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Monday, August 09, 2010

Because We Said So

Here's a topic I would appreciate you discussing: papal infallibility. I am a Catholic convert, and for a long time, this was on my list of reasons I couldn't be Catholic. Then, eventually, I learned that papal infallibility had only really been invoked a couple of times, which made me feel better; it wasn't like the Pope was prone to ego-tripping statements of infallibility just to show he was the Boss. Then I learned that the two times since Vatican I that papal infallibility had been invoked had to do with the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. Hmm.If believing that Mary was conceived without sin and assumed bodily into heaven help you grow closer to God, well, I'm not going to be one to debunk. And that was the attitude I brought into the Church when I converted. Personally, I would think that if Mary was born without sin and was assumed into heaven, those sorts of details might have worked their way into the writings of the earliest Church. I have to say, I have trouble buying in to those two tenets of the Faith, and the fact that the Pope spoke infallibly in their favor doesn't so much elevate those doctrines in stature as it does lessen the papacy a little for me. It just seems to much like a father being questioned why something is so and replying "Because I said so," only because he knows he doesn't have a good answer. And the louder Dad says that, the more you know he's on weak ground.But I'm sure I'm missing something here.

We're so glad you've converted. We hope you can have a little talk with Anne Rice in the hope of bringing her back (again). Of course her issues are a little different.

I digress.

I digress for a reason. It's very difficult to answer your question because, to me, and I think to many Catholics, they are in a sense questions of the heart. The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary into Heaven have always been with us as a part of what we call 'Sacred Tradition", long before any Pope made any Ex Cathedra pronouncements. For cradle Catholics these beliefs have been with us long, we just don't worry think much about where they came from. It's just something you know, sort of like when a baby figures out the if he crawls off the end of the table he'll land hard on the floor. Most babies actually become aware of that without having to have a painful lesson. Understanding that when the ball rolls behind the couch it hasn't ceased to exist, or that air won't hold you up is part of natural cognitive development.

And yet, we have airplanes.

Have I digressed again?

Papal Infallibility in a nutshell: You're playing Scrabble with the Pope and he throws down the word "blotsnefad". Does he win because he's infallible and can make anything true that he wants to be true? No. The Pope is only infallible when he speaks on matters of Dogma and only when he speaks on them "Ex Cathedra" which means, "from the Throne".

Jesus gave His Church to Peter and Papal succession goes all the way back to that moment. Jesus won't let the Pope go wrong.

It seems like we've always known that the ball doesn't cease to exist when it rolls behind the couch, but we didn't always know that.

I think that part of the reason the Separated Brethren have issues with Mary Dogma, is that they don't care much for Mary in general, so they pay no attention to what Mary herself has told us. I'm thinking they don't think Mary has spoken to anyone.

Which is entirely understandable, given Mary in the toast and Mary as a lump of melted chocolate and Mary underneath the freeway made of oil and goo. Trust me, Holy Mother Church isn't too thrilled with all of that, either. Still, we don't want to stand in the way of anything that helps bring people to Jesus.

Which is Mary's job. It's all she ever talks about when she visits.

It's how she introduces herself that is of interest to this discussion.

I'll refer you to a couple of important instances where Mary has appeared and validated that she is the Immaculate Conception.

The Real Deal. Important to note here, is that Mary showed Catherine a vision of how the medal should look and the words "Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee" are therefore Mary's words, not Catherine's.

Emergency Lourdes Water. Important to note here is what a dim bulb poor little Bernadette really was. She was literally dirt poor, living in a hut with practically no education except for the nuns trying to prepare her for her First Holy Communion and that wasn't going well at all. Bernadette was very sickly and missed out on a lot of lessons and could never remember her Catechism. So when the bishop asked Bernadette to find out who this lady was and Bernadette heard the lady's answer, it may as well have been "Blotsnefad" to Bernadette. It was so baffling and nonsensical to her that she said it over and over again from the grotto to the bishop's door. "I Am the Immaculate Conception."

Even more important to note, for you, dear reader, is that not only had Bernadette never heard these words in her life, she also had no knowledge that the Pope had just declared the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception four years before Bernadette's encounters with the Lady.

So Mary actually validates Papal Infallibility during her visit to Bernadette. It wasn't the reason for her trip. She was trying, as always, to bring people to Jesus. In an effort to boost belief, Mary left a healing spring.

But these two things are beliefs that the Church has always held. "Sacred Tradition."

There are quite a few beliefs that fall into this category. That Joseph was an older man who died before Jesus began his ministry. That Mary's parents were named Joachim and Anne.

The Church has always believed that Mary was conceived without sin and the she was assumed into heaven. The Pope just finally made it official. It didn't come out of thin air.

You will fall if you walk off a building, because gravity will pull you earthward.

Mary was conceived without sin because she was to be the mother of Jesus and she couldn't pass Original Sin onto Him.

Sacred Tradition tells us that the disciples were with Mary when she died and that her body disappeared. We have John the Baptist's head and the body of St. Peter. We have nothing of Mary. Nothing. Since she was conceived without sin, she could be assumed bodily into heaven.

She actually didn't even have to die, but she did in deference to Jesus, who died. She can't outdo Jesus by not dying.

In any case, we're actually not dealing with "because I said so" here. We're dealing with "because we've believed these things since the Church was born and because Mary said so and the Pope who protects the Church through Jesus said so and because it actually makes theological sense."

Although, don't write off poor Dad when he says, "because I said so." Sometimes there just isn't time to explain that you're about to fall off the table.


just evelyn said...

