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Looking for Mary, Finding the Bible

Catholics and Protestants often use biblical proof texts as they argue about the role of Mary in salvation. But this can form bad Bible reading habits, says Father John Waiss, author of Bible Mary: The Mother of Jesus in the Word of God. He joins us for a conversation about how looking for Mary can teach us better Bible reading.


Cy Kellett:

Hello, and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding, and defending your Catholic faith. I am Cy Kellett, your host, delighted to be here with you in the new year and talking about a new book that we have here at Catholic Answers, Bible Mary – The Mother of Jesus in the Word of God. Father John Waiss is the author of that book, and we welcome him to talk about ways forward in talking about Mary in the Christian community. Father Waiss is an Opus Dei priest in Chicago, and we’re awful glad to have him here. Hi, Father.

Fr. John Waiss:

Hello. Thank you. Good to be here.

Cy Kellett:

Well, thank you. And one of the chapters in your book is New Insights and Openness for Mary. And in there, you talk about, I guess, maybe that this is a time of opportunity would be one way to put it, to talk about Mary. What’s your thinking there?

Fr. John Waiss:

Well, my thought is that there’s been a number of Protestant authors and scholars that have started exploring Mary a little bit more in depth, and they tend to stick to the more literal elements of it. But I think there’s a sense that Mary’s been left out of much of their theology and preaching, and they feel like something is missing.

Part of it is that they’re missing the feminine elements. They see so much of the masculine emphasized in the Protestant world, and they realize they would like to get some of that feminine gentleness into the Christian teaching that the Catholic Church tends to have more naturally.

Some of it is just women that have not been able to have children being able to relate to Mary as a virgin, and not having a child or those that have lost a child in a shopping center or something, and feeling that panic, and they can relate to Mary as they lose the 12-year-old Jesus on returning to Nazareth. They just start to relate to Mary in ways that’s most of us men don’t even think of. And so there is this openness to Mary that I discovered just reading some of these Protestant authors and saying, “Hey, this is a good opportunity. Let’s leverage this in order to explore Mary more in depth.”

Cy Kellett:

And I think I remember reading something in there about how you were saying that Protestants, pastors, or writers who are talking about this openness to Mary, they might say, “Well, Catholics go too far or have gone too far in their embrace of Mary,” but they might also say, “Well, we Protestants have gone too far in our ignoring of her.”

Fr. John Waiss:

Yes. That’s the case. And so they want to open up the book to that. I think they just haven’t been given the tools to do that adequately. And so I try to leverage some of the work that they’ve done and just see how that fits in our understanding of scripture and then start building from there and expanding what parts of the Bible we can explore that apply to Mary.

Cy Kellett:

The thing about this Protestant kind of almost arm’s length relationship with Mary, I don’t think there’s a denial of her beauty as a person, certainly, the person who said yes to carrying the Savior, but a kind of an arm’s length of, “Yeah, but we’ll keep her over there,” is connected to the Protestant desire to never move Jesus out of the center of everything that, at root, there’s an impulse that we would agree with here as Catholics that Jesus should not be taken out of the center of our lives.

Fr. John Waiss:

No. And Catholic Church would totally agree with that. One of the things that sometimes Protestants will say ina defense mode is that, “You, Catholics, you worship Mary.” And my reply is, “If we were to worship Mary, we’d be excommunicated from the Catholic Church.”

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Fr. John Waiss:

And there were some early Christians in the third or fourth century that did treat Mary as a goddess. And the Catholic Church actually condemned that. So that’s something that we have to realize, “No, we never want to put Mary on a pedestal so much that Jesus is ignored.” Even in the statues, most of the statues of Mary, our paintings, have the child Jesus as well.

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Fr. John Waiss:

Not all of them, but I would say the majority of them do. And it’s always Mary in serving Jesus Christ.

Cy Kellett:

And it’s hard to depict a baby without its mother too. So it’s just weird. You wouldn’t do that. So Mary of necessity, if you’re going to depict Jesus as infant Jesus, Mary’s going to be in that picture.

Fr. John Waiss:

That’s for sure. But the thing is we see Mary there at the foot of the cross as well.

Cy Kellett:

Sure. Yeah.

Fr. John Waiss:

So Mary was accompanying Jesus his whole life long. And so we have to see that it’s not just at Christmastime that we see Mary in the picture. We see her there all along. Oftentimes, in the background, she’s not wanting to take center stage, but she’s there always to support her son.

Cy Kellett:

I imagine too though that thing that you said about you worship Mary and you say, “Well, if we worship Mary, we would be excommunicated.” I do think there are a lot of Protestants, maybe from lack of experience or maybe from misinterpreting experience with Catholics who would say, “Yes, Father, you as a trained theologian, you don’t worship Mary, but you have to admit that the everyday common Catholic doesn’t get that.”

And a rebuttal occurred to me one time to that in that every Catholic knows what to do if the priest says at the end of, say, a rosary or something, if the leader or the priest says, “Sacred heart of Jesus,” everybody knows to say, “Have mercy on us.” But if the priest says, “Immaculate heart of Mary,” everybody knows to say, “Pray for us.” Those are two completely different reactions to the invocation of a person. We know that we’re asking Christ to have mercy on us. We’re only asking Mary to pray for us.

Fr. John Waiss:

That’s correct. It’s also true that most Protestants’ experience of worship is really focused on praying, and reading the Bible, and singing. They don’t have the mass. They don’t have the sacrifice, the sacrificial element. So when it comes to worship, they just assume if you’re praying to Mary, you’re worshiping her.

So they define prayer as worship, whereas we see the prayer is just the original meaning of it is to beseech, just to ask, is to converse with. And if you ask a friend for some help and moving from one house to another, you don’t say that you’re worshiping your friend by asking him to help you. That’s a more of a conversation, and we see prayer to Mary as more of what we do with each other, with our parents, with our friends, with our family and not as somebody we’re worshiping.

But if you associated prayer with worship, then we will say, if we’re going to go by your definition of prayer as worship, then we don’t bring a Mary either. But if we use that as a interaction of a family, then if that’s what we mean by prayer, we pray to Mary like we would have a conversation with someone we love.

Cy Kellett:

Father John Waiss is our guest. The book is Bible Mary – the Mother of Jesus in the Word of God, finding Mary in the Bible. But there is another insight in the book that you explore in depth. So if you begin with this idea that there is a kind of fascination with Mary, even among Protestants now, there’s this moment of openness to the person of Mary. There’s another kind of insight that you have in the book that I think is helpful to that and might be helpful to the Protestant person considering a greater openness to Mary as the mother of Jesus and as the mother of John the Apostle, meaning that Jesus told John the Apostle, “This is your mother now.”

Fr. John Waiss:

Right.

Cy Kellett:

Therefore, that she has a certain motherhood of not just the redeemer himself but of all the believers. If people begin to be open to that, your point is that in the early church, the defense, for example, of the virginity of Mary, the defense of certain qualities of Mary are not defenses of Mary. That’s not what the early church is doing when it defends the virginity of Mary.

Fr. John Waiss:

No. It’s actually defending truths about Jesus Christ. It’s very interesting. The first heresy, if you would, that arose was denial that Jesus was God. It was the Judaizers and the Jews that refused to accept Christianity and his fullness denied that Jesus was God. But in denying that Jesus was God, they also denied that Mary was a virgin because if Mary’s a virgin and gives birth to Jesus, then who is Jesus’ father?

And the Christian will say, “Well, God the Father is his father.” And those that deny that Jesus is God, the first thing they do is deny that Mary was a virgin and remained a virgin. And so the early Christians started, you might say, linking these truths about Jesus Christ to truths about Mary. And that’s where much of the teachings of our faith about Mary have to do with teachings about Jesus Christ.

Cy Kellett:

Well, that’s certainly the case with, and I do not understand the very strong objection to this among evangelicals. And in my experience, it is a quite sturdy objection to calling Mary mother of God.

Fr. John Waiss:

Exactly. Well, that came up when people started to deny the humanity of Jesus Christ. They saw Jesus as a divine figure working miracles, and they just couldn’t understand that Jesus was fully human. He took on our nature completely. But the early church, in fact, they would deny that Mary was a mother. Instead of calling Mary the Theotokos, the Christ bearer, they saw there was Jesus Christ that was born of Mary as a human being, then was adopted by God, or they come up with these various theories. And they couldn’t address Mary as the Theotokos, the mother of God, the true God bearer.

But Christians said, and it was something, it was almost like all the Christians wanted that to be resolved. And when Mary was declared Theotokos, the whole town of Ephesus rejoiced at this at the Council of Ephesus because they knew deep down inside that, yes, Mary is the mother of God.

And so I think we have troubles with Mary as mother of God because we have troubles with the humanity of Jesus Christ. And I think that’s something that I think some Protestants do have troubles with, that Jesus is fully man, that he was like us in all things but sin. And yet he’s linked to the divine person, the second person of the blessed Trinity. And if he’s linked to the second person of the blessed Trinity and he’s born of Mary, then Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ. But there’s the mother of God. And so we have this just ongoing struggle with who is Jesus Christ. And all the teachings with regard to Mary reinforce what those early Christians knew that Jesus revealed to them.

Cy Kellett:

Well, if I may take the Protestant position on some of the development of doctrine around Mary, it does seem to me that the Protestant rejection of some of the Catholic Marian doctrine is connected to just the general rejection of a post-Biblical magisterium and the development of doctrine after the giving of scripture, after the scriptural revelation. You’re trying to say, “Well, let’s look in the word of God together as Catholics and Protestants then.” This seems to me that this is your invitation, more or less, and see what we find out about Mary in scripture. Let’s look in there. But you’re not going to find, for example, the assumption of Mary in scripture.

Fr. John Waiss:

Well, that’s because it’s not recorded, one way or the other, in scripture. But I try to look at what are some of the scriptural references that regard to Mary’s assumption. First, let’s try to say, “Is there an objection for Mary being assumed into heaven?” And to do that, I looked at who else was assumed into heaven.

And most people say, “I don’t know of anybody,” but we explore some of those scripture. You find Enoch. You say, “Who’s Enoch?” Well, he was one of the early patriarchs that we have very little information about except that he was a very faithful man of God. He was just, and he was taken up into heaven, but we also have Moses.

People don’t realize this, but it’s not in the five books of the Pentateuch at the end of Moses’ life. The only thing that it does says is that Moses tomb was never to be found. That’s the only thing. That’s how I think the Deuteronomy ends, that he was buried, and his tomb is never to be found. But what we get in the letter of Jude is Jude saying that St. Michael fought the devil over Moses’s body. And this is actually a paraphrase or a quote from apocryphal book of the Jewish scriptures or Jewish writings that was called the Assumption of Moses. So already at the time of Christ in the time of the apostles, they had books that contained traditions in them like the Assumption of Moses.

Cy Kellett:

What about Elijah? Would you include Elijah in that group?

Fr. John Waiss:

I would include Elijah in that group since he was taken up in that chariot of fire, and his cloak was left for Elisha to return and part the waters of the Jordan. So we have a number of men that we know of that were assumed into heaven, but why were they assumed into heaven? Because they were faithful. They believed in Jesus Christ. They completed their mission, and it was assigned to the people of their holiness.

And then I just said, “Well, is there opposition that a woman could be assumed into heaven?” And so by learning how to connect scripture and the like, I put a kind of figure, I just, let’s say, get rid of any objections to the possibility. But then we look into something like Revelation chapter 12, and we see a woman in heaven, and we realize it’s the mother of the Messiah.

But if you actually begin, the thing is the chapter and verses are later additions to the Bible. And sometimes, we break off one chapter from the previous chapter. But at the end of chapter 11, we see the temple of heaven in heaven opened up, and we’re about ready to see an arc of the covenant. The Holy of Holies is about to be exposed to us, and all the fireworks are going off, all the earthquakes and thunder and lightning. And then suddenly, a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun and a moon under her feet. And you see a woman that I think you can really argue because of the elements of chapter 12, that this is Mary, and she’s appearing to John in heaven.

Cy Kellett:

So what I’m getting at, and we have spoken about this in a previous broadcast that we did about the book, but I just want to go back to what I’m getting again from you, which is this way of reading scripture is not a proof texting way of reading scripture. It’s a way of reading scripture that says, “Well, let’s look at all of the possible assumptions into heaven.” It is a very strange. I think sometimes people miss it in the book of Revelation because of the later introduction of chapters and verses.

Fr. John Waiss:

Correct.

Cy Kellett:

So you can miss that. You go straight from the Revelation at the ark of the covenant, and then you don’t get it. You get Mary. So Mary, she’s there. She’s apparently the ark is her in heaven. But say something about how if Protestants and Catholics are going to have this conversation about Mary, then how are we going to have to read scripture together?

Fr. John Waiss:

I think the first thing we have to do is read scripture, look at it not as a textbook or legal document. But really look at it as you can look at, I think I’ve mentioned this before, there’s a collection of love letters that God writes these things through historical events. He is writing to us through the words, but also through the actions of individuals.

And Old Testament individuals are prefiguring New Testament individuals that are ultimately focused on Jesus Christ and the fulfillment in Christ. And so we start to look at that typology is a really key element of how scripture is written. So we see the ark of the covenant, for example, is a type of Mary as the early church looked at it. Why? What was inside the ark of the covenant? There were three things. There was the 10 words of God, the decalogue, the 10 Commandments.

There was the manna, the bread of life that they fed the people. And there was the rod of Aaron, which was the sign that had butted that it was a sign of who was the true priest. And the early Christians saw, “Well, what was inside of Mary.” The one word of God, and not the 10 words, the one word of God, the second person of the blessed Trinity, that it was his body, blood, soul, and divinity, which is the bread of life, which we get from John chapter 6. And he was the true high priest that fulfilled the high priesthood of the New Testament, and she carried all three in her womb for nine months, and they saw very much that’s what the ark of the covenant had prefigured. And it’s just very interesting how the early Christians just naturally saw in Mary the ark of the covenant or saw in the ark of the covenant saw Mary.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Well, if Jesus explains to the disciples on the road to Emmaus how all the scriptures refer to him, then if all this scripture is referring to Jesus, it can’t exclude Mary. There have to be types of Mary in it because Mary is the huge part of his life.

Fr. John Waiss:

Exactly. And I always like to look at just like Eve was a huge part of Adam’s life and had a fairly important role to play in the fall of Adam. Mary does the opposite. But with Jesus Christ, she plays a very key role in bringing Christ into the world as his mother and then supporting him all throughout his life as his helper, just like Eve was supposed to do with Adam.

Cy Kellett:

It strikes me in listening when you talk about reading scripture in this way, that we might almost juxtapose a kind of minimalist way of reading scripture which is what’s the essential message I’m supposed to get? Give me the essential message and a maximalist approach, which would be what are all the gifts that God has filled this His word with, and how can I encounter all the gifts that God has filled His word with? And it does seem to me that if you’re going for the minimalist way, just tell me what I need to know. You’re going to find far less about Mary than if you go in the maximalist way and say, “Tell me all the gifts that are here in this marvelous word of God.”

Fr. John Waiss:

I think we have to look in the word of God as almost infinitely rich, that we’re always going to get new insights and new lights. Certainly, there’s the ones that are the teachings about Jesus Christ. But even there, we can always go deeper and deeper. We can never exhaust the well. And if we use a small cup, we’re going to only get so much water because it’s limited on how much that cup can hold. If we get a big gallon jug, we can hold more. If we get the jugs of water that the servants were carrying for Jesus to turn into wine, we’re going to get a lot more. And I think what I try to do in the book, Bible Mary, is to expand our jug so we can get more water. And if we do, then we’re going to see much more of the role of Mary, both in the life of Christ, but also in the life of the church and the life of each Christian.

Cy Kellett:

Well, let me ask you this about writing the book, if I may, before I let you go. In writing the book, were you surprised at what you found, or did you already have a sense, “Here’s these things I know about Mary in the Bible”? You’re obviously a very well-educated Opus Dei priest, so it’s not like you’re a dope. You’re not like a radio host or something. So you’re already bringing this theological sophistication, or did you start looking, and did you end up with a kind of amazement yourself?

Fr. John Waiss:

Oh, there was certainly amazement. I’m still amazed. When I’m reading it, it’s, “Oh yeah, that’s right.” And you get new lights all the time when you’re reading the scripture and reading the Bible. But I came with the idea of trust finding as many scripture as possible that I could find that had to do with Mary. I’m a very exhaustive type of person. When I say all, I want to find all, not that that’s always possible, but I want to be thorough, but then start classifying them, and then seeing how they fit different Marian teachings that came up. And, yeah, I was amazed at how much I found and just how much wealth there was in the teaching of Marian. And it can just help us get to know Jesus Christ so much better.

Cy Kellett:

And I can’t imagine at some point a person going, “If Jesus saves us, why do we need Mary?” And I know that we’ve just gone over and around this again and again, but I want to come back to it that I’m saved. I’m perfectly willing to say, “Mary is his wonderful mother and an exemplar and all of that.” B`ut why would you need to say, “But she’s everywhere in the Bible. She’s ingrained in God’s whole plan”? Why? We have a savior.

Fr. John Waiss:

I would say is when we are saved, we become children of God, and we become identified with Jesus Christ. But if we’re truly brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, not just half brothers and half sisters of Jesus Christ, but full brothers and full sisters of Jesus Christ, that means we’re going to have the same father and the same mother that Jesus Christ had. And so if we’re just saying, “Oh, I just want to be like Jesus Christ with His same father,” that’s starting to exclude His humanity and that He truly is true man and true God. And we are are going to be more divinized. We’re going to be more like Christ and one with Christ when we accept His humanity and we accept Mary’s maternity over us.

Cy Kellett:

Father, thank you so much. Father John Waiss is our guest. The book is Bible Mary – The Mother of Jesus in the Word of God. Father, if I may, could I ask you for your blessing for us and-

Fr. John Waiss:

Sure.

Cy Kellett:

… for our listeners before we go?

Fr. John Waiss:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the wonderful gifts that you’ve given us, but especially the gift of your son, Jesus Christ, who you sent to be our redeemer. We also thank you for giving us His mother to be our mother, so that we can be fully identified as brothers and sisters of His. Now, we ask you to bless all the listeners and to all the world who loves you and want to follow you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Cy Kellett:

Amen. Thank you, Father.

Fr. John Waiss:

Thank you.

Cy Kellett:

You can get it now, Bible Mary – The Mother of Jesus in the Word of God. Get it wherever good Catholic books are sold. Hey, if you want to get in touch with us here at Catholic Answers Focus, just send your email to focus@catholic.com. We’d be happy to get your email. Maybe, you got an idea for a future show. Maybe, you got a comment on this show. Whatever it is, focus@catholic.com. Don’t forget, wherever you listen, if you give us those five stars and maybe a few nice words about the podcast, that will help us to reach more and more people with this program. And that’s what we want to do. I am Cy Kellett, your host. Thanks for being with us. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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