I arrived home from my five days at the St John Bosco Conference this morning around 1am. After greeting the dog (Duffy, the Wonder Scotty) and doing a quick unpacking, I got on my one good knee and prayed the following:
We fly to thy protection O Holy Mother of God
Despise not our prayers in our necessities
But deliver us from all dangers,
O ever glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen
I then, of course, thanked the Triune God from whom all graces flow, for the incredible opportunity given to me to learn more about His Church and our Mission in this world.
I had so much fun. I learned so much. I feel renewed.Granted, this is not something most people would consider a real vacation. Let's face it...who wants to sit in classrooms discussing Moral Theology, how to teach the Faith towards the Rites, the spiritual marriage between The Church and Israel, not to mention the Universal Call to Holiness of Vatican II. Gee, I guess the only 'normal' thing I did was go to a 12 step meeting and eat chicken wings in West Virginia....but you need to know that being in an environment of intellectual stretching and bending and challenge is so outside my normal life that I am, right now, sitting with tears in my eyes. I am so dang grateful that my brain still works, that there are other weirdos like me in the world that think it is important to study and grow in an area that does not involve a public records request or how to fix the server....I am just so blessed.
Most people who are my friends know that I am one of those Lovers of Dusty Libraries. I always picture myself as a kind of Wally Cox character in an adventure movie. I'm the person living in the bowels of a great library, wearing white gloves and opening the pages of giant hand written books and delicate manuscripts written on vellum. My job? To unlock the secrets of the ancients. I find beauty and romance in the oddest of places and it is probably one of the reasons I am not married or have a boyfriend. Let's face it - who wants to date a pudgy middle aged woman with two fake knees and a love for how people thought about life in the 2nd century? I mean, hello?
Anyway, the sense I always bring home from the Bosco Conference is one of standing on the shoulders of giants - not in the literalistic sense but in the sense that everyday people like me carried on the True Faith despite incredible hardships. And we do not have to guess about this - it has been written down, preserved, dispassionately waiting in the bowels of dusty old libraries for people to read. Today we have an even greater advantage than previous scholars and laypeople - a whole bunch of this stuff is available on the internet.
Let me share with you the bare bones of the story of the prayer I prayed upon returning home.
In 1917 a package from Egypt was received by the British National Museum. The package was wrapped in ancient papyrus and those who understand the value of such things knew that the wrappings were as important to scholarship as what they wrapped. The next ten years were spent teasing the pieces of papyrus apart, translating them, dating them and cataloging them. All the writings were dated from the end of the Second Century to the beginning of the Third Century and all could be identified except for this one little scrap, upon which this funny kind of poem was written.
The catalogue was published for scholars (and the world) in 1938. A Benedictine Monk recognized that funny little poem as a prayer prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours - a discipline followed in the Catholic Church for over one THOUSAND YEARS ( at the time - we can assume the prayer was prayed longer than that without the trappings of specific liturgical boundary).
The prayer is known by people of Faith as the Sub tuum - is a prayer to Mary, THE MOTHER OF GOD.
Now why is this important to us today?
There are people right now in this world who, unknowingly, advance the heresy of the Nestorians. That heresy (denying that Mary gave birth to God) lead to the calling of the Council of Ephesus in the year 431 ad. Nestor challenged the idea that Mary was the Theotokos (God-Bearer), arguing that God cannot have a mother and so God must have made Jesus Divine later on...after he had been born maybe or when he entered puberty or maybe right before the Wedding at Canaan. This flies in the face of the Faith handed down by the Apostles (In the Beginning was The Word), never the less, this guy Nestor just had a hard time wrapping his mind around the doctrine of The Holy Trinity. Well, I can understand that - it is a difficult concept, and one that no one in their right mind would ever claim to say they completely understand. That is why it is a MYSTERY. Shoot, if St Thomas Aquinas couldn't get it, why would WE????
Now here is the thing - if Mary is not the Theotokus then there is not really a Holy Trinity. In fact, there may not even be One God. Maybe there are three. Maybe we can become God too, if we are supposed to be like Jesus. HEY - maybe we can all become GODS and then get our own PLANETS someday....or maybe the space ships are on their way to rescue us from the soul catchers.......OR, maybe we should only read the BIBLE because who needs SACRAMENTS - after all, if Jesus is only God some of the time, maybe some of the time He was just kidding when He was preaching or MAYBE He isn't God at all, but St Michael the ARCHANGEL.
Well think about it people: what is the real basis for Original Sin?
What was that first lie told to humanity?
"you TOO can be like gods".
As the Bishops - those in communion with The Bishop of Rome and those just hanging out with the Emperor - began to gather in Ephesus (and this is important) THE PEOPLE welcome St Cyril - the Bishop there to defend the honor of the Mother of The Church - OUR MOTHER. And it was THE WOMEN OF EPHESUS who blockaded the Churches and would NOT let the Nestorians inside and forced them to camp OUTSIDE the limits of the city.
NEVER underestimate brave Catholic Women willing to go against the popular culture of the time and fight for Truth. We will kick your butts into next Thursday.
But I digress.....
This prayer, which predates the Council of Ephesus where Our Lady was declared by the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to be the Mother of GOD, was one of the arguments used against the nestorian heresy to defeat Satan and protect The Faith. Because of the existence of the prayer, good ol' St Cyril could argue the belief that Mary was the GodBearer is not something new and innovative; rather it is the Faith handed down in unbroken Apostolic Succession to The Church. St Cyril could go on to defend the belief that, by virtue of the Saving Grace of the Paschal Mystery, acting outside of time and space, Mary was saved from the stain of Original Sin and therefore a suitable vessel for the Son of God to use in order to enter into human history. St Cyril could argue that GOD is ONE GOD - because if Jesus Christ is The Word, and in the BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, then Jesus Christ has always been, always will be and will never leave us.
Because of a prayer handed down from Catholic to Catholic despite the persecutions and the criminality of our belief for the first 300 years of our existence (remember who it was who first called us CATHOLIC and where he was being dragged to when he used that term) today I can stand at Mass and say:
I believe in One GOD.
In other words, the Council of Jerusalem feeds the Council of Nicea, which feeds the Council of Ephesus and so on and so on and so on......until today we have the gifts of Vatican II to unlock and unpack for years and years to come. The work of The Holy Spirit to sustain the Head of The Church, Jesus Christ, and us - believing Christians who make up HIS BODY...and here comes the awesome part: If Mary is the Theotokos, then she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, who is The Head of The Church...and we are His body...and that makes Mary Our Mother. The Woman in Revelations, crowned with the 12 Stars and against whom the dragon is ready to do battle...against her offspring.....US....The Body of Christ.
Basically - if she is good enough for Jesus, she better be good enough for us.
When I ask Our Lady to intervene for me, to protect me and take my petitions to her Son I am carrying on a tradition which goes back to the beginning...when she was praying with the Apostles in the Upper Room, waiting for the Holy Spirit. I am not worshiping her any more than I worship my own earthly mother. I flee to her protection. I ask for her help. All she does is say to me, "Do whatever HE tells you to do".
The symbol for Our Lady is the moon - do you know why? Because the moon does not generate light on its own.; rather, it reflects the light of the sun.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!