Mary’s relevance today
By Colleen Scharnick
How relevant are Mary’s virtues in the life of today’s Catholic women? Can today’s women still follow the footsteps of their mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers, who over centuries have turned to Mary as role model for women in the Church?
It was this need for spiritual sisterhood and curiosity to explore and reflect upon the virtues of Mary, Mother of God, that got 40 women from the western deanery in the diocese of Oudtshoorn, to attend a spiritual reflection workshop in late August. It is a journey of grace and women need anchors to hold on to.
Mary, the world’s most holy and blessed woman has a long list of virtues: humility, charity towards God, charity towards neighbour, poverty, chastity, obedience, hope, faith, patience and prayer. It got the women talking: honest discussions and heart to heart reflections in spiritual sisterhood. Women discovered they fall foul to Mary’s virtues in the juggle and pressure of everyday life.
Time constraints are one of the key challenges women face. How to prioritise free time is another reality. A woman jokingly shared how she sometimes chooses to watch the soap opera 7de Laan instead of doing prayer time. Another source of concern is religious diversity within families. Sometimes a wife and husband belong to different denominations. “I have to pray in secret,” someone bravely disclosed.
Women discovered there is an opportunity for spiritual development, if they reflect upon how to weave Mary’s virtues into daily life. The virtue of patience is so relevant to our time. Women face demands at home, work and in their social sphere. To keep the family together, women play a critical role in care-taking and conflict resolution. At work, given women’s emancipation, she has to hold her own in the board room. In the social life she has to foster caring relationships with others. There are too much pressure and little patience.
The virtue of poverty also challenges women. How do women embrace the virtue of poverty in a society where the gap between the rich and poor continue to widen? Mary’s poverty requires women to assess how they can share with those less fortunate than themselves. Are women willing to follow Mary’s example to share with the poor? The women agreed that Mary’s poverty indeed challenges women to share with others.
As women we cannot reflect upon Mary’s virtues if we do not refer to her humility and virginity. In a society of gender-based violence and exploitation, women cannot walk around with their eyes cast downwards. They have to be assertive. Mary’s humility means that the element of respect is integrated into assertiveness of women.
Today Mary’s virtue of chastity also needs to be contextualised beyond the reference to sexuality: it should also include purity in other areas of women’s life. One woman at the meeting said: “We should make our prayer life chaste — that is what virginity would mean if applied to prayer.” Another felt that social pressure makes it difficult for younger women to practise their faith. And when they do try, they face pressure from within the system: the general attitude that if you go to church or attend religious services you want to become a nun. This perception was criticised by younger women who felt they want to practise their faith without being viewed upon as a candidate for religious life. And younger women need fellowship: spiritual sisterhood.
Mary’s virtue of prayer is the virtue passionately followed by many women. There is no doubt that Mary helps women to come closer to Christ, her son: “To Jesus through Mary.” The women were united in their common understanding: the Rosary is a prayer that helps them stay grounded in the midst of many challenges. Women felt they find refreshment in meditating upon the mysteries of the Rosary. This prayer has been passed on down the centuries, bringing women closer to Christ as they meditate upon the mysteries of our Saviour, Lord and Master.
Let us ask Mary, Mother of God, to continue her intercession. We are humbled by our daily imperfections. We are encouraged and challenged by the virtues of the Blessed Virgin. In our human weakness we turn to her for intercession.
Mother of Mercy, help us to live the virtues in a manner that makes practical sense to us — in a way that helps us grow spiritually in a modern world. Help us to take clear steps on this journey of grace. It is in our own weakness that we find our greatest strength: our ability to pray and to continue praying in the midst of a busy world and a changing society.
Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.
Colleen Scharnick is a policy and leadership consultant in Worcester, Western Cape.
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