I remember with fondness the time I asked my students at Beloit Catholic High to share their impressions of Mary. Some of their responses surprised and delighted me.
A girl wrote, "If I could be anyone else in the world, I would like to be Mary. Mary shows us how to live, regardless of circumstances."
A second girl added, "When I think of Mary, I see a beautiful young girl fully in love with God. I see her loving and caring for all with whom she came into contact."
From the male perspective, a boy wrote, "Mary is the mother of the church as well as the mother of all persons on earth. She is the symbol of peace, love, and joy!"
Words from Scripture
In Luke 1:41-43 at the Visitation, Elizabeth praises Mary, " . . . Most blessed are you among women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb!"
In the "Magnificat" which follows, Mary prayed, "Behold, from now on all generations shall call me blessed. For the Almighty has done great things for me."
These revealing words of Mary from Scripture are some of the reasons why for centuries the Catholic Church has honored Mary with the title of "Blessed Mother."
In Catholic hearts, Mary is blessed because God invited her through the angel Gabriel to become the mother of Jesus, our redeemer. In Luke 1:38, Mary responded to God's invitation by saying " . . . 'May it be done to me according to your Word.' Then the angel departed from her." By consenting to become the mother of Jesus, Mary helped to give billions of people the gift of Jesus.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, we celebrate the Good News that from the moment of her conception, Mary was free from original sin. This was a divine gift with which God blessed Mary. She did not earn or merit it.
God gave her the gift of the Immaculate Conception so that she could give a pure, spotless human nature to Jesus. Because of her graced goodness, poet William Wordsworth called Mary, "our tainted nature's solitary boast."
Model for Christians
Catholic spiritual writers tell us that Mary is who we would be if it were not for original sin. Because she magnified the Lord, Mary is the model of the perfect Christian disciple. She challenges us to imitate and to reflect her Son, Jesus.
Though we cannot approach her holiness, Jesus wants us to strive through the Spirit to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Mary reminds us that we are created to do God's will as she did. Like Mary, we are invited to give Jesus to others in our love for them.
Mother of the Church
We Catholics also honor Mary as the Mother of the Church. As our Blessed Mother, she watches over us, prays for us, and inspires us to be more like her Son.
Mary is also the patroness of Advent. She prepared herself for the birth of Jesus through prayer, worship, and patient waiting. We too can prepare ourselves for the celebration of the birth of Jesus by imitating the example of Mary.
As patroness of our country under the title of the Immaculate Conception, may Mary, the mother of the Prince of Peace, guide us in our journey towards peace in the coming year.
Like my zealous young students, may we continue to admire and imitate our Blessed Mother and strive to do God's will.
During the Advent season, may we receive the sacrament of reconciliation so that Jesus can dwell more fully in the crib of our hearts at Christmas. Doing so surely will help us to participate more fully in the Advent and Christmas Masses and services.
Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.
An exhibit called "Body Worlds" is currently touring the United States and generating some animated discussion in its wake.
It puts the human body on public display in various poses after the body has been filled with a kind of plastic preservative. The bodies are posed, for example, as a rider on a horse, where the body of the horse is also plasticized.
By removing skin and various layers of musculature to expose internal organs, it is possible to literally look inside the body and see its inner structure. In one exhibit, an expectant mother has been cross-sectioned to reveal her unborn child, while in another, a man has been peeled down to his musculature, and he carries his skin on his arm like an old raincoat.
The exhibit is billed as an educational exhibit, teaching people about the internal structure and organization of their own bodies.
As the director of the exhibit phrased it, "My aim is to illuminate and educate through the beautiful arrangement" of bodies.
Yet some people find the exhibit "edgy," causing more than a tinge of discomfort, and they wonder whether there aren't ethical concerns associated with putting the human body on display in this way.
One potential problem associated with such a display involves consent. In general, consent is very important and should be sought for organ or bodily donation. Informed consent seems to be a recurrent theme in regards to this exhibition, since some of the bodies which have been on display in the past may not have had convincing documentation of informed consent.
Several of the bodies may have originated from natural disasters in which the victims could not be identified. Hence, one can inquire whether all of the subjects really approved of their new "show business careers."
Other issues regarding consent are worthy of consideration as well. Obtaining valid informed consent may not really be possible when children or infants in utero are put on display, even though it is true that medical schools and museums have a rather long history of preserving human fetuses and embryos in formaldehyde for teaching and educational purposes.
Obtaining consent from adults, on the other hand, is not necessarily a difficult proposition. The organizer of the Body Worlds exhibit claims that more than 6,000 people have already signed the dotted line for their own future "plastination." Many individuals are happy to donate their bodies to science.
I recall doing dissections as an undergraduate student in an anatomy and physiology class, using a cadaver from an elderly lady who had donated her body to science. Such donations are not morally problematic, and in fact are similar to organ donation.
Such organ donation is not only permissible, but can be seen as a very generous act. As Pope John Paul II once put it: "A particularly praiseworthy example . . . is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope."
When dealing with situations like museums displaying ancient Egyptian mummies, or tourists observing the remains of believers in the catacombs under Rome, or archaeologists examining skeletal remains exhumed from digs, such consent can probably be presumed, assuming that certain conditions are met:
Their remains are not being used in a disrespectful manner;
There is an educational, spiritual, or inspirational end being realized by the use of the remains;
There was no indication left by the individuals or their relatives explicitly stating that they did not want the remains to be used in this public service;
The death of the individual was not intentionally caused in order to procure the body or the tissues.
Whether the use of human bodies in Body Worlds will be acceptable will largely depend on intense discussion surrounding the first and second conditions. Are the bodies being posed provocatively or being made to engage in immoral activities while on display, or are they set up in respectable, fundamentally decent poses?
There may also need to be assurance that the bodies on display, or parts from those bodies that were removed during their preparation, will ultimately be properly disposed of either through burial or through cremation, as a sign of our respect for the remains of the dead.
The fact that the traveling cadaver exhibit has already drawn more than 18 million visitors worldwide indicates a deep-seated fascination with understanding our own bodies. One might even argue that such an exhibit could prompt some soul searching and further discussion of human frailty and the meaning of our own mortality.
Along the same lines, an exhibit which reveals the human child in utero by a simple cutaway can serve to powerfully remind visitors about the reality of the pro-life message, namely that children in the womb are not "blobs of protoplasm" but are rather our brothers and sisters at an earlier developmental stage.
In the words of one astute observer: "If young women had windows on their stomachs, so they could see into their own wombs, the number of abortions would decline drastically."
The Body Worlds exhibit does seem to afford a unique opportunity to open a window onto the inner workings of the human body in a way that straddles the line between enlightening and edgy.
Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pa.
|Jump to: Top of page
Terri Schiavo was alive in spite of having severe brain damage. She lived with that brain damage for 14 years; she was not dying. Removing artificial hydration and nutrition from her starved her to death.
Supposedly at some point in her life she said something like "I would never like to live like that [referring to a condition similar to her own]." Perhaps a lot of us could name a lot of conditions that we would not want to live in but that does not mean we would commit suicide or ask others to kill us were we in those conditions.
The scriptural Job certainly did not want to live in the conditions in which he was thrust but he did not seek death. The fact is that Terri's parents wanted to do what loving human beings want to do for each other - they wanted to care for her and love her and seek whatever improvement of her condition they could.
They wanted to provide at least basic care; just as they would not deny her shelter or decent living conditions, they did not want to kill her by starvation or allow others to do so. God is the one who is to determine the length of our stay on this earth; we often have little choice over what are the conditions of that stay.
Some might say, when in a vegetative state, you can't do anything. But you can "be"; simply "being" is quite something. Not seeking death when suffering is a way of giving glory to God; it is a way of saying that we trust He is a loving God and He keeps us alive for a reason.
Still it is the case that those in a persistent vegetative state and those with severe dementia or retardation seem not to be aware of anything or able to give God glory. The truth is that we do not know what is going on in their interior so we cannot really say that they can't actively praise God. But we do know that they serve a salvific purpose by being the object of other people's love.
Think of newborns and how little they can really do but we lavish our love upon them. Yes, we hope that they will grow and mature and return our love, but we love them just because they are. In fact, we lovingly care for plants and animals that do not do much - why wouldn't we want to lovingly care for our loved ones even when they don't do much?
Again, what they do "do" is receive our love and who knows what wonders that may be doing for them; we definitely know it is doing good things for us. While there were certainly negatives to Terri's condition, what was positive is that she was the object of love of her family and we should not short circuit love.
Professor Janet E. Smith is the Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich. This column is syndicated by www.OneMoreSoul.com, and licensed from J. Smith.
|Jump to: Top of page
|Front page Most recent issue Past issues|