Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Blessed Virgin Mary (Part 3)

For a while my entire Church search was predicated on the idea of finding which “group” was right (agreed with me) about the greatest number of things. As I’ve noted, the Immaculate Conception and bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven seemed like checks against the Catholic Church.

I thus spent some time re-looking at these two issues, and realized that any lingering uncertainty I felt about them no longer constituted a barrier to my entry into the Catholic Church. Here’s a stab at explaining why:

Development of Doctrine

This phrase is most heavily associated with a man named John Henry Newman. Newman had a conversion experience to Christ when he was 15 and enjoyed a long career as an Anglican minister. He died in 1890, by which point he had become a widely known figure in England and a cardinal in the Catholic Church.  As he was preparing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, he wrote “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine”.  (a misleading title since it’s actually a pretty large book)

And the basic idea is that true Christian doctrine “develops” or “evolves”. Not all apparent changes can count as developments; some are corruptions and Newman dedicated a fair amount of his book to addressing the ways to distinguish between the two. Proper developments appear new, and in at least one sense they are, but the point is that they were there hiding all along in the basic principles that we started out with. The plant was always there “hiding” in the seed. There was and still is only one Christian faith, but the Church continually grows in its understanding of its faith.

To take a striking and still controversial example, very early Christianity continued to affirm the oneness of God just as Judaism had for centuries before. Yet later, the belief that God is three in one became absolutely fundamental to Christianity. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we see why this is the case. In no other way could we make sense out of salvation history, and we see the Trinity all over our Bibles, even if it's hard to find a "proof-text" convincing enough to our oneness Pentecostal or Unitarian neighbors. We know that Christ had to be both divine and human, and we know that God’s very Spirit works within the Church. It’s still a mystery, but as time has gone on, we realize more and more that the Trinity was always there. The crazy thing is this: if I went back to a first or second century Christian community and tried to explain the doctrine of the Trinity as best as I could describe it—I don’t think absolutely everyone would necessarily immediately sign onto the details of how we talk about the Trinity. (3 in 1? How can God be three?) We hold the same faith, but it’s taken time to discover how to put our faith into the right words.

I honestly think that the Marian dogmas fit into the same category. So that was a stab at explaining why I’m ok with the fact that they were only defined as dogma relatively recently. I believe that Christ is both fully divine and fully human and have no problem with the fact that the Church solemnly defined that centuries after Christ’s ascension. That was quick, so if you want to hear more about development of doctrine please shoot me an email and I’ll try to write more later. Now for why I’m ok with the Marian dogmas in general:

The Immaculate Conception

There were two things I found fishy about this. For one, it seemed like saying that Mary was conceived without original sin somehow takes away from Jesus’ unique status as a sinless human being. It feels like an attempt to deify Mary. Secondly, it just felt impossible.

The incarnation itself also “feels” impossible so if I’m going to continue to think from a perspective of faith at all, then only the first objection was possibly valid.

So does being conceived without original sin make Mary less than human? No! If anything, it makes her more human! After all, was Adam or Eve created with original sin? From Genesis and the Church’s reflection on the doctrine of original sin (another doctrine which more fully developed later yet is fully accepted by evangelicals), we can see that the human proclivity towards evil was not part of how God created us. We were made to live in community with God, as children of God made in the image of God. By becoming more like Christ we become both more human and more like God in whose image we are created.

In a sense, Mary is a gift to the Church, a partial anticipation of what the Church is and will be. Mary is, after all, the mother and exemplar of the Church. And the fact that she was immaculately conceived means it was certainly done through no merit of her own! Indeed, she calls God “my Savior” in the Magnificat that I quoted last week. The angel rightly addressed her as one who has been graced (with the present passive participle leaving room for continuing action beginning in the past). By emphasizing that she was preserved from original sin from her conception, the Church affirms that our salvation comes entirely by grace. Note that she also made a free decision to invite Christ into her, but it was grace that gave her the freedom to make that decision. By a unique act of God, Mary was able to stand where Eve stood, and with the God’s grace respond to God’s call for her to invite Christ into her life in a radical way.

Due to her righteous life, Mary is properly looked to as an excellent intercessor by millions and millions of Christians. Does this take away from Christ’s role as the mediator between God and man? No, I don’t think it does. Does it take away from Christ’s unique role when I pray to God for others? In the evangelical world, we thank those who pray for us and attribute a lot of power to the prayers of others, yet we know that ultimately it was God who answered the prayers and is worthy of all our gratitude. So in the case of Mary, we see that all of “her” power comes simply by the fact that she knows to go to Jesus, and to point people to Him. Like the queen mothers of the Davidic kingdom, she can pray for us to the King.

The Bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven

I don’t even know why I thought this was wrong…other than the fact that it just seemed kind of ridiculous I guess.

And I guess that’s an indicator of how far I’ve come. The fact that people in the Church have believed this for such a long time is pretty much enough for me. It certainly flows with our understanding of Mary as the “Queen of Heaven” and casts light on the way Mary is mentioned in the book of Revelation. And it draws attention yet again to the fact that God’s redemptive work is not limited to our souls—even our bodies are meant to be saved, sanctified and raised up in a new way at the last day. Yet again, Mary provides us with an example of what we can hope for, what we are called to.

Any historical evidence (by which I mean things like documentary sources) on her assumption is relatively thin. It was a long time ago, after all. Here’s the historical part that I find most compelling: Whether we like it or not, the early Church loved relics, and yet no early Christian community claimed to have her bones. (her tomb yes, but not her bones).  Given the amazing value placed on the bones of the saints in early Christianity, I’m hard pressed to answer why someone would steal her bones and yet not later produce them. I can certainly admit that it’s possible, but if one is going to steal or lie about something like that, it makes a lot more sense to do it in a way that benefits you. It’s hard to see who would benefit by claiming that she had been assumed into heaven. (Since it flies against the very obvious incentive to claim that she had not in fact been assumed into heaven and that her bones can instead be found at X spot).

Is her bodily assumption into heaven a simple conclusion from historical facts? No. Has it taken time to be sure about it? Definitely. Remember this wasn’t solemnly proclaimed as dogma until 1950 (although the belief was very widespread even before the Great Schism). When defining the dogma, Pope Pius XII noted that “in our own age…the bodily Assumption into heaven of Mary…has certainly shone forth more clearly.” (par. 3)

Perpetual Virginity of Mary

I decided to throw this one in at no extra charge.

It never bothered me as much since it was defined as dogma relatively early on. Again, does this mean that this was the first time anyone had heard of it? Not at all. Doctrines are usually only solemnly defined after they’ve been challenged. In this case, the number of Church Fathers who supported the dogma stretches back pretty early. From what I remember, most of the Protestant Reformers maintained their belief in it as well. 

What of the references in Scripture to Jesus’ brothers and sisters? Since so many early Christians believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity, we’ve had some time to ask the question. Like in many cultures, the word employed here sometimes carries a much broader meaning than “biologically from the same two parents”. Some proposed that they were Jesus’ cousins—others that they were Joseph’s children from an earlier marriage.

Whether it’s entirely historically true or not, the Protoevangelium of James portrays a story in which this is exactly the case. Joseph was an older widower with children from his first marriage. Mary had been consecrated to live life as a virgin, but was given into the care of Joseph in a sort of “spiritual marriage.” Part of the point of the document appears to be to defend Mary’s perpetual virginity. So, true in its details or not, when was this written? Is it a medieval legend? Dating old documents can be very difficult, but the dates I’ve seen range from 120-150AD. Again, whether it's completely historically accurate or not, it shows that there were Christians seeing to explain how Mary could remain a perpetual virgin, and the closer we get to Mary's lifetime, the harder it is to just make stuff up without getting called out on it. 


For clarification, I don’t think that a simple investigation of Biblical texts or historical evidence will compel anyone to believe in the Marian dogmas. No one posted footage of Mary’s Assumption into heaven on youtube. (which would undoubtedly remove all doubt from the situation) If one accepts Scripture, I think a compelling argument can be made and certainly believe that nothing in Scripture contradicts the Marian dogmas. As we just saw above, there are some interpretations of Scripture which do conflict with them. (if you understand “brothers and sisters” to necessarily imply sharing both biological parents, for instance)

In the solemn proclamation of the bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven as dogma, Pope Pius XII himself noted that, “the Blessed Virgin Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven- which surely no faculty of the human mind could know by its own natural powers…” (para. 12) could be known by the teaching authority of the Universal Church.

