On my journey into the Catholic Church, Mary was a real problem for me for a while. Even after I realized that Catholics do not worship her as a goddess, I could not get past the idea that she was still a distraction from Christ, too highly elevated. I remember asking my friend (who would later be my confirmation sponsor) if she honestly talked to Mary and had a relationship with her, and she answered that yes, she did. It was so strange to me, and so uncomfortable. After struggling with this for months, another friend pointed out that I could actually be Catholic and never talk to or about Mary. I hadn’t even considered that. I put her behind me and moved on to other questions, and by the time I knew I was meant to be Catholic, I found I had grown into a more proper understanding of her role. I think the real key was realizing that she was not someone long dead, but, as all the saints in Heaven, she is more alive than we are. We never pray to the dead, but to the living Church Triumphant (read C.S.Lewis’s Great Divorce for a wonderful imaginative depiction of the “more alive-ness” of Heaven.) A trusted priest (who later married us) compared talking to her to being around a family dinner table. You wouldn’t sit down to dinner with the King and find it odd to speak to the Queen Mother.
Over my past 19 years in the Catholic Church, my understanding of Mary has deepened. She is so far from a distraction - she is always leading me, pulling me, carrying me, towards her Son. When Jesus from the Cross said to John, “Behold your Mother,” she became a mother to all of us. She is truly His gift to us, a merciful mother who pleads our case and prays with us and for us. Just as I would ask my friends and family on earth for prayers, I ask my heavenly Mother and the saints.
When I envision Mother Mary, I do not see her as powdered and rosy, hands in prayer and eyes uplifted. I have never been a fan of the sort of paintings that seem to depict her as simpering and saccharine, unrelatable and unknowable and almost inhuman. I love that Juan Diego saw her as an Aztec princess. I see her as a Japanese Empress, incomparably beautiful, alive and as full of joy as she was when she visited Elizabeth, running, taking my hand and pulling me along, laughing. I see her as a mighty African warrior Queen, serene and just, attired for battle, ready to go stomp on the head of Satan to protect her children. I see her as a first century Jewish mother, weeping over her Son’s suffering, righteously angry at those who framed Him, not because she didn’t trust in God’s ultimate plan, but because she was a human mother - not a goddess - and had human emotions. Of course, she was actually a first century Jewish woman, but because Jesus gave her to all of the world to be our mother, she belongs to every culture and race. She is strong, joyful, merciful, mighty, and wise.
The Church is sometimes accused of being misogynistic and undervaluing women, and although this has certainly been the case with various individuals within the Church, it has never been the case with the Church itself. It is a woman whom the Church reveres as the most venerable of human beings. She is not eclipsed behind St. Joseph, downtrodden, demure and fearfully quiet. She is bold yet respectful, questioning even an archangel when he comes to announce that she is chosen to bear Christ. It is she who, out of love for her fellow man, petitions her Son to begin his ministry at Cana and tells the servants with absolute assurance in her Son’s love, “Do whatever He tells you.” It is Mary who is clothed with the sun, crowned with twelve stars, given the wings of an eagle (Revelation 12). In the Akathist to the Theotokos, she is called “Champion Leader” and “one with might which is invincible.” It is she who bravely, selflessly accepts the incomprehensible task of bearing the Son of God and walking beside him as He suffers false accusation and death, never betraying or abandoning him.
How wonderful it would be if more women emulated the virtues & attributes we see in Mother Mary. We are created to be happy to be women, proud of our unique role as life-bearers, nurturers, and mothers (not necessarily biological); to be strong and capable warriors who are leading legions into battle, forming the souls of the army of God; to be assured that we are deserving of respect, from ourselves and from others; to be docile to the will of God, joyfully contemplative, actively compassionate, discerning with our speech, and truly loving rather than legalistic.
But Mary is not just an example to women; as Pope St. John Paul II says, “Mary teaches Christians to live their faith as a demanding and engaging journey, which, in every age and situation of life, requires courage and constant perseverance.” She is mother and example to us all.
"An archangel was sent from heaven to say to the Theotokos: Rejoice! And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he was amazed and with his bodiless voice he stood crying to her such things as these: Rejoice, Thou through whom joy will shine forth: Rejoice, Thou through whom the curse will cease! Rejoice, recall of fallen Adam: Rejoice, redemption of the tears of Eve! Rejoice, height inaccessible to human thoughts: Rejoice, depth undiscernible even for the eyes of angels! Rejoice, for Thou art the throne of the King: Rejoice, for Thou bearest Him Who beareth all! Rejoice, star that causest the Sun to appear: Rejoice, womb of the Divine Incarnation! Rejoice, Thou through whom creation is renewed: Rejoice, Thou through whom we worship the Creator! Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!"
- Akathist to the Theotokos, Ekos 1
Some articles for further reading on Mary...
on the equality of the spouses and what it means for a wife to be subject to her husband https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/wives-be-subject-to-your-husbands)
on Mary crushing the head of Satan:
Pope St. John Paul II on Mary