There’s Just Something About Mary!

Some people have a natural gravitas. We’re drawn to them, sometimes beyond our power to control. In the 1998 film, There’sJust Something About Mary, Ted, played by Ben Stiller was pursuing his high school crush, Mary; a woman he thought he was in love with, but later came to realize that he was just fixated on her.   It turns out several people who came in contact with Mary throughout the movie shared Ted’s infatuation with her, and this love train of infatuation formed the basis for the plot of the movie.

The Mary of the movie was beautiful on the outside, and kind-spirited on the inside.  She wasn’t exactly an oasis of moral virtue but she was a very nice person.  Men were infatuated with her because of her exterior beauty, which predicated their affection for her inner goodness.  If they had focused first on her inner goodness, which was present, but not exactly overflowing, they may not have become infatuated with her at all.

I’m “infatuated” with a woman, too. I don’t know what she looked like on the outside, but I’m all about the beauty she has on the inside, and it’s that inner goodness that has driven countless men—and women—to hopeless devotion to her for 2000 years.  There’s just something about Mary, the ever virgin Mother of God!

coronation

I have a pretty close relationship to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I didn’t always.  I was always a practicing Catholic, but I didn’t give much thought to the Blessed Mother.  She wasn’t completely absent, but she wasn’t very present in my devotion.  Into my 20s I encountered more and more Catholics who had a pretty strong devotion to Our Lady.  I remember one guy who wore a t-shirt with the image of Our Lady of Fatima.  Talk about love!  You know you’re all about the Blessed Mother when you’re wearing a shirt like that.  Fashion statement?  Oh man…no!  But it was a statement of a kind, and one that I couldn’t understand

I didn’t understand it.  I knew Our Lady was great and everything, but you didn’t usually see a level of devotion like this in people in their 20s. That level of devotion usually only resides in Little Old Lady Land.  It was the grandmas and grandpas of the Church with Blessed Mother shirts, Blessed Mother pins, blessed-mother-this and blessed-mother-that.  They have all the merchandise of every apparition and every Marian title.  Their collection would put an Elvis fanatic to shame.  Wanna do a Shrine-off?  You don’t stand a chance against a Mary fanatic!

So I couldn’t grasp how these younger people were so on fire for Our Lady. What was I missing?  I brought this up with my spiritual director and, to make a long story short, that started the long road’s journey to where I am in my devotion to the Blessed Mother today.  It’s a devotion that is deep, fervent, mysterious, and joyful.

What is it about Mary?

lady-of-the-immaculate-conceptionOur Lady is perfect in virtue—in all virtues. She is what God designed humanity to be. She is the perfect human creature, truly human, and fully alive.  She is perfectly humble. Perfectly holy.  In human terms she seems to embody everything that is small.  But in reality she embodies total holy greatness and power, because she is so “small”.  She’s the most amazing creature that God has ever made, and when we grow in our understanding of her, we see how absolutely, unbelievably incredible God is.  Because we see a glimmer of his nature and character in the person of Mary. No wonder God chose her to carry his Son!  No one else was worthy, and no one else would have even been capable of bearing Our Lord.

The more we develop our relationship with the Blessed Mother, the more we understand her. What little there is written of her in scripture becomes like a volumes-long biography, or character profile. What the saints wrote of her goes from being intellectual, to being a loud and clear heralding of the truth and reality of the Holy Virgin, and therefor of God Himself.

For myself, I don’t wear an Our Lady of Fatima t-shirt, but these days I understand the devotion of those who do.  Because I share the devotion now.  So I try to emulate her virtues. I try to become who she is, every day. Because that’s how I will most become like Christ.

When I think about it as just an ordinary person, and not as a Catholic with a spiritual life, I don’t know why I love the Blessed Mother so much.  I mean, I could tell you “I love her because she reflects the Trinity perfectly, because she’s so perfect in virtue” and so on.  But that answer is almost cryptic.  I don’t know why those things make me love her so much, but I know that they do.  Deep in my heart I know why, but can’t verbalize it with words.  And now I understand why someone might wear an Our Lady of Fatima t-shirt.  And I hope you guys all strive to discover the reason, as I have.  It’s true…there’s just something about Mary.

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Sting’s Performance of ‘There is No Rose of Such Virtue” has its hits and misses

\MaryRoseSting is a fantastic artist, but he’s no historian.

A couple of years ago Sting performed his interpretation of a very old Catholic hymn, “There is No Rose of Such Virtue”, a hymn devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. You might know her as “the mystical rose“.

Roses were regarded as pure, beautiful, and highly valuable since ancient times, which is one reason why Mary is compared to a rose.  And why is there “no rose of such virtue” as her? Because no other human being of a solely human nature rivals our Blessed Mother in virtue.  She is pure, beautiful, and most highly regarded by God and by man, because of her virtue.  There’s the background for you.   So what’s my problem?

