Marian Devotion and “The Great I Am” by William Klein

As I was working through my biblical studies, I came upon a curious statement that stayed with me.

“I AM the immaculate conception.” Mary is quoted as saying this at Lourdes during one of her appearances. Maximillan Kolbe pointed to it as he said that “Mary recognized the Holy Spirit within her.”

The Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary was conceived without Original Sin. This concept holds that as a vessel, the Mother of the purest vessel that became the Messiah, would be consecrated to deliver to the world a being who we could look to in helping us discern the path of our lives here on earth; as Christians, we look to Jesus for our moral strength, our spiritual strength and mental/emotional strength to help us through our adversities and abide by the “Will of God” in service to the world.

Marian devotees look to every aspect of Jesus’ life and include that of Our Lady to consider how she would influence her son’s perspective in shaping his destiny. In scripture, Mary is the first human being to recognize the presence of the sacred Christ within her. In terms of her role and how that plays out historically and scripturally, she asserts what theologians call “The Great I AM.” 

The “Great I am” is the acknowledgement of God’s incarnation in humanity. Moses asks God who he shall tell his people who He is, and God replies “I am that I am.” In other words, “I will become whatever I choose to be.” It was also noted that God replies, “I am who I AM.” 

In John 8: 58 it is written, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” In Isaiah, we see aspects of the Great I Am being expressed, but Jesus is the one who announces his sacredness before Pilate when he says, I AM.

Marian devotion is difficult for non-Catholics to understand. Why identify with Mary when you can talk directly to Jesus? There is also the question of why saints are important. Saints are the living embodiment of what Jesus called us to be on earth. They serve as representatives for human potential to recognize and embrace a spirituality that can empower us in ways we’ve never even considered.

There are four Marian dogmas that assert Mary’s divinity. The first time she is recognized as Divine is at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and was further stated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. She was given the term Theotokos or “Birthgiver of God,” so it was here that she was given the title “Mother of God.” The other doctrinal views of Mary worked themselves into Christian thinking throughout the ages starting with the earliest mention of Mary’s sanctity through the “perpetual virginity” in the 3rd century.

The four Marian dogmas that would follow throughout the ages are: 

  1. Divine Motherhood
  2. Perpetual virginity
  3. Immaculate Conception
  4. The Assumption

In a letter to a fellow Marian who was struggling with reconciling loving Jesus and Mary at the same time, Kolbe wrote:

“Your difficulty comes from the fact that you confuse feeling, remembering or understanding with the will. If only our will wants everything to be according to the Will of God, then by that very same fact it is so, even if we were not to understand or remember this, nor to feel it. At a given moment we can think of one thing alone, develop our feelings in one direction alone. Give yourself freely then to the devotion which at a given moment you’re drawn by, but remember that the essence of the love of God lies exclusively in fulfilling the Will of God in every moment. The more difficult this fulfillment will be, the more disgust and repugnance [we have to overcome], the greater will the manifestation of love be. But not even these difficulties belong to the essence [of love], and without them there can be an equal love. They serve only to manifest this love.”

In other words, “God wills to know us and we will to know God.” When we consider the life of Jesus and his relation to the world, we cannot discount the experience of his mother who raised him and, in turn, helped with his ministry. Jesus’ first understanding of the maternal stems from that which he witnessed in his mother. Mary is the human container for all that is holy and set the standard for women within the Jesus movement through her example.

As I consider my own faith, my mother’s faith was Marian in its own right. She was an exceptional listener, a caring parent, suffered tremendous hardship but looked to her faith for the answers to the big questions facing her in her day and was able to rise through her challenges through her strong intellectual prowess. When I consider Mary as the supreme example of what it means to be a mother, I can see where my mother took her lead.

The Marian devotions are representative of female empowerment. Mary chooses to be a woman of power! She doesn’t need a man to tell her she is great. She doesn’t need a sexual identity to define her. She is whole and complete in who she is. She is One with God and empowered to speak her words with authority. She will not be subjugated to the role that society has imposed on her; she claims the inheritance of a sacred entity, willing to be an instrument for Love and love unconditionally. Her birth and death claim the inherited characteristics reserved for that of a “Divine Being” that were usually designated for a man in her society. This is why Catholic women revere her.

What more can we ask for from a human being than to be a holy instrument and inspire the world through her humanity?

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