And that brings us to the question of authority. A giant, giant topic that I will probably try to take a bare stab at some other time. Asking questions about authority helped me to realize how flawed my "Church search" methodology was. 

This was a whirlwind tour of some huge stuff. Hope it was coherent.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Blessed Virgin Mary (Part Two)

By my senior year of college, I was caught up in investigating the doctrinal claims of any of the “historic Churches”. For the most part, I can’t relate what I investigated chronologically because it was done in bits and pieces. Whether it meant google searches, scouring blogs, or simply walking up and down the aisles of books dedicated to Christian history and doctrine in the basement of the Rock (Brown’s library), I found my mind turning to these questions whenever possible.

In my mind, the “big two” Marian questions were always the Immaculate Conception and the bodily assumption of Mary to heaven. I was weary of Pentecostalism’s very recent emergence, but weren’t these dogmas defined quite recently as well? Indeed, the Immaculate Conception (which means that Mary, by the grace of God, was conceived without the stain of original sin) was defined as dogma in 1854 and the assumption of Mary into heaven was only defined as dogma in 1950! Why did the Catholics have to go on trying to make everything more complicated!?

You can see why my interest tended towards Anglicanism more (the Eastern Orthodox also believe all sorts of “weird” stuff about Mary). But, to be fair, I had to look at more of what Catholics believed about Mary. Here’s some of what I found:

Mary as the New Eve

In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul draws a connection between Christ and Adam and describes Christ as a sort of “new Adam”. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19) But how could Mary be a new Eve!

As I was prone to point out during my girls-have-cooties-but-are-still-worth-annoying-and-competing-with elementary school days, Eve was the first one to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. But in Romans we hear about sin entering the world through Adam. While Eve had her part to play, Adam is set up as the prototype of disobedience. In this case Paul wants to point out how sin entered into the human race through Adam, although it is true that Eve’s disobedience paved the way for Adam’s disobedience—which then became the paradigm for the disobedience that we’ve all been born into (original sin).

Fast forward. The Word of God is about to become a man. How do men come into the world? Well, they’re born. And being born is always a risky proposition. While abortion may not have been as pervasive in the ancient world as it is now, it wasn’t invented yesterday. And infanticide was hardly rare in the ancient world. Even after birth, humans are always vulnerable. Our physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual development are still in many ways influenced by our mothers (and fathers) well after our birth. God has always exhibited the utmost concern for human freedom (exhibit A: the Garden of Eden), so forcing a woman to properly take care of Christ would be absolutely out of the question.

And what happened? God selected, with the utmost care, a specific woman named Mary. She was “most highly favored”, in Greek, Kecharitomene  (perfect passive participle) so “you who have been graced”. With complete attention to free will, God asked Mary to play a key role in the plan of salvation. Without knowing fully what that entailed, Mary gave an unconditional, “yes”.

Her obedience paved the way for Christ’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (cross-reference Garden of Eden) where Christ offered perfect obedience (Not my will but Yours be done) and offered up obedience by choosing to offer Himself on a tree of death. Her “yes” replaced Eve’s “no” and thus paved the way for Jesus’ life-giving “yes” to the Father.  Christ is the prototype of obedience, the new Adam, but Mary had an integral role to play.

Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant

According to Hebrews 9:4, the Ark of the Covenant contained a golden urn holding manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. What was in Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus? She held within her the bread of life (see John 6 for heavy connection between Jesus and manna), a new High Priest (according to the order of Melchizidek), the Vine (we are the branches), and the Word made flesh, God’s new covenant promised to Israel.