There's actually a great modern scientific discovery that supports Mary's bodily assumption--stem cell researchers learned a few years ago that mothers retain in their own bodies, cells which belong to their children. The cells have all the kids' dna, not just mom's half. I guess they migrate over during pregnancy. Anyway, if Mary had actual cells of Jesus in her body her whole life, she couldn't just die and rot in a tomb!

abishag said...

Sister, thank you for this well thought-out post. As a convert there are some things I struggle with as well, but not enough to have kept me from converting. Incidentally, Mary is one of the big reasons I made the switch and I never had an issue with her Assumption once I learned of it.

For the other small things I struggle with from day to day, I bear in mind what my priest says - that the opposite of "faith" is not "doubt". It does not make me a failure as a catholic when I doubt - it just means that I need to work harder at understanding. I remember how long it took me to understand geometry, for instance, until one moment it all became clear.

abandonedsouls said...

as a long ago converted Catholic whose father thought she was joining a cult, you have brought smiles to my lips and tears to my eyes. thank you for this. i read and never comment, but for Mary, i will.

MaryMartha said...

Sister, I am not Catholic but love your blog and appreciate this clear explanation of beliefs about Mary.

Abishag, I agree that the opposite of faith is NOT doubt. How about sight? "The just walk by faith and not sight."

Michael said...

Hi, Sister Mary Martha. I really love your blog.

I too am a convert to the Church, which I'm very happy about, easily the best decision of my life, and I have a question similar to the one you address in this post.

Could you please explain the doctrine of the Real Presence? I once asked a priest about it, but he just got mad, and I stopped talking about it. How can the wafer and wine become the real body and blood when they still look like bread and wine? Do they mean spiritually? In which case, using the word real doesn't seem right.

Thanks for helping me with this.

slimsdotter said...

There is a book called "Our Lady of the Lost and Found" by Diane Schoemperlen. It's a novel about the Blessed Virgin showing up in someone's livingroom because she wanted a vacation for a week. It's not written by a Catholic but it sure has a lot of information about Her and also about some shrines and appearances. I learned a lot, for $0.25 at a book sale.

cathmom5 said...

Wow, what a wonderful way of explaining infallibility and those Marian dogmas. I've struggle as to how to explain it to my mother. This is a great example.

I, too, am a convert. It was very hard for my mother at first, too. BV Mary and the saints are a major stumbling block to protestants. Prejudices against Marian doctrines and dogmas can be hard to get over.

Thank you so much for the clear and spot on explanation.
God Bless.

Donna. W said...

I'm not Catholic, but I sure do envy Catholics their ideas about Mary. Because as a woman, I'd love to talk to her about things that only another woman could understand.

Rebekka said...

Donna, just go ahead and talk to her anyway. She won't mind.

Anonymous said...

Donna, you don't need to be Catholic to speak to Mary. Just talk to her, she'll listen who ever you are.


Anonymous said...

Sister, what about the concept of dormition? My understanding is that Mary did not actually die, but entered a phase of something like sleep, and was then assumed bodily into heaven. Can you help to clear this up?

BTW, I am a convert also.

Kristi said...

I'm a convert too. I don't know why people get so upset about hearing that Mary was conceived without Original Sin.....Adam and Eve were created without it....why does it seem so impossible that God couldnt do it again?

I really love your explanation of papal infallibility. I will be posting it to my pope blog.

Mary Bennett said...

As I've always understood, the New Testament is about Jesus and His teachings, and the Early Church. Mary wasn't a preacher, priest etc so although she is important, she is not the story of the early Church, which is why, imo, there isn't anything written about her being conceived without sin or her assumption into heaven. But both make perfect sense to me!!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (a few posts back) raises a legitimate question. The church does not actually teach that Mary died. In its teaching on the Dogma of the Assumption, in fact, it uses the nebulous phrase, "At the end of her earthly life..." So, the jury is still out on that one. Maybe this pope or the next one will declare one way or the other and settle the question. I hope not. It's a great teaching tool for me to use with my middle school class, to explain infallability, Marian dogmas, and most importantly - waiting for a decision and keeping your heart ready to accept it. Personally, I think that Mary did not die - because death is a punishment for sin. While Jesus took on the sins of the world, Mary did not - nor could she - take our sins upon herself. So it's not really a case of her not wanting to outdo Jesus, who did die. Heck - she already had one up on Him when she gave birth, didn't she?? I'm just sayin'...
So, dear Sister Mary Martha, I think you're guilty of making up stuff again - or at least repeating something that some other sister made up.

Janny said...


"There is a book called "Our Lady of the Lost and Found" by Diane Schoemperlen. It's a novel about the Blessed Virgin showing up in someone's livingroom because she wanted a vacation for a week..."

You may have "learned a lot" from this book about shrines and whatnot, but check what you learned against reliable sources. Novelists are notorious for taking off with half-truths about Catholicism, especially about Mary, and thereby succeeding in leading people even FARTHER astray than they already are.

I started to read this book for fun, thinking it would be whimsical and uplifting, but was so taken aback by the author's idea that Mary could "get tired" and "need a vacation" that I put the thing aside. The way she portrayed Mary wasn't exactly heresy, but it wasn't far away from it, either.

There are hundreds of wonderful sources and stories about Mary that are just as entertaining as this little piece of nonsense tried to be. If you're looking for information about the Virgin Mary, better you go to them than to this cheap shot at Our Lady.

My take,