Monday, February 13, 2012

Mystical Rose

The post-Christian goddess-worship that we find in Europe and America seems to be in part a response to the loss of a sense of the feminine nature of the Church and of her cosmic significance. For any deeply Catholic or Orthodox mind, the Church is a person, typified in the Virgin Mary. The institutional aspects of the Church are subsidiary-or else they represent the "skeleton" that performs a necessary but ideally hidden function within the Body of that person. Her actual boundaries extend far beyond her formal membership, into the realm of nature itself. It is in her that the flowers bloom and the rivers flow. Through his telescope the atheist scientist gazes at her stars. One can in fact only exclude oneself from her by a conscious act of rejection.
The above quote comes from an article on Ecclesia, or Holy Mother Church, from "The Mystical Rose Catholic Page" online. This particular passage struck me because it speaks to the danger of an all-male religion that strives to separate the spiritual from the physical realm and to remove any trace of the feminine from God or any sense of divinity. It is difficult to talk about, but I knew the time would come to relate how I personally fell into the heresy of pagan spirituality. I always loved Jesus; that part of my belief system never changed. And if I had to categorize my religion in those days, I would (reluctantly) state it as Christian. I remember wishing that there were a way to designate that I was a follower of Jesus without using the word "Christian", since many people were turned off by the hypocrisy and biblical fanaticism of many Christians. I came across the phrase "Goddess Inclusive Christianity", but that seemed like an oxymoron.

I never worshiped a goddess, but I did become very interested in the goddess archetypes of Jungian psychology, which is similar to other forms of personality typing, only using the Greek goddesses, such as Aphrodite, Hera, and Demeter, as templates. I studied the goddess traditions and mythology of various cultures and would sometimes invoke a particular "goddess energy" to help strengthen me in a certain area. Need to feel more confident in love? Call on your inner Aphrodite energy! Witches had fascinated me since childhood, and the New Age/Old Religion of Wicca was compelling for its inclusion of feminine as well as masculine concepts of divinity, and in the ways in which it follows and celebrates natural cycles in its spirituality. But none of these explorations could be reconciled with Christianity, and none of them involve worship of the one, true God. Still, I longed for an image of the sacred feminine, and so for quite awhile I only attended church sporadically. This bothered me greatly, especially since I wanted my daughter to have the kind of church experiences I grew up with. But I was angry. Just simply angry that Christianity seemed to ignore the glaring fact that in Genesis, both male and female were created in the image of God. Preaching a male-only God is anti-biblical!

I put my faith in God and prayed for the answer as to what church I should belong, and I was led to the Catholic Church, a journey about which I have previously written. I have also discussed the artist Meinrad Craighead's desire to reintegrate authentic pagan spirituality into a developed Christian consciousness, and Charlene's Spretnak's lament in Missing Mary regarding the marginalization of Mary in the Church as a result of Vatican II. (Imagine how much more keenly Protestants like me felt the hole left in the wake of the Protestant Reformation with no Mary, ever, at all!) I will return now to considering these things.

The more I study Catholicism and Mariology, it seems that it isn't necessary, after all, to reintegrate pagan sensibilities, except perhaps to recover the primordial awareness of the divine feminine and bring it more fully to light. The feminine aspect of God is acknowledged by the Catholic Church. Ecclesia extends to the realm of "Mother Nature", with sacraments such as the bread and wine of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism, which originally were rivers and lakes. The liturgical year, with its observances of holy days, feast days, and ordinary time, flows with the passing of the seasons. And it seems that the pendulum has swung back to a balanced approach to Marian devotion, and Mary is no longer such a missing person, perhaps ironically due in part to Protestant converts such as Scott and Kimberly Hahn, who through an agonizing study of the history of the Church and the Bible, came to understand the Catholic Church as the very church founded by Jesus. They and other converts, many of them former Protestant ministers, have written profound books on Catholic apologetics, which means a defense of the faith. Many "cradle Catholics" do not understand their religion as well as Protestant converts who read and researched their way as adults to find the one, true, catholic (which means "universal") and apostolic Church.

Perhaps the Protestant "reformers", such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, had a serious problem with the authority of the Catholic Church, beyond just protesting against corruption within the Church. Perhaps they especially objected to the feminine nature of the Church as Mother, and the Virgin Mary as its exemplar. True, some Catholics of the Medieval period may have gotten carried away with their veneration of Mary. But much of that may have been misunderstood due to the poetic, courtly, feminine culture of the times, with its lords and ladies, its knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, and its exalted, glorious, over-the-top proclamations of love and honor. Flowers, fairies, goblins, wizards and witches were very popular in poetry, literature and plays. Think Shakespeare, and you get the picture.

I can relate to having a problem with authority. After I left my job as an esthetician to stay home with my baby, I vowed to never work for anyone else again. But now I am so grateful that there is a church that can claim authority, and only one that indeed can actually claim it at all, though riddled with the problems inherent to human nature that it has been. I can't wait to officially join the Mystical Body of Christ, to be nurtured by Ecclesia, through partaking of the Eucharist, which is the communion of Christians in the Real Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is not merely a symbol, or an aid to memory. The transubstantiation of the bread and wine truly feeds our spirits. The Holy Spirit is the living Soul of the Church that performs this sacrament through the priest. Mary represents most perfectly this person, Ecclesia, Mother Church, who is also the Bride of Christ. This mystical union of the material and spiritual, of the masculine and feminine, of the flesh and divinity, is what Christianity is all about. Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension make eternal life in the family of God possible.

The removal of liturgy, the absence of earthiness, and the rejection of the sacred feminine in many Protestant churches--what has resulted in so many Christians being deprived of the fullness of the faith--has tragically contributed to the turning of souls away from Christianity and toward pagan spirituality, even witchcraft. Having ventured in these dark realms myself, I can attest emphatically that the Catholic Church is NOT a pagan religion, but is rather as Christ-centered as they come. Catholic worship is literally centered in the Body and Blood of Christ. I am so grateful to have been pointed back in the direction of Jesus, by the Mother of my Lord herself.

I want to note also that Vatican II, in its quest for ecumenism between all Christian denominations, did not intend to kick the Mother of God out of the Church, as evidenced by this decree: "Mary is hailed as a pre-eminent and altogether singular member of the Church, and as the Church's model and excellent exemplar in faith and charity. Taught by the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church honours her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved Mother." This wording sounds tame, and this may have been intentional so as not to offend Protestant sensibilities, but it nevertheless ties Mary inextricably to the fabric of the Church.

Furthermore, the Council states: "The Father of mercies willed that the consent of the predestined Mother should precede the Incarnation. She gave the world that very life that renews all things, and she was enriched by God with gifts befitting such a role. Rightly, therefore, the holy fathers see her as used by God not merely in a passive way but as co-operating in the work of human salvation through free faith and obedience."  Undoubtedly, these comments point to Mary's immaculate conception and her mediation in the graces of God by agreeing to become the mother of the Word. There has been no higher status afforded to a mere creature.

If we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we will ultimately share in His divinity. The Bible speaks of the divinization of humanity. We may in all reality share Jesus' very blood, become His kin, beyond adopted sons and daughters of the Father. And since Jesus took his flesh and blood from Mary, we are truly her children too!

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