Also if you go and read 1 Samuel 6 and the story of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth in Luke 1, there are an amazing number of parallels. From the language used to describe people’s joy before the ark to the very length of stay in someone else's house (Obed-edom and Elizabeth’s house—both for 3 months), there are enough similarities to quite reasonably believe that the Biblical author may quite purposefully be evoking a typology. I found this document extremely helpful in concisely describing the depth of Biblical typology found in the identification of Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

Mary as Queen of Heaven

The key to understanding this title is how queenship worked in the Davidic kingdom. In our western tradition influenced by Christianity and monogamous marriage, we understand a queen to be the spouse of a king, who may share in her power due to her marriage or may have come into her power by her own right of succession. (Queen Elizabeth II for example) Is this what it meant to be a queen in Israel and what Catholics mean when they call Mary Queen of Heaven?

No. There are no queens listed as ruling over Israel or Judah by their own right. (one did for several years, but this is portrayed as an improper succession; see 2 Kings 11) And most if not all of the kings had multiple wives. Did Solomon have hundreds of queens? Is any woman ever described as a queen? Well, if we look at 1 Kings 2:19, we see that Solomon had a throne brought in for his mother and placed it just to the right of his throne! In context, we also see that Bathsheba is interceding to the king for someone else’s request.

I remember this concept clicking for me because I had been looking over passages from Kings in my Hebrew class last year, and had already noted that part of the standard information often given about a king included not only his age when he became king and length of reign but also the name of his mother. Why? Because who their mother was mattered. In a world that usually only saw it as necessary to include male names in genealogies, attention was still paid to kings’ mothers because of the special intercessory role they often played. If you look through 1 and 2 Kings, you see that queen mothers were actually quite standard.

Also, there is this passage in Revelation 12 that refers to a woman (in heaven and wearing a crown) who gave birth to a male Son “who is to rule all nations…” and the dragon doesn’t want this to happen. What do we make of this? I’ll agree this isn’t necessarily as straightforward as it might seem. Pretty much nothing in the book of Revelation is. Still, if there’s a possibility that this person is Mary (and that seems not only possible but quite probable), then we certainly can’t say it’s wrong to call her a queen (she is after all wearing a crown). We should also note that the chapter divisions in our Bibles weren’t part of the original authorship and that 11:19 notes the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in heaven—and about to be opened! So why did it all of a sudden shift to talk about a woman giving birth??? ;)

A lot of Protestants argue that the woman in this case is entirely referring to the Church. And that does make more sense out of 12:6, where the woman is forced to flee into the wilderness for 1260 days after her child is snatched up to heaven.

Wait! What if they’re both true!!!

Mary as Exemplar (and Mother) of the Church

To be honest, I just forgot what Scripture passages I found helpful in acknowledging this fact because I just got so excited about realizing it all over again. Once the puzzle pieces come together, it all seems to make so much sense. While I understand most people will remain unconvinced, I hope this at least renders Catholic beliefs a little more intelligible.

In the Liturgy of the Hours, Catholics (and other Christians) across the world pray, chant, whisper, or sing the “Canticle of Mary” near the end of their evening prayers every single day. Mary was asked to invite Jesus in to her heart, her life, and her body, the same request Christ makes of us today. She asked how this could happen since she was a virgin, but amazingly didn’t ask all sorts of other questions. (exs. Will you protect me if people try to stone me? Will Joseph divorce me? Will I ever have a normal life again?) Instead, in an act of complete faith she surrendered her will entirely to God. Not only did she do this, but she began to praise God:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
The Almighty has done great things for me,
And holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
In every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
And has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
For he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers,
To Abraham and his children for ever. (Luke 1:46-55)

Like Mary, we can only respond to Jesus’ call because of grace. Like Mary, we are called to respond in faith to God’s call on our lives. Like Mary we are called to invite Jesus into ourselves, holding nothing back. Like Mary, we are called to take part in Christ’s sufferings. (“and a soul will pierce through your own soul also” Luke 2:35) The Church prays in Mary’s words precisely because she offers such an excellent example of a free response to God’s grace.

And what is wrong with saying that inasmuch as I am united with Christ, His mother becomes my mother? If I object saying that I’m only united with Christ’s divine nature, then I’ve separated Christ’s divine and human natures (another early heresy).

The Gospel of John describes how when Jesus was on the cross, he saw his mother and the beloved disciple standing at the foot of the cross. Jesus told Mary “Woman, behold your son!” and to the beloved disciple He said, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27) Was this just a simple bit of historical information relevant to only those two individuals that the Gospel writer figured he’d include just because he could? We know better than that. Everything in the Gospel of John is chosen for a reason. As the last Gospel to be written, it overflows with theological reflection in everything from layout to word choice. Might it be permissible to posit that we are all called to be a “beloved disciple”? If so, might it be possible that we are all called to stand, with the mother of God, before Christ crucified? And might we too be called to view her as our mother?

It grates against our idea of God to talk about Him having a mother, and even more so to speak of us somehow sharing a mother with Him. I know. When I think of the difficulty of the incarnation I think of the entirely genuine and sincere pain on a Muslim friend in Oman’s face as he balked at the gritty details the incarnation entails. It messes with everything. And I totally understand where he’s coming from. Christianity was always messy, though. It has to be because we believe that God is love. All of us Christians should be challenged to not just believe in, but wrestle with, and ultimately revel in the shocking reality of God’s Incarnation.

I still haven’t returned to addressing the Marian dogmas that initially bothered me the most. I’m pretty sure there are statistics that say that a small minority of people actually read blog posts this long in their entirety, though, so I thank you for staying with me thus far and I’ll try to continue the story later on. Until then, God bless. 

Blessed Virgin Mary Part I
Blessed Virgin Mary Part III
Blessed Virgin Mary Part IV

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Blessed Virgin Mary (Part One)

To my knowledge, Marian doctrines played no prominent role in the Protestant Reformation(s), but to the average evangelical they often constitute the most easily identifiable chasm between them and Catholics.

And such was the case for me. In the next several posts I’ll try to describe how I engaged the Marian questions.

Stage 1: Forming a more Nuanced Evangelical View of Mary

When I left Ukarumpa, I held a vague notion that Catholics believed all sorts of things about Mary that I didn’t believe. I was pretty sure there was a lot of diversity within Catholicism, though. I figured some misguided (mostly Latin American) Catholics pretty much worshipped Mary while others were just confused. Praying to Mary seemed so foreign to me that I had never given much thought to it.

I think that my main critique was practical rather than moral. I figured only God can hear you when you pray. He’s God. Everyone else is just human, and aside from the ethics of the issue, humans can neither hear you nor really help you unless they’re within earshot, alive, and you’re praying for something humanly accomplishable like passing the ketchup. In my subconscious I suspected that all these weird ideas about praying to certain dead Christians who were “better” than the rest of us probably came in sometime during the early Middle Ages and just got weirder and weirder over time with Mary caught up in the center of it all.

A couple different encounters helped me to question my simplistic narrative. In none of these cases did I feel like I’d stepped outside of evangelicalism

Mother of God

Exposure to the early Church forced me to sharpen and re-examine what I believed about Mary. While you history-studying evangelicals out there may think this is silly, I was shocked by a lot of things about the early Church. In one of the Christological controversies, the debate centered around whether it was accurate to call Mary the Greek word “Theotokos” which in English means “God-bearer” and was usually translated into Latin at the time as something meaning “mother of God”. Nestorius countered that a more appropriate title would be “Christotokos” “Christ-bearer”. After all, it seems rather odd to say that God could have a mother, or be born by anyone.

At stake, of course, was the nature of Christ. When I first learned about this controversy much of it seemed like semantics to me. In some cases it seemed like personality clashes and such were quite involved as well. In the end, I discovered that something beautiful was preserved in the formulations of the Council of Ephesus in 431. Christ was and is God. The fact that we find it hard or impossible to fathom the mystery of the incarnation doesn’t mean we should explain it away. Nothing less than our salvation hinges on that mystery.

I was thus ok with calling Mary the mother of God. By letting myself acknowledge the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ I had also unwittingly opened myself up to meditation on what it might mean to be the mother of God. Would it still be possible to say that Mary was “just another” person?

To jump back, part of the reason why Nestorius’ teaching was so controversial wasn’t just because everyone on the street happened to have an opinion on the division or unity of Christ’s human and divine natures, but because the word “Theotokos” was immensely widespread in popular devotion of the time. Christians who fought to retain the usage of the term were fighting to preserve the Christian status quo, not a recent innovation.

