Mary, Our Sister

In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, Mary the Mother of Jesus has a place of prominence among the saints. Throughout the liturgical year of the Western Church, we celebrate her conception, birth, presentation, annunciation, visitation, motherhood, sorrow, immaculate heart, assumption into and queenship in heaven, and her intercessory power through the rosary; we commemorate her many apparitions throughout history in Lourdes, Fatima, Mount Carmel, and Guadalupe. In all, there are more than 17 feasts and memorials, two months of popular devotions, and countless prayers and novenas devoted to Mary throughout the year.

That’s a lot of face time.

For many Protestants, and even a few Catholics like myself, this can be the source of a bit of heartburn. With the amount of time we devote to her and the elaborate statements we say about her, Mary the “Mother of all” becomes less like us—someone who shared in our experience and so offers us a path to follow—and more for us—a being of heavenly origin with special power and authority to act on our behalf. The existence of the “Co-Redemptrix” movement (the controversial, yet unofficial, idea that Mary was essential to the salvific actions of Jesus), the title of Queen (the complimentary title to that of King, the position held by God), and the replacement of female deities in native religions with the image of Mary, only heightens the concern. As a result, many like myself revere Mary and acknowledge her significance, but do not really have the “high mariology” that is so popular in our Church.

For me the issue comes down to something very simple: I already have a mother. I’m glad that Jesus had a mother, and I think anyone who gave birth and raised our Lord and Savior is worthy of respect, but I don’t need her to be everyone’s mother. I need her to be Jesus’ mother.

Which is why, I think, my devotion to Mary has grown of the past few years in the season of Advent. Before Mary was seen as the mother of all, before the countless devotions of Mary spread throughout the world, before she was crowned the Queen of heaven, before statues, shrines, effigies, and paintings were constructed in her honor, even before she gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God, Mary was a little girl with a call:

The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

There she was, a little girl from a small, insignificant town—a nobody—and through an angel, God was asking her to take part in something beyond her ability or comprehension. “How can this be?”

Like any of us in that situation, Mary was unsure. Like any of us, Mary was afraid. Like any of us, Mary sought wisdom and refuge with family and friends. In remembering her annunciation and visitation, Mary is not the exalted Mother from on high that we so often celebrate today, she was simply a faithful member of a community trying to find her way through the normal difficulties of life. At least in the way she understood herself at the time, she was just someone like everyone else, faced with a big task.

Thus, it is in this season of Advent as we await the coming of our Lord, that a different title for Mary comes alive for me: sister. In these four weeks, Mary is not a queen on her throne to be revered and looked up to, she is a peer to be walked with and inspired by, an equal with gifts and flaws and idiosyncrasies. While the image of “mother” is usually one of reverence or submission, the image of “sister” is a bit more relatable: friendship, rivalry, maybe even conflict. We are reminded in this that her experience is so very much like our own, that what she did in the most significant and literal of way—carrying and making God present in history—we are also supposed to do in our own lives. We are reminded that saying yes to God is not always an easy or safe task, but it can be done. It should be done.

Mary, our sister, shows us so.

That is the Mary that I remember in Advent. That is the Mary that I have a great devotion to. Maybe, like me, the amount of attention the Church gives to her and the elaborate statements it says about her make you feel uncomfortable. That’s okay. Praying the rosary and having a regular devotion to the “Blessed Mother” are great acts of piety, for sure, but they’re not things for everyone’s spirituality. But just because you don’t have that spirituality or are called to those devotions doesn’t mean that Mary can’t be important to you.

We may not need another mother, but we can always use another sister, friend, or inspiration to help us get to who really matters: her son. I can’t think of a better person to have in our lives in Advent.

23 Comments on “Mary, Our Sister

  1. Thanks for you message. I’m with you.. I look to Mary as the mother of Jesus, and certainly honor her and hold her in high esteem.. I also like to see Mary as our sister, who was called to serve the Lord God, as bearer of the Word, and answered God’s call to become the handmaiden of the Lord. We are called to be bearers of God’s Word to our communities and to the world. Let us look to our sister Mary, that we might learn how to respond as she, and become faithful bearers of God’s Word.

  2. Beautiful reflection. I’m another Catholic who doesn’t dwell much on Mary’s sinlessness or think of Mary as mother. I don’t deny it, but I can never be sinless. Dwelling in her sinlessness makes me feel guilty and helpless. Instead, I am moved by Mary’s yes to God. She was a girl with a lot of courage and became a great disciple. Mary teaches me that great things can happen if I say yes to God. My desktop background is an image from a 13th c. manuscript of Mary punching the devil. I think it’s cool how an act of obedience to God can make such a huge difference in the world! Mary is a powerful woman to me. Peace.

  3. Thank you for this interesting viewpoint, Friar Casey. I sometimes think that Mary would be embarrassed with all the attention and devotion. Her whole life was all about pointing to Jesus. I love this aspect of Mary. She was the first and most faithful disciple. I also love the fact that she stayed with the other disciples to give them courage and encouragement after the crucifixion. I do tend to see her as a mother figure though. I wonder if John’s mother was still alive or had passed, when Jesus asked him to take Mary as his mother. ‘From that day forward, the disciple made a place for her in his own home’.

  4. My two cents: God is mistery and having a relationship with God, i.e. Prayer, is one of the most challenging things to do. If devotion to Mary helps ordinary people to have a closer relationship with God, who are we to judge that position? If the fruits of that devotion is a life lived in holiness, what kind of theoretical explanation can convince me to not focus on what matters? I’m no saint, no theologian but the testimony of saints for centuries and those I’ve met through my short time on earth who have devoted their lives to follow Christ example through a relationship with Mary tells me otherwise.
    But I do agree, each one should use whatever method, devotion or practice leads him/her yo be closer to God. And the measure will be a life lived in holiness.

  5. I believe the Dominican’s and the Jesuits might argue differently.
    After the founding of the Society of Jesus the confratetnities were thriving and there arose a sister movement known as the Sodality of our Lady in honor of our Virgin Mother which The Jesuits supported.
    Around 1208 three Holy angels appeared with the Virgin Mary to St. Dominic and she informed him that the Ave Maria would give him his preaching power and gave him what I understand was the construction for the rosary.
    Our Seraphic Father Francis called Her the ” Protectress” and mother of the Order.
    I can see the nativity Mary being our younger, acne faced, rough hand, scared, soiled clothing and tired sister but Mary Is the mother of God which assumed into heaven.
    The Church elevated Her to Virgin Mother, Queen, we pray the Hail Mary ( which starts with an Angelic Salutation) and nothing as beautiful as the Salve Regina ( Hail Holy Queen).
    Mary is the intermediary and Mediatrix of our Salvation for without the Virgin Mary neither Christ or His saving mysteries would exist. Salvation came into this earth through Her.
    Through Her we have the power to overcome errors, vice and heresies.
    She’s too powerful to be seen as an equal in my eyes, could be my Marian devotion over emphasizing.
    On a light note, I can’t see my sisters doing that.
    Joy to all this Advent season!

    • Great job Friar Casey. I converted to Catholicism more than 40 years ago and have always had great respect for the devotion that many have for the Blessed Mother. I too have great respect for her and often pray to her. Your words, however, better describe how I have always felt about her than anything I have ever been able to verbalize. I thought it was just my Protestant upbringing. Thank you.

  6. Dear Br.Casey..

    I came across your blog recently and have been following it closely since…what you do is exemplary,praise be to Lord Jesus….

    While I was reading through your advent post on Mary,I thought I should write to you…
    I’m someone from eastern theology,Syro Malabar rite…just as in western liturgy,eastern liturgy also adore and revere Mary as the Mother of God and lovingly adorn with Her many titles..And since the love for Mary as Mother have been handed down from an apostle himself,so the tradition says,I find it difficult to place Mary in any other position than my mother…It might be because I’d been taught to consider so by my own mother…

    The point you made through the post is interesting and can be used in ones personal spiritual journey…but I found some sentences hard to pass by without commenting.(I am in no way worthy of giving you a guidance,but please take it as a humble suggestion from a brother of ur peer age).

    That when you said”I don’t need her to be everyone’s mother.I need her to be Jesus’ mother.”
    My doubt is this,
    Is it according to our presumed need that God saved us by becoming man and dying for our sins?If it were up to us,we would have wallowed in sin all the more..never forsaking the pleasure that sin offers..
    Mary was instrumental in our salvation history and He had her in mind from the start of His masterplan…I think you agree to that..Or so the bible says,right?

