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September 29, 2000 Issue
Summoned to Serve

Mary: From murals to the Web

Interest in Blessed Mother increasing after some years of pondering


By Eileen Marx

Summoned to Serve

In 1996, a Marian web page was set up by the University of Dayton's Marian Library - the largest Marian library in the world. That high-tech event officially launched Mary into Cyberspace, and two years later, those at the library proudly declare that Mary's page receives more hits than any other web site at the University.

For almost 2,000 years, stories and studies of Mary have been presented by Gospel writers, popes, theologians, historians, liturgists, artists and everyday believers. From the pages of the Gospel to the pages of the World Wide Web, Mary continues to be a subject of study and interest.

After the Second Vatican Council, "there were several years, maybe even a decade of silence and a certain 'pondering over' the role of Mary within the church," said Marianist Fr. Bertrand Buby, a faculty member of the University of Dayton and author of a three-volume set, Mary of Galilee.

"Vatican II said some important things about Mary that we are only now rediscovering and understanding," said Fr. Buby. "Mary is regaining popularity because we are taking a more critical, historical and theological look at her through a scientific investigation of the Scriptures. Today, we know who Mary is on a much higher level and we can appreciate her role more deeply."

In the late eighties, Fr. Buby began a scholarly study of Mary through the Scriptures. "The primary foundations for any study of Mary are found in the New Testament, and what the Gospel writers have given us are not quantity references, but quality references to Mary. They are priceless gems that help us to see Mary as a person focused directly on Christ and a woman deeply connected to the life of the church from its beginning."

In Mary of Galilee, Volume 1: Mary in the New Testament, Fr. Buby writes, "Mary, the mother of the Lord, is primarily a believer who has been with Jesus from his conception, to his birth, his infancy, childhood, and manhood. She continues as a believer after his death and is present when Jesus's promise of the Spirit is given at Pentecost. There is no one person who ever had such a close relationship with Jesus in all of these stages of his life and that of his church."

For many, Mary's human and divine connection to Jesus as a mother and disciple is why she remains so popular. But today's interest in Mary has a different focus from that of years past.

"For today's young people, there is a very different exposure to Mary than when I was young," said Marianist Fr. Patrick Tonry, former director of the Marian Institute at the University of Dayton. "Their faith is not driven by visits to shrines, novenas, praying the rosary and pious devotions. Instead, they concentrate on a young woman who was filled with faith, courage, freedom and openness. She represents a special path to understanding God because she was an earthly mother who said yes and accepted God's will."

Fr. Buby agreed. "I believe Jesus learned how to say 'yes' to God from his mother."

Mary often is viewed as someone who is more popular with women than with men.

"In my experience with the students I teach, I would say that Mary is equally popular with women and men," said Fr. Buby. "For women, Mary has always been strong within the Catholic tradition. Devotion to Mary has been passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter through the generations. But men have an equal respect for Mary. They also identify with Mary's human side. They see her as mother, sister and friend."

Fr. Tonry, who now serves as co-pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Eldersburg, Md., and leads a prayer group of young adults, agrees.

"Men and women alike respond to Mary's humanity and warmth. We can more easily identify with someone who is human accepting a divine plan from God."

"But Mary not only brings truth, goodness and humanity to the Church, Mary also brings in the beautiful," said Fr. Buby. "In the ways of aesthetics or beauty - through art, music, sculpture - Mary's intimate presence in the church is also expressed."

One of the ways this art is expressed is through the different cultural images of Mary such as Czestochowa's Black Madonna, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, and countless other cultural devotions.

"These cultural images of Mary have tremendous influence among the people," Fr. Buby said. "It's important to recognize that these images are more than cultural or popular representations; they lead people to a deeper meaning and a greater spiritual understanding."

Both priests say that recent Marian apparitions have contributed to a growing curiosity about Mary.

"Some of these are authentic apparitions approved by the church," said Fr. Buby. "But there are others that are overly dramatic and overly pious. In an authentic apparition, there shouldn't be threats and feelings of apprehension. A true apparition would repeat the message of Mary, 'Do whatever Jesus tells you.' An authentic apparition should include a call to conversion and a building up the reign of God."

The attention Mary has received in the media is not enough to educate people about the role of Mary in Christian life.

"When it comes to Mary, we need to do more work with our younger people," said Fr. Tonry. "Mary can be a very relevant role model in their lives, leading them closer to God. But we have to get better at unveiling Mary as a faith-filled woman of courage, humility and openness to God."

Next: The Word on Screen



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