His interpretation and performance were really beautiful and very moving. I think I’ve listened to this song about a hundred times.  But how he introduced it really disappointed me. I want you to appreciate it, as I did, and not get weighed down by what was disappointing about it.  So you may want to scroll down and watch the video first, so that you can appreciate it by itself before reading my criticism of it.  Which is this…

A Motherless Son?

The lyrics to the song begin this way:

“There is no rose of such virtue, as is the rose that bare Jesu”

The first part points to Our Lady, and the second to Our Lord.  But Sting’s introduction completely undermined its Catholic roots, and treated the song as some abstraction from its inspiration—the Blessed Mother. The hymn isn’t actually about Jesus, it’s about Mary.  Yet he didn’t mention her even once.  He begins by saying “The rose is a medieval symbol of flawless perfection”, but there was no mention of why the rose retained that symbolism—God and man’s high regard for Our Blessed Mother.  He does point back to Our Lord when he mentions the book of Isaiah, which says “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of its roots”.  But talking about the incarnation of Jesus without talking about Our Lady is like discussing a sunrise without mentioning the sky, or the sun itself.   One is not detachable from the other. One is, because the other is.  One has its nature, because the other has its nature.  The sun, and the sky need to be talked about when discussing the sunrise.  The rising sun doesn’t cast colors across an abyss.  The sky isn’t framing a nothing.

The loot that is the lute?

In his performance Sting plays an instrument called a lute. In his introduction he discusses the lute, and its history, but distorts

“…this lute, in Arabic is laud (la-uhd). It was brought back to England by the Crusaders….stolen”

It’s troubling, and disappointing that Sting thought it worthwhile to discuss the origins of the instrument he’s about to play, but not the inspiration to the hymn he’s about to sing.  We get a brief snippet of the history of the lute, but no mention of the Blessed Mother being the pure and perfect rose of unparalleled virtue, about which the hymn was written.   The lute is rooted in Arab or Middle Eastern culture, and the Blessed Mother is rooted in Christian culture.   So for me this part of his introduction was a demonstration of the culture’s mass confusion, where we’re over-eager to discuss all things Islamic, or Arabic, but we’re quick to sweep anything Christian under the rug.  We hold up all things “Middle Eastern” for veneration, and we cast all things “Christian” into the dungeon.

What made this a little more frustrating for me was how he framed this history. He seemed to be appealing to the popular-but-incorrect understanding that Christianity is suspect, the Crusades were evil, and the Crusaders corrupt, by telling the audience that the lute made it to England because it was stolen by the Crusaders.  I’m fairly certain that the lute’s origin is indeed the Middle East, but I’m almost as certain that it made its way to Western culture long before the Crusades.  The Crusades were not Western man’s or Western culture’s first exposure to the Middle East. Westerners had been traveling to the Middle East and been trading with merchants in Middle East for centuries already. It’s possible, even likely, that the lute made it to English culture as a result of these relationships and exchanges.   And, as Sting correctly points out, Christianity comes from the Middle East. Isn’t it possible that the lute was brought to Europe by the early missionaries who were bringing the faith to pagan Europe?

But let’s take Sting at his word for the moment and allow that the lute was brought to England by the Crusaders.  Can we honestly cast a shadow of moral judgement on it and say it was “stolen”? Was this the only lute in all of the Middle East, and did the crusaders deprive the Middle Eastern people of their beloved musical instrument, or of music itself, by bringing lute to Europe?  Was this instrument the musical eequivelant to the Ark of the Covenant?  On what basis do we use the word “stolen” here?  Is it similar to how England literally stole property and Churches from the Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII, and through the period of the Protestant Reformation?  Is it similar to how the Islamic empire stole Christian lands, and Christian (Catholic) institutions of learning and study during their centuries-long war path?  I don’t think those are similar, I think those are wholly different from a mysterious crusader bringing a common instrument from the Middle East to Christian England.

There is No Rose of Such Virtue!

Though this all frustrated me, I hope it doesn’t frustrate you to a point where you can’t appreciate what followed.  The song itself was truly beautiful, and I actually enjoyed Sting’s Middle Eastern interpretation of the song, which also retained much of its medieval style.  I think Sting is a brilliant artist.  I hope you are delighted and inspired by the song, and I hope that it orients your thinking to the reality of the beauty of virtue.  We can’t be as virtuous as Our Lady, but we can grow, and grow, and grow in virtue, which means we can grow and grow and grow in beauty, from the perspective of God, the author of life, the designer of our persons, and the sculptor of our individual being.  May Our Lady be the model for us all.  Be more beautiful. Be more virtuous.