Fair as the Moon, Bright as the Sun

Joan_de_Joanes_-_The_Immaculate_Conception_-_Google_Art_Project-1As beloved as the works of Tolkien are, it is impossible to fully appreciate them without an understanding of his deep Catholic faith, particularly his devotion to Our Lady.

To Our Lady… upon which all my own small perception of beauty, both in majesty and simplicity, is founded.

–JRR Tolkien

Today’s solemnity of the Immaculate Conception brings so many thoughts to mind. Firstly, it’s astounding to think that from our own microscopic beginnings at the first moment of life, when we are too small to be visible, God has already created us with a purpose, with a Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 10.39.29 PMplan, with a destiny. Our own free choices determine how closely we cooperate with His plan for our lives, but the possibilities and the graces are all available to us. As clichéd as it sounds, God creates us with greatness in mind – not necessarily in the worldly sense of being a noteworthy person, or making a name for oneself, but spiritual greatness. And what could be greater than being called into relationship with the Trinity, being adopted into God’s Family by our baptism? Our Lady was conceived without sin because of God’s purpose for her. He created her to become the Mother of His Only Son.

Catholic fans of The Lord of the Rings know that Galadriel reflected Our Lady – which is why we took such issue with Peter Jackson’s depiction of her in the movies (the Marian dimension was completely undermined by her Valkyrie-like transformation in the Mirror of Galadriel scene). But today’s solemnity also makes me see Our Lady as a hobbit, too. It feels silly to write that, the visual comparison alone makes it sound quite ridiculous, but during her lifetime Our Lady was one of God’s little ones; she was poor, humble, and lived a very simple, ordinary life. There was certainly no obvious greatness, not in the worldly sense, in the Virgin of Nazareth.

But God’s vision is so different from our own. Her littleness meant that even satan Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 10.39.01 PMunderestimated her – could such a lowly maiden really be the one destined to crush his head? Like Frodo and Sam – the most unlikely choices for such a great mission, yet the only ones who could have accomplished it – the Immaculate Virgin cast our doom into the fire by her cooperation with God’s plan of salvation, beginning with her fiat at the Annunciation. (Incidentally, to listen to an awesome talk by Joseph Pearce on The Lord of the Rings and sin, addiction, and salvation click here.)  Today we rejoice because the dawn of our salvation begins to break over the horizon with the Immaculate Conception of Mary. She who will welcome the Word into her heart and her womb now begins to take shape in the womb of her own mother, St. Anne.

Those who misunderstand the Catholic love of Mary also miss out on the hope and certitude which are inseparable from devotion to her. The Woman promised in Genesis is our Mother! That thought should thrill us. It should awe us. In her littleness, her gentleness, Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 10.42.13 PMshe was also strong. So strong that she could stand at the foot of the Cross, enduring a crucifixion of the soul like no other, as she watched her Son hang upon the Cross for our sins. So strong, so selfless, was she that she merited the title Queen of Martyrs without actually dying, suffering the most bitter torments in union with her Son. Her heart was the only refuge, in all of creation, where God could find a perfect return of His Love, and that heart was pierced by Seven Swords of deepest sorrow. And it’s in her heart, this Warrior-Maiden’s heart, wounded and yet rejoicing, where Jesus wishes all of us to make our home.

In this month’s Magnificat Anthony Esolen tells the beautiful story of the miracle of Jasna Gora monastery, which houses the miraculous icon of  the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.  A small number, mostly monks, in the Polish monastery-fortress refused to surrender to the invading Swedes, though they had already overrun every other stronghold. Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 10.36.10 PMFor one long month they endured bombardment by the superior force, but miraculously they were not defeated. At times the Swedes would see a maiden in blue, carrying ammunition and aiming the canons. Other times they would see a woman in white pointing at them with her sword. It really gives me chills every time I read it or think about it. The Mother of God is not just a simple housewife in the dusty village of Nazareth, but she is now also a warrior-maiden who fiercely protects and defends her vulnerable children against unjust aggressors. And had she not been the former, she could not have been the latter.  Something to think about in our culture, which is obsessed with masculinized heroines.  Women are strong in their femininity, in a way distinct from men.  Except for the Beloved Disciple, it was the holy women who accompanied Jesus and His Mother to the foot of the Cross.  Theirs was the strength which comes from suffering with the Beloved, the strength which comes from loving God through the pain.

Reading the recent news of the Islamist threats against our Holy Father, I take courage thinking about those Polish monks in the monastery on the hill. As Catholics we have a long history filled with men and women who, though perhaps fearful, took heart and trScreen Shot 2015-12-07 at 10.40.42 PMusted God, willing to endure bodily death to protect and defend the Church and her saving Truth. They understood that she is Christ’s Bride, born from His Wounded Side. He died for her. If being a Christian means following the path Christ walked, why do we so often assume it means following only the path from the empty tomb to the rock of the Ascension? No, it means following the Way of the Cross with Our Lord and His Sorrowful Mother. But, like the outnumbered monks in Jasna Gora we can also rejoice, even as the enemy is encamped at the gates – or in our case, even though the enemy has slipped inside the gates and pretends to be one of us. The monks didn’t keep from celebrating the feasts and holy days during those days of siege, and the enemy force was enraged at the sounds of joy coming down from the monastery into their camp. As Leon Bloy said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God”, which is why our ancient enemy hates joy. The same Mary who is called “Cause of Our Joy” in the Litany of Loreto is also foreshadowed in the Song of Solomon with these awe-inspiring words: Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army in battle array? (Sol 6:10).

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.09.19 PMAs we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary today and think of her littleness in the womb of her mother – filled with grace, a tiny mustard seed who will destroy the kingdom of satan by her fiat – we can also thank God for creating her to be, not only the Mother of His Only Son, but also Our Mother – a Mother strong enough to accompany her Son in His Crucifixion, yet tender enough to coax even the most hardened sinner back into Christ’s fold.  It is our privilege to be children of such a fierce, yet loving, Mother.  May we never shrink from defending her, her Son, and His Church, for she never hesitates to defend us.

O Maria, sine labe concepta, ora pro nobis qui ad te confugimus!

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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