verified by Holy Scripture.”

          Mary’s office is most certainly endorsed by, and verified by, Sacred Scripture. It’s the Protestant private interpretation of the Bible that is wrong; that’s all.

          It is Protestantism that is neither endorsed nor verified by Sacred Scripture.

          Nowhere does the Bible teach that it contains only 66 books.
          Baptism saves. 1 Peter 3:21.
          Baptism forgives sins. Acts 22:16.
          We are not saved by faith alone. Romans 8:24.
          We are not justified by faith alone. James 2:24.
          Luther, who endorsed bigamy, added the word “alone” to his translation of Romans.
          The Bible nowhere teaches Sola Scriptura.
          The Bible nowhere teaches a “pretribulation rapture.”
          The true Church (i.e., the Catholic Church) is the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15.
          The true Church has bishops. 1 Timothy 3:1.
          Bishops are created by the laying on of hands of other bishops. 2 Timothy 1:6.
          The apostles were the first bishops because they held “bishopricks” (1611 KJV). Acts 1:20.
          Christ commanded us to eat His flesh and drink His blood; those who don’t do so have no life within them. John 6:54.
          The Eucharist is “the body of the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 11:29.
          Relics of dead saints work miracles. 4th Kings (2nd Kings) 13:21.
          The Blessed Virgin is the Mother of “the mighty God.” Isaias 9:6.
          The Blessed Virgin is the Mother of “God with us.” Matthew 1:23.
          Nowhere does the Bible teach that a congregation can hire and fire its leaders.
          There is only one church and one faith. Ephesians 4:5
          Anointing of the sick (last rites) is commanded by Sacred Scripture. James 5:14-15.
          The apostles were given the power to forgive, and retain, sins. John 20:23.

          The list could be multiplied.

          The Bible is a thoroughly Catholic document, and Catholic doctrine is found throughout.

          What cannot be found in the Bible are specifically Protestant doctrines, such as justification by faith ALONE, Sola Scriptura, private interpretation of Scripture, and a 66 book canon.

          Where are those Protestant beliefs found in the Bible?

      • We find Carls’s position impossible to accept on the face of it. The idea that the canon of the Bible ALLOWS contradictory views is heresy. IT DOES NOT. Therefore, the idea that the unbiblical Mary of Catholic tradition is validated by TRUE church tradition is false on the face of it. Holding to the canon of Scripture while arguing that the basis of catholic tradition isn’t Truth is PERFECTLY consistent. Truth cannot cannot cannot be self-contradictory.

        • The idea that all of the Christians (Catholic, Orthodox, Ancient Oriental) for the first 1500+ years of Christianity were wrong, but that the heirs of Luther, Calvin, and Co. got it right (despite disagreeing about nearly everything) is not just illogical, it’s nonsensical. But if you wish to continue to use a Catholic canon of Catholic books to attack Catholic beliefs, suit yourself.

          • God cannot and will not contradict Himself in His Word. Can we agree on that? OK…Let’s settle for one book…say Romans. Can we agree it is part of the inspired, infallible WORD? If so, I ask, HOW can Mary be anything different than those humans described in Romans 3? I also ask, HOW can any teaching that contradicts Romans 3 be part of Scripture if we agree Romans 3 is? This is what I mean when I refer to self-contradictory positions. Ultimately GOD ALONE…not men… must preserve and provide HIS WORD to us. Jesus accepted that. So should we. But He will not contradict Himself in His Word. I know we agree on that.

            Look at all the “no ones” and “alls” found here and explain how Mary is somehow not included. Romans 3:10-20 “None is righteous, no, not one;
            11 no one understands;
            no one seeks for God.
            12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
            no one does good,
            not even one.”
            13 “Their throat is an open grave;
            they use their tongues to deceive.”
            “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
            14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
            15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
            16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
            17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
            18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
            19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

        • Holding on to the belief of a 66 book canon while at the same time holding on to the belief in Sola Scriptura is the underlying contradiction of the false Protestant system.

          You believe the Bible contains only 66 books? Show us where it teaches that.

          And if you can’t show us using the Bible alone, Sola Scriptura fails outright.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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