Concerted theological reflection and an ecumenical council affirmed the instincts of the masses. The mystery of Jesus’ incarnation into the womb of Mary could not be simply glanced over or assumed. It is central to our faith and it renders Mary a central figure in salvation history. We venerate the cross in remembering Christ’s death, and remember the empty tomb because of its association with Christ’s resurrection. A community that values the incarnation would (and did and does) naturally venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Talking to Dead People

Readers may find the following highly unconvincing, but in the interest of accurately reporting my journey, I have to convey how this rather significant shift occurred somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly.

 I forget the conversational context, but I remember sitting eating pizza in “The Gate”, a student eatery at Brown, and just deciding praying to dead saints could make sense after all. The main reason was just because I thought something immensely un-nuanced and un-theological like, “well hey, didn’t Jesus conquer death?” If love defines the Christian community, and through Christ we exist in a true communion of Saints, why would death be able to separate that?

While Christians believe in the resurrection, we also believe that who we are is not entirely confined to the physical, so that a part of us remains even when we physically die and rest in hope of the resurrection. Biblical accounts testify to the ability to talk to these (dead) people even through evil spirits. (1 Samuel 28) I still don’t really understand how it works, but I know that Jesus’ death and resurrection changed all sorts of things. While Samuel could be recalled from his “rest” through illegitimate sources, what will things look like now after Jesus’ death and resurrection? Isn’t it feasible that through the power of Christ, who has received all power and authority, even the dead can hear our prayers? It’s certainly ok to ask other people to pray for you—the only hang-up had been whether it’s possible for the dead to hear us.

Whether that was methodical or not, I acknowledged in my head that the idea seemed possible. I certainly didn’t start praying to Mary or any other saint, but the observation that this may not be a simple case of simple impossibility or blatant heresy was filed away somewhere in the back of my head.

Jesus made the difference. If the dead are somehow not only with, but connected with Christ in some way, then it seems entirely natural that they be able to hear our prayers.


At one intervarsity retreat there was a Catholic student who was pretty open about the distinctiveness of her faith. I came by as some students had asked her about the rosary and I listened in. Up to that point, I had no idea what the Hail Mary prayer actually consisted of. To my pleasant surprise, the only request made is that Mary herself pray for us. From first listen, it didn’t sound all that heretical.

I liked affirming Catholic and Orthodox things. I liked seeing that Christianity extended well beyond the realm of my own sub-culture. At that point, I could empathize, I could look at a rosary as not quite a sinful thing, but not quite something I would ever want to do either. I felt frustrated when she explained through though, saying the creed, an Our Father, three Hail Mary’s, an Our Father, and then TEN Hail Mary’s??? “Isn’t that a bit excessive!” I thought. (while maintaining a polite smile) I could imagine maybe saying one Hail Mary and then ten Our Father’s, but it seemed like the “spirit” of it was all off!

I was nowhere near consciously considering becoming Catholic then, and I didn’t address that concern until I had zeroed in on the Catholic Church for other reasons. I’ll save the narrative for the thoughts I went through then for another post, but for the moment I’ll just step back and note that the Marian “issues” were a hindrance for me just as I imagine they are for many others. It’s a good exercise for me to realize how far I’ve come. To confess (and give away a bit of the ending), I’m amazed at how differently I feel about Mary, now. I love praying the rosary, and have even been known to pray to Mary as I go about my day.

In this post I’ve tried to describe some of the initial theological questions that I pondered before I ever consciously considered Catholicism. Later events would force me to confront Marian doctrines in a more serious manner. Later still would come a significant increase in my own respect and love for the Blessed Virgin. My Protestant roots most definitely still come out sometimes, but rather than viewing Mary as a distraction from Christ I now understand how faithfully she points us to Him and recognize that a genuine growth in my relationship with Mary will only contribute to growth in my relationship with Christ. 

Blessed Virgin Mary Part II
Blessed Virgin Mary Part III
Blessed Virgin Mary Part IV