top of page

Mary, Mediatrix: Exemplar for the Contemporary World

We hold this marian symposium in Fatima, a sacred place where shepherd children communed with the Mother of God, and where the sun careened in the sky, confounding human certainties about what is possible and controllable. St. Augustine reminded us that all creation bears vestiges of the Trinity. Through human history, however, certain persons, places, and events, inexplicably chosen by divine intent, have occasioned deeper understanding of the mysteries of faith. Christ chose simple material things like bread, salt, and breakfast on a Galilean lakeshore to mark the giving of Revelation. In this sacramental place called Fatima, the Mother of God brought together ordinary shepherd tasks and a plummeting sun. In every era of history, there are concrete signs and events that open significant questions and evoke deeper understanding of the Faith.

I would like to begin with an analogy from our time that seems particularly apt for reflecting on Mary, Mediatrix, as exemplar for the contemporary world. It involves the launching of a military space vehicle, as told in simple layman’s terms by the technician who worked on it. A few years ago, he had particular responsibility for deploying this military craft, worth billions of dollars. The vehicle was designed to be empowered with energy from the sun through what is known as triangulation. Triangulation means that the craft would be held in its orbit in relation to three entities: in this instance, two stars and the center of the earth. When it reached a designated altitude, the vehicle was designed to deploy panels sensitive to the sun, and obtain energy for its operation. On the day that the craft was launched, the panels opened as they were designed to do-but they immediately closed in again. From earth, there began a series of attempts to maintain the panels in an open position. There was only an eight-hour window of opportunity to accomplish this. After that, if the panels kept retracting, the mission would be lost, and the vehicle, a multi-billion dollar project, would simply be “space-junk.” Six hours passed without success. It became clear, however, that the problem came from inside the vehicle itself. Something within it had a stronger attraction for the panels than one of the stars in the triangulation pattern. With only two hours remaining, the launchers re-constituted the triangulation pattern. An alternate star was selected that would have a stronger attraction for the craft than whatever small item inside it kept drawing the panels to itself. Before the eight hours elapsed, a new pattern was established, the panels remained open, and the mission could go forward.

This true account, the “stuff ” of our age, offers a helpful analogy for naming major qualities of mediation, and the manner in which they are lived with such perfection in Mary, Mother of God. In this symposium, where we are always reflecting in the context of faith, any analogy from the realm of space technology will be partial-never adequate to the mystery in a quid pro quo manner.

Consider, however, four basic aspects of mediation to which the analogy points:

1) In triangulation, the possibility of genuine, effective mediation is triadic. Like all that is true (even a technical apparatus), it has its basis in the Mystery of Trinitarian Life.

2) Mediation involves being centered-a “being in the middle”-that provides an interface for communication, for exchange, for bringing others into union.

3) In creation, this requires matter-material bodies.

4) Since mediation conveys what is intended to be for the good of others, it must be authentic, respecting the truths of being.

It is through these four aspects that I would like to reflect today on Our Lady as Mediatrix, and to affirm how she is exemplar for contemporary cultures which so often lack these traits.

Even the military space vehicle, a non-human speck in the cosmos, was based on a trinitarian principle. So long as it opened itself to the triangulation pattern of two stars and the center of the earth, the sun could empower it. If relation to even one of these was severed-if something within proved more attractive, the craft was useless. Once closed in on itself, it could not receive the gift of the sun and be empowered to receive and communicate that for which it was made. It had been fashioned to receive and transmit (what the makers at least considered) to be for the good of others.

Before suggesting how these four aspects are helpful in understanding marian mediation, it is essential to state briefly how Our Lady’s mediation is always understood in relation to her Son, The Mediator. Quoting Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church [from here forward = CCC] speaks of Mary as the “Church’s model of faith and charity,” its ” ‘exemplary realization’ (typus).”{footnote}Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Libreria Vaticana, 1997), #967.{/footnote} Further, through her “wholly singular way” of cooperating in “the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls … she is a mother to us in the order of grace” (#968). In calling Mary Mediatrix, the Church celebrates and affirms that as sinless Mother of the Son of God, “her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation” (#969).

Lumen Gentium says:

In the words of the apostle there is but one mediator: ‘for there is but one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a redemption for all’ (I Tim 2:5-6). But Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power …

It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely upon it and draws all its power from it … No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source. {footnote}Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in Austin Flannery, gen. Ed. Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, New Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992), Art. 60, 62, pp.418-419.{/footnote}

Mary intercedes for us. In the Rosary, the prayer which Our Lady of Fatima specified as a way of seeking and receiving the gifts of conversion and unity, we ask her intercession again and again: “Pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.” There is the (perhaps apocryphal) story that the question was posed to an assembly of bishops: “Why do we pray to Mary?” After extensive, wonderful explanations, the questioner suggested that “Basically, we pray to her ‘that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.’ ” How often those familiar words are addressed to her! They are an all-inclusive prayer, asking Our Lady’s intercession for worthiness to receive Christ’s promises. In the Litany of the Blessed Mother, we ask under one title after another “pray for us.” Why do we seek HER intercession?

Mary’s Person as Mediatrix

First, in and through Jesus Christ, Mary’s mediation is rooted in the Trinity. As Lumen Gentium states: “[T]he Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men originates not in any inner necessity but in the disposition of God. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it” (#60). In speaking of the Blessed Virgin in the plan of salvation, Lumen Gentium states that: “The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother …” (#56). Further, “…it was customary for the Fathers to refer to the Mother of God as all holy and free from every stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature” (#56). With the Second Vatican Council, there was a great re-emphasis on the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, a plumbing anew of the perichoretic mystery that is inner trinitarian life, and its centrality in Christian faith.

What a gift-that Lumen Gentium incorporates Mary within the exposition of the Church which “in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament-a sign and instrument-that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men” (#1).

Many of us have been to the Holy Land in recent years and have had the privilege of visiting the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The left wall of the basilica’s upper church opens to several lower levels, where remnants of earlier churches over the holy site have been excavated and preserved. In looking down from the upper nave, the eye is led across and down several levels to earthen stairs and a small room with an altar. Beneath that altar is a circular stone marker inscribed with the words “Verbum caro factum est.” In complement, behind the main altar of the upper church, is an immense mosaic which artistically interprets Lumen Gentium. How fitting that, in Nazareth, the sacred place of the Annunciation and the Incarnation, contemporary art interprets Lumen Gentium. The basilica at Nazareth celebrates the coinherence of the mysteries of faith and it marks the place where Our Lady became the living interface between divine and human life.

Our Lady’s first unique privilege, her preservation from original sin from the first moment of her Conception, was gift from the Trinity, preparing her to receive in her body-person the Eternal Son of the Father, through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Nothing separated her from trinitarian choice, self-gift, and presence. The Gospels first tell of Mary as a young woman of Nazareth, already betrothed and promised in marriage to Joseph … and then the Angel Gabriel came. She was already “full of grace,” a creature, yet mediatrix, through whom a Divine Person would enter into enfleshed, saving communion with humanity in need of redemption. As Pope Benedict XVI so recently reaffirmed: God is Love.

The Catechism says lyrically that “God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (#221). This inner life of the Trinity is described by the term Perichoresis. It is, Boff wrote, the “interpenetration of one Person by the others … Its first meaning is that of being contained in another, dwelling in, being in another … Its second meaning is active and signifies the interpenetration or interweaving of one Person with the others and in the others.” {footnote}Leonardo Boff , Trinity and Society (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), pp. 135-136.{/footnote}

Perhaps no one has theologized more profoundly and simply concerning inner trinitarian life than the twelfth century theologian Richard of St. Victor. In Chapter Three of his De Trinitate, he shows why the one God could not be a monad, or a dyad-why there must be Three Persons in God. It is a matter of perfect love. Perfect love cannot be turned in on itself. Neither can there be perfect love between two: sooner or later such love turns in on itself. Supreme, divine, mutual love will extend beyond, says Richard, to a “Third” who is mutually divine and equal:

Certainly in mutual and very fervent love nothing is rarer or more magnificent than to wish that another be loved equally by the one whom you love supremely, and by whom you are supremely loved … Therefore it is necessary that each of those loved supremely and loving supremely should search with equal desire for someone who would be mutually loved and with equal concord willingly possess him. Thus you see how the perfection of charity requires a Trinity of persons, without which it is wholly unable to subsist in the integrity of its fullness. {footnote}Rich ard of St. Victor, “Book Three of the Trinity,” in Richard of St. Victor, trans. And introd. Grover A. Zinn, Classics of Western Spirituality series (Toronto: Paulist Press, 1979), pp. 384-385.{/footnote}

In response to this trinitarian love, Mary gave her Fiat. With her words “Be it done to me according to your word,” the moment of Incarnation, Mary truly became the center of the universe, THE MEDIA, the embodied receiver of the personified message of salvation. The spare words and actions attributed to her in the Gospels attest to her receptivity to the divine communion of persons. Her whole being was opened to receive the Son of the Father through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. She became, uniquely, the personal interface between the Trinity and humanity. Our Lady’s embodied presence was a crossing that marked the center of the universe: the place in the material cosmos personally encountered by the One who leapt down from the Father. As the antiphon for first vespers on the Feast of Mary, Mother of God has it: “O marvelous exchange! Man’s creator has become man, born of a virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Mary became the centering body, the interface, the Mediatrix, where the transcendent God became one with the creaturely human, without confusion or separation. It is the marian privilege of being virgin before, during, and after the conception and birth of Christ that assured the identity of Jesus Christ. Her mediation, then, was both invited by the Trinity and lived as a radical centering point of creation. Her being was the encounter point.

There is no abstraction here. A third aspect of marian mediation: it is embodied. In carrying the Child in her womb, in the visitation to Elizabeth, on journey to give birth in Bethlehem, Mary bore in her body the central mystery of reality. Her vocation as Mediatrix did not relieve her of the demanding but utterly ordinary tasks of daily life. Although sinless, she (as Christ did) knew exhaustion and pain. Simeon foretold the young mother that a sword of sorrow would pierce her soul. No exalted throne for her in Nazareth, but the stuff of life-in-thebody in a Galilean village.

In Redemptoris Mater, Pope John Paul II says that Mