There are two articles in December’s National Geographic Magazine that stood out to me. In a departure from how I “usually” do it (can I say “usually” when there have only been a few of these posts?), I’m going to write my “highlights” in two posts, and give a little bit longer treatment to each of the articles.
One only needs to look at the cover of this month’s issue to see the first of my two highlights: Mary, The Most Powerful Woman in the World (text here). When I first saw the cover I was at once thrilled and suspicious, wondering what on earth a scientific magazine had to say about the Mother of God. It turns out the author herself, who is Catholic, had similar concerns.
Overall, though, I think the article is fairly well done. It focuses on Mary’s universality: how she is so many things to so many people. It touches on her numerous titles, talks a lot about Marian apparitions and healings, and includes pictures and explanations of Marian devotions from places around the world. These are all good, and emphasis on Mary’s approachability, love for us, and motherly protection is crucial to understanding who she is.
I do take issue with how the article looks at what Mary “can be” as opposed to what she “is.” For instance, the article states that Mary “can be the grieving mother, the young virgin…” (37). It is her identity that allows her to have the universal appeal spoken of elsewhere in the article: she “can be” so many things to so many people because that’s who she is. To a certain extent, though, this makes sense and is expected since the article is not written from a faith perspective.
The magazine’s intention in writing the article was to explore “what is it about Mary?” (From the Editor). Last year, the National Museum of Women in the Arts hosted a temporary exhibit on “Picturing Mary” which had the most visitors of any exhibit ever at the museum (Adam got me tickets for Christmas last year and we went together! What an awesome gift!). After seeing this, NatGeo wanted to know why people are so drawn to Mary. The problem with that quest is that the answer cannot come from a purely scientific exploration. Rather, the answer is one that is based on Faith: Mary is a global phenomenon because she is the Mother of God; people venerate her and turn to her in times of need because her power is real, not imagined. Ms. Goldberg sums up her editor’s note thus: “There’s a unifying power in the faith that Mary inspires in so many. And that, it could be argued, is in itself something of a miracle.” If by “miracle” she means supernatural, then yes. By the power of God, Mary is forever without sin and the vessel through which God became man. Also, by Christ’s words from the Cross, her motherly role was expanded to all of humanity. Mary has this seemingly miraculous power to be universal because of who she is: the Mother of God and the mother of us all.
*Highlights, Part II forthcoming. We’ll completely change pace and look at the evolution of New York City!