Weekly Reflections: Mary and human liberation


“He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands.” — Luke 1:51-53

Marian spirituality

September 8 is celebrated by the Roman Catholic world as the birthday of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Mary’s birthday is not mentioned in the Bible, but nevertheless this is part of the Roman Catholic traditions. Obviously, different religious traditions have varied perceptions about Mary. There are those who would try to elevate her to the level of the gods and goddesses, but there are also those who would regard her as an ordinary woman, no different from us.

Traditional Mariology presents Mary as the obedient, docile faithful virgin mother. The virtues emphasized are faith, love of God, obedience, docility, humility, and contemplation. Thus, Marian spirituality throughout the ages has been rather pietistic somewhat passive and even individualistic.

However, this is not what we see in the Scripture. Perhaps, there is nothing more revolutionary that the Song of Mary called the Magnificat found in Luke 1:51-54:

He (God) has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands.”

Human liberation

Sometime in early 1990’s Bishop Tissa Balasuriya of Colombo, Sri Lanka, wrote a very controversial book entitled Mary and Human Liberation that caught the ire of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later on became Pope Benedict XVI. In his book, Bishop Balasuriya criticized the traditional Marian doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, like the Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity, the divine motherhood, and the assumption to heaven. Vatican defrocked his ordination as bishop for refusing to recant what he wrote, but his ordination was restored later on due to worldwide protests.

One of the things that Bishop Balasuriya mentioned in his book is the fact that while it is true that Mariology throughout the centuries emphasized Mary as a help of Christians and refuge of all those in need, it lacks however a clear and systematic relation to social transformation. There is no analysis in Mariology of the conditions in society that prevent the realization of effective social justice, love and peace. On the contrary, the effect of Marian devotions seems to be to bring about a greater conformity to the prevailing social system.

Traditional Marian devotions, according to Bishop Balasuriya, do not adequately focus the attention of Christians on issues of justice. On the contrary, Christians are among the world’s worst exploiters, and traditional Marian devotions may even deflect them from considering their responsibilities towards the poor, the needy and the oppressed. In that sense, traditional Mariology with all its popular flavor can be harmful for genuine holiness that must include justice and effective love in the context of criminal injustices within and among countries.

Contrary to traditional Marian devotions, Bishop Balasuriya presented Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as an epitome of genuine human liberation. Together with her husband, Joseph, Mary raised their child Jesus to become the savior of his own people.

These are some of the words that Cardinal Ratzinger would like Bishop Balasuriya to recant. But the good Bishop refused to obey. Thus, he was defrocked of his ordination as bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. However, Roman Catholics all over the world defended the radical Bishop against the power of the guardians of Roman Catholic traditions.

Mother of humanity

Now, Mary has been regarded as the Mother of Humanity. As a genuine Mother, we do believe that her concern would be to see that all her children are cared for and provided for. She would be very sad if some of her children exploit others and deprive them of the means of subsistence. She would struggle with all her might to change a situation in which millions of her children die due to starvation because some take too much out of the common stock.

We would like to believe that as the universal Mother, Mary would want peace among her children. She would regret the building up of armaments by different groups of her children to destroy each other. She would surely oppose local and international corruption that leads to the resources of the poor people being deposited in banks by persons and companies that exploit and rob them.

Indeed, Mary would surely be delighted if her song, the Magnificat, would be sung time and again to remind ourselves of our God-given task to be instruments of genuine human liberation. #nordis.net


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