Friday, August 09, 2019 - Updated: 3:14 pm
Fellow Pittsburgher Ronald Donatelli wants to tell his evangelical Protestant friends that Catholics are much worse than they think. He shared a “gotcha” post on Facebook. It’s worth talking about as we approach the feast of the Assumption.
It said: “Dear Catholics, do you think God is OK with you worshiping Mary and then saying you’re only venerating her (to help yourselves avoid feeling guilty about it)? Your actions are those of people who are worshiping a goddess. So it really does not matter what you call it. You can’t fool God.”
Donatelli is the RCIA coordinator at St. John the Baptist Parish in Plum, and he has an answer for that. He explains: “Mary is a creature and unworthy of worship. She is rightly highly honored as the greatest of all saints for her great faith and unique role in salvation history.”
I’d add that what Catholics call veneration can be understood as very, very deep respect. It’s looking up at someone way above you in everything that counts. Think of the way you feel when you meet a hero, say a firefighter who risked his life over and over saving others. Or when you meet one of those people who almost shine with goodness.
Then think of meeting a) the only perfect person in history, other than Jesus; and b) someone so heroic that she agreed to bear the Son of God and then loved him all the way to the cross. She’s human history’s greatest superstar. We know she’s not a goddess. Like, duh.
But she’s amazing. The normal, natural thing to do is to show her that deep, deep respect and love Catholics call veneration.
Donatelli explains veneration, and then he drops the mic. “I have never understood why Catholics are so often accused of worshiping Mary, but not admitting it, when Catholics shout from the rooftops that we really do worship what others consider a mere piece of bread. We do worship the Eucharist because it is not mere bread, but the very body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, who is God Incarnate.”
What Ron says. If saying “Hail Mary, full of grace” is bad, talking to that piece of bread as if it were the Son of God, that’s way worse. But here’s the thing we know that makes all the difference.
Our love for the Blessed Mother, and our belief that the sacrament on the altar is Jesus himself, it’s all part of the package. It’s part of the package Christians call the Gospel or the Good News. It starts with the Incarnation.
If you believe what we say in the Nicene Creed at Mass on Sunday, you can believe in the Assumption and the Eucharist. We say that God the Son became one of us to save us from our sins. That he was tortured to death and came back to life.
It’s an amazing story. As Anglican writer Dorothy Sayers put it: This is “the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him.” She called it “this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.”
Then she wrote: “That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed.”
If that’s true, everything the Catholic Church believes follows. It all makes perfect sense. God might make sure Mary was conceived without sin because she would bear the sinless Son of God. He might bring her to heaven at the end of her life because he had work for her to do, as Queen of Heaven, and to show us what he wants to do for all of us.
God might give his Son to us in the Eucharist. Give him to us body, blood, soul and divinity. Give him to us so we can slip into church between errands and talk to him. Talk to him knowing we’re talking to that man we read about in the four Gospels, just as much as the disciples talked to him as they walked down the road in Galilee.
The God who sent his Son to live and die for us just might do all that. Catholics believe he did. Because that’s all good news. It’s all Gospel.
Mills is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Coraopolis and edits the Hour of Our Death site (www.hourofourdeath.org).