    When God made enmity between Her and Serpent,He had Her in mind,right?
    When God spoke to Zechariah through Gabriel and told Him that his son will be filled with Holy Spirit while even in womb,He had Mary visiting Elizabeth in mind,right?
    And when John sees the arc of the covenant in revelation and compare it to the woman clothed in Sun,it was She He was referring to,wasn’t He?
    And all her titles have been attributed to her either in reference to Bible or in accordance with tradition.

    Pope John Paul 2 in redemptoris mater says..,
    (As a result she is also the favorite daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace, she far surpasses all other creatures, both in heaven and on earth.”23

    Thus teach the Fathers of the Church and especially St. Irenaeus, quoted by the Constitution Lumen Gentium: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.”41 In the light of this comparison with Eve, the Fathers of the Church-as the Council also says-call Mary the “mother of the liing” and often speak of “death through Eve, life through Mary.”42

    The Mother of Christ, who stands at the very center of this mystery-a mystery which embraces each individual and all humanity-is given as mother to every single individual and all mankind. The man at the foot of the Cross is John, “the disciple whom he loved.”47 But it is not he alone. Following tradition, the Council does not hesitate to call Mary “the Mother of Christ and mother of mankind”: since she “belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all human beings…. Indeed she is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ…since she cooperated out of love so that there might be born in the Church the faithful.'”48)

    If God wanted Mary to be our Mother,and Have constantly made it known to humanity (Church fathers,Saints,Popes throughout the ages),
    Who would be the losers if we ,at times,stubbornly refuse to consider her so?

    And to quote one of the best evangelists of our time and that too from your nation,Bishop Sheen,”It is a terrible thing for men not to know their father,but It is even more terrible not to know their Heavenly Mother.And the greatest complement that can be paid to a true Christian is,’You took after your Father’s side in grace,but in your humility,you took after your Mother’s side’.”(Worlds first love,chap:the virgin mother)

    Before winding up,I request you to go through Sheens world’s first love and jp2’s encyclical..
    Lets keep other in prayer.
    Please pardon me if I was impertinent.

    Love and prayers,

    • Mathews,
      I think I have enjoyed (and learned from) reading your comment more than the post to which it is directed. Partly because of the knowledge which it imparts and partly because of the humility in which it was wrapped.

      Though I have nothing sunstantial to add to your comment, I also had a hard time getting
      through this article at certain sentences.

    • Mathews,
      What beautiful writing!
      With your humility you’ve touched the essence of thy Mother.
      I just finished reading my evening prayers on this day of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and would like to share the Intercessions from the Breviary with you and others;
      O God worker of miracles, you made the immaculate Virgin Mary share, body and soul, in your Son’s glory in heaven.
      —- direct the hearts of your children to that same glory.
      You made Mary our mother. Through her intercession grant strength to the weak, comfort to the sorrowing, pardon to sinners.
      To quote St. Anthony Mary Claret,
      ” Let victory be thine, O Mother.”
      May our Lord give you His peace.

  7. Very good Casey. You’re in good company. As you doubtless know, Pope Paul VI wrote a pastoral letter about Mary where he called her “Truly our Sister”. And Elizabeth Johnson wrote a great book about Mary with the same title.
    Joe Nangle

  8. Dear Friar Casey,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments on Mary. How beautiful it is to meditate on Mary’s motherhood to Jesus. Your description was superb.

    I too agree that I believe the humble girl who said “yes” would be embarrassed by all the pageantry, etc. and would just say, “Do whatever He tells you.” Her simplicity and humble trust are what I love most about Mary. She is a model for one to give up worrying and trust in God.

    Pax et Bonum,
    Janice Mary, OFS

  9. I love the view you have put forward as I often find I have zero devotion to Mary as a queen; I am much more drawn to her power as a humble follower of God, someone we can try to emulate. Her power lies in her insightfulness which we can share in prayer with her. Your piece is really refreshing and I love the idea of having Mary as a sister in Christ.

    Thanks, Brother.

  10. I teach Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to 6 year olds. Today I presented the Annunciation to them and together we wondered about Who this baby was that Mary going to have. After reading the angel’s words to Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end,” one of the children shouted out, “He’s a king!” We talked for a while about what kind of a king Jesus would be. Then one little girl, who looked very concerned, asked me how Jesus could be a king if Mary wasn’t a queen. I asked them why they thought Mary was chosen by God. What was so special about her? We talked about how much she must of loved God and loved others. When I told them that the Catholic Church calls Mary, Queen of the Universe, they got very excited! So I guess some need a sister, some need a mother, and some need a queen. How blessed we are to belong to a Church that allows all of these titles for Mary!

    • Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing. Kids can be great and I appreciate your ministry to them and am glad that they can minister to you in return as well! I think the explanation you give is great for children, but I’m also hesitant with it. Jesus is a King not because he is like other Kings (because his mom is a queen) but in his own right. She is holy and a queen because of him, not the other way around. Just a subtle point we want to be careful of. Peace and good!

  11. Hi Friar Casey,

    I appreciate you taking the time to put your thoughts into words. You know me, and my devotion to Mary as Mother of God, so after I read your blog I wanted to reply. I have to say, honestly, I feel saddened at your post. That may seem to be an unusual reaction but I feel there are so many who are missing out on a beautiful devotion to Mary as our Mother, Our Mother of Perpetual Help. I feel like calling her “sister” is a step down from who Jesus would want her to be for us. She is not on the level of God, nor God’s Only Son Jesus, and neither does she want to be but in many apparitions, she calls us her children and says, “I am your mother.” In Revelation 12:17, it says “And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children–all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.” Isn’t that you? Isn’t that me? We do our best to keep God’s commandments.

    What changed me in my life, from my ignorance of being a Cradle Catholic who really knew nothing growing up and brought me back to the Catholic Church and all of it’s fullness, was Mary, the Mother of Jesus. As I contemplated her as the one and only woman, the mother, whose Son had to suffer in the way Jesus did, because I am a mother of several sons I could relate in a very small way to what she did for us. I thought of her along the Way of the Cross, Via Dolorosa; her soul pierced so greatly as she watched Jesus suffer – an innocent victim. He was bruised, beaten, mocked and spat upon, half dead when they brutally nailed him to the cross and she not only had to allow it to happen, she stayed with Him as any mother would do. The Bible tells us that from the Cross, Jesus gave her to us. I believe Jesus was using John as the representative of all of us. He said, “Woman, behold your son” and “John, (Casey) here is your mother.”

    You are right, Mary was a little girl but when Jesus died, she was a grown woman who stood silently at the foot of the cross because, as the Virgin Mother of God, she knew God’s other children (us) needed it to be this way in order for us to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

    You said you don’t need another mother and I can understand why you would say that. Your mom is great! She’s my sister and I think she’s great too but not everyone can say that about their mother. Many, many women are terrible mothers and we all need a loving Mother. You are very blessed to look at your mother and know she has always put your needs ahead of hers. Your mother loves you as you are but there are too many women who are not good mothers. Many drink, some abuse, some are not faithful to their husbands, and millions abort and the list goes on. Everyone needs a mother such as Mary, the Mother of God. I really believe when Jesus said, “John, behold your Mother” he was saying to me, “Mary, behold your Mother. Welcome her into your home – i.e., your heart.”

    To end on a lighter note, if Mary is your sister; does that make you Jesus’ uncle?

    You remain in our prayers,
    Aunt Mary

    • Thanks for your response. I’m sorry that this post has saddened you, as I know that it does not speak to your spirituality. That being said, it is an important aspect of our spirituality of Mary and does not need to be in contradiction to “higher” mariologies. I think anything that brings people to a greater faith in Jesus Christ, God incarnate and our Lord and Savior, is a good thing. Sometimes, though, Mary is elevated to equal (or God forbid, greater) status to Jesus (something that is done consciously and unconsciously, and quite often), and this makes me tremendously uncomfortable. Sometimes, as was the purpose of this post, it’s important to remind people that what makes Mary important is not who SHE was, but who she pointed TO. Mary is no doubt an incredibly significant person, someone worth a lot of attention from us, but she is not equal to Jesus, not necessary (in the ultimate sense) to our salvation, and not someone who can offer us anything on her own will or merit.

      Thanks for your prayers! They are definitely needed this year!


  12. Hi, Friar. When the Angel first appeared to Mary and called her “Full of Grace,” she didn’t answer or respond to him. She was troubled by the salutation. It sounds like she was testing the spirits — like such a title was a temptation from the evil one. After all, it would be a matter of pride to think of yourself as perfectly without sin, no? But she pondered his greeting — using prayerful discernment, she didn’t accept the message immediately, she consulted her God in silence. Then when the Angel told her she would be mother to the Messiah, she came right out and asked the question that tested the spirit — again, she didn’t accept the message immediately, she discerned. Her response, “Let it be done to me according to your word. I am the handmaid of the Lord,” was another test of the spirit, and an indication of being perfectly aligned with the will of God. If the message was from God, then there was no fighting it — if He wills it to happen, it will happen. But she did have the choice, and she made the choice under full disclosure, knowing that when she called Him to the public ministry, she would set in motion the path to His suffering and death for our sake. She wasn’t uncertain, but she did suffer with us and for us, and she did so knowingly, with perfect trust that God fulfilled His promises to her. It’s not about the nature of Mary, but about the nature of God — He wouldn’t ask someone to do all that on blind faith.

  13. Casey,

    I’ve been following you since you entered as a postulant. I’m amazed that you are able to do so much and still maintain your studies which I know are difficult. God bless you.

    I think you chose the right community or order. The Franciscan life is totally unpretentious starting with the habit. Your habit is brown and plain which is totally consistent with Franciscan life. I think there is something pretentious about white habits except when they are worn in the tropics where they are almost a necessity. For some reason, black is not particularly appealing for a religious either. I guess I’ve been too close to the Franciscans for too long. My first exposure was in my home parish in Detroit about seventy years ago.

    Keep at it. You’ll have a great life.

    Emil Gies Brookline, MA

    On Sat, Nov 26, 2016 at 4:42 PM, Breaking In The Habit wrote:

    > friarcasey posted: “In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, Mary the Mother > of Jesus has a place of prominence among the saints. Throughout the > liturgical year of the Western Church, we celebrate her conception, birth, > presentation, annunciation, visitation, motherhood, sorro” >

  14. Dear Father Casey,
    What do you mean when you say that “Mary is […] is a peer to be walked with and inspired by, an equal with gifts and flaws and idiosyncrasies”? Can this be said while still holding to the Church’s teaching that Mary was conceived immaculately and lived her whole life without sin?

    Father, it doesn’t make much sense to me when you say that you already have a mother so you do not need Mary to be your mother. We all have fathers too, but does that mean we do not need God to be our heavenly Father? And why would you need Mary as a sister, when you already have sisters?

    Father, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught in Lumen gentium what I think you would describe as “high Mariology”, and they did not discuss Mary as our sister. It is true that she is our sister, as all the members of the Church militant, suffering and triumphant are our brothers and sisters in Christ. By the same token, all of the saints are our brothers and sisters. Mary is the only one among the saints whom Christ gave to us to be our mother, so why would we want to reduce her role, when God has elevated her so highly?

    • While that might be the case, I do no long for nor desire a mother and is the reason why I am not Catholic. But I do long for and desire a sister that I have never had … if the Church had a theology surrounding her as a sister for me, I might consider rejoining … doubtful long shot, but I would at least consider her my sister if I thought it was biblical to do so.

      • We all have many brothers and sisters in Christ. John’s earthly mother was also standing at the foot of the cross as confirmed in Matthew 27:55-56. Why would Jesus say to John, from the Cross, “Behold your Mother” – with John’s earthly mother standing right there – if not for a special reason? Revelation 12 also speaks of Mary as our Mother when it says “then the furious dragon set out to attack the rest of ‘her children‘ – all who were keeping God‘s Commandments and confessing that they belong to Jesus.” Nowhere in the Bible is Mary’s motherhood referred to as sisterhood. She is our perfect, Holy and spiritual Mother. We are all “brothers and sisters” in Christ and Mary is the Mother Jesus gave to us from the Cross.

      • Thank you for the reply; but I don’t want many sisters and many brothers. I want one sister that I can call my own and that I can share my deepest heart with who has her own unique story. I’ve tried to obtain such a sister from my sister in laws or other friends. I have learned I cannot ask just anyone to be my sister (I have a wife by the way, I’m looking for completely platonic). I have learned that’s not a burden I can put on anyone else, it is unfair to them. It’s not a role that can be taken on lightly.

        Where else would I turn to? Like I said, if Holy Catholic church had a theology of Mary as our sister – I’d be willing to consider her. I don’t need a mother; I had a great and satisfying mother who has gone on to glory. I miss her terribly, but that is not the hole in my heart. It is longing for one particular sister whoever she is and it’s sad that the Catholic Church cannot make room for Mary Our Sister … but seeing the Bible as you’ve rightly pointed out has no other theology, I must live the Christian life with that hole in my heart. So I remain Baptist.

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