Did you ever do something on a dare? Well, perhaps mine was more a challenge than a dare, but the effect was the same.
After a long absence that began in my turbulent teenage years, I returned to the Catholic Church; my brother and I got into a conversation about faith. He, like many in my generation, had also left the Catholic Church, becoming a Baptist.
My renewed Catholic faith collided with his Baptist understanding of Christianity, and he issued this challenge: "You should study the Bible." So it began, and almost 20 years later, I am still studying and praying with scripture every day. Thank you, Fran!
Not long after that pivotal conversation with my brother, I sought my father's counsel about a problem I was facing. In reply, he suggested I pray as he did, saying simply, "There's a lot of power in praying the Rosary." So began my rediscovery of this beautiful, scriptural meditation, which has led me closer to the heart of my heavenly mother and her son, Jesus. Thank you, Dad!
As my faith journey continues to unfold, I have discovered many precious gifts. These two, the Bible and Mary, count among my greatest treasures. Many believe that love of one precludes love of the other, but I have discovered the opposite to be true: a deeper understanding of biblical symbolism reveals that Mary was part of God's plan of salvation from the beginning.
God's plan is never quite what we expect.
At the moment of Adam and Eve's banishment from paradise, God promises that the "offspring of the woman" will battle the evil unleashed by sin (cf Gen 3:15). This prophecy is fulfilled in an unexpected way with God's entrance into human history as an infant, born of a woman.
The Nativity story is the new creation story, but with a vastly different outcome: Mary, like Eve, is created sinless, but unlike Eve, she chooses complete obedience to God's will. Overshadowed by the Shekinah glory of God, she conceives Christ, the new Adam (Luke 1:35; Rom 5:13). The womb of the virgin, made by God's own hand, becomes the first immaculate home of our savior; Mary herself becomes the Ark of the New Covenant.
The Catholic teaching that Mary was freed from sin from the moment of her conception is the basis for her title, the Immaculate Conception. Often misunderstood as referring to the virginal conception of Jesus, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated Dec. 9, reflects this belief in Mary's sinlessness.
While this distinctively Catholic teaching is still debated among Christians, and my brother and I continue to disagree on some aspects of scriptural interpretation, I am grateful for his love of the Bible, which inspired me to study scripture more deeply. And I am forever thankful for my father's love of Mary, which inspired my own.
My prayer is for all Catholics to be inspired by their Protestant brothers' love of scripture, and that all Christians come to share the Catholic "Church Fathers" great love for Mary, the mother of God.
Open your heart to Mary and the Bible -- I dare you!
-- Nancy Murray is a Catholic catechist and retreat facilitator. She attends Christ the King Church in Richland and blogs at: www.CatholicEthics.blogspot.com. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.