A short scholarly note on a number of titles by which the Church honours Our Lady
On 15 September 2020 the St Thomas More Society in NSW circularised the Society’s colleagues in the Legal Profession with what the Society called “A Pandemic Letter” dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows and referring to that feast on 15 September, to the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity on 8 September and to the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross on 14 September.
Beautifully written text
The beautifully written text embodied the 13th century hymn, the Stabat Mater, and a short scholarly note on a number of titles by which the Church honours Our Lady.
One significant aspect of this circular to Catholic members of the Legal Profession and Pastors in NSW was the entire absence of self-consciousness or apology in writing to persons eminent in their careers about Our Lady and her role in human affairs.
Brilliant study of our times
On the weekend of 19-20 September 2020 the Melbourne-based Foreign Editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan, published in the Weekend Australian a book review across a two page spread under the banner headline “How the West was Wasted”. Sheridan’s review is of Ross Douthart’s newly released and brilliant study of our times entitled The Decadent Society, a study of western culture of the past 50 years.
Ross Douthart (“the most brilliant younger Catholic voice now writing”) defines decadence in the words of the French culture critic Jacques Barzun: “a society that sees no clear lines of advance. The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result. Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces … When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.”
If this is the reasoned and perceptive diagnosis of our times, Douthart’s conclusion as to possible remedies is electrifying: he propounds as an historical necessity some external event which may be or include a Christian revival.
Douthart’s highly readable book has many levels of significance. At one level it is a modern work of the stature of GK Chesterton’s 1925 Christian interpretation of ancient history The Everlasting Man.
Medieval Christianity is inconceivable without her
At another level it represents the congruence of sophisticated international journalism (Douthart is an international columnist writer for the New York Times) and a Catholic view – and more particularly a Marian view – of world history and our immediate future.
The sudden emergence of a unifying Christian culture has happened before – coming seemingly from nowhere, a living personality captured the hearts and minds of many who became in consequence joyous, creative and ceaselessly energetic.
In 2019 Professor Rachel Fulton Brown, speaking as a guest of the Ramsay Foundation in Australia said of this phenomenon: “To understand Mary as medieval Christians imagined her, one has to understand everything. She is there in the art and architecture and the music. She is there in literature and the liturgy and the liberal arts. She is there in the most elevated expressions of human imagination and in the humblest prayers for help. She is there in the politics and in the ideals of marriage, in battle cries and in pleas for mercy for the oppressed. Medieval Christianity is inconceivable without her.”
This appeal of Mary
This appeal of Mary was movingly captured in the words of Cardinal St John Henry Newman in his recently re-published (2019) Meditations on the Litany of Loreto: “There was a divine music in all [Mary] said and did—in her mien, her air, her deportment, that charmed every true heart that came near her. Her innocence, her humility and modesty, her simplicity, sincerity, and truthfulness, her unselfishness, her unaffected interest in everyone who came to her, her purity—it was these qualities which made her so lovable; and were we to see her now, neither our first thought nor our second thought would be, what she could do for us with her Son (though she can do so much), but our first thought would be, “Oh, how beautiful!” and our second thought would be, “Oh, what ugly hateful creatures are we!”
These qualities which made her so lovable
Even more recently, the mechanism of this process of captivation by the personality of Mary is illustrated by the account of the conversion to Catholicism of the Jewish academic, Roy Schoeman. Schoeman was a brilliant scholar who, after studies at MIT, was appointed a Professor of Marketing at Harvard Business School at age 29. He was a dedicated downhill skier of near-Olympian prowess. He had lost his Jewish faith during his studies and was in desolation, having lost any sense of the meaning of life.
One day, walking in nature, he had an experience of God, of personal immortality, of being surrounded by a sea of love, of a God who cherished him rejoicing in his happiness and sharing his sorrows, almost as if he alone was the only person God had created.
Although he knew this was the God he had long sought, he knew little of him and willingly offered to be Buddhist, Hindu – whatever his Lord and Master desired – “anything but Christian.”
Surrounded by a sea of love
A year later he had a very conscious experience of the Blessed Virgin Mary with whom he was at once enraptured and who helped him over his deep-seated reserve about Jesus Christ and his difficulty in accepting that this was the promised Messiah which his religion of birth had awaited.
His life work became to work for the conversion of his Jewish people, whom he regards as pre-Messianic Catholics and Catholics as post-Messianic Jews. His very readable works are Salvation is from the Jews and Honey from the Rock – in which 16 Jewish converts tell their stories. Roy Schoeman’s personal testament on YouTube is “The Virgin Mary and the Catholic Conversion of Harvard Professor Roy Schoeman”, an interview with Matthew Leonard, embodying Schoeman’s account of his encounter with God and with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The fruits of an encounter with Mary like those described by Saint Cardinal Newman and Roy Schoeman and reflected in historical experience may include as needful:
- Zeal for the rebuilding of a damaged and deserted Church
- To help the world’s people and give comfort and renewed faith
- The revival of art, music, scholarship, poetry, drama and architecture
- The restoration of a sacramental life and humility, kindness, friendship and good humour in inter-personal and inter-generational relationships
- And not least – the rebuilding of Catholic families actively practising and sharing with others their Catholic Faith and the comfort and solace of God and of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
So even if the present seems plunged in darkness, the future may be bright.
As the Virgin Mary promised at Fatima in July 1917: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph”.
AJ Macken is an Australian Catholic lawyer and occasional writer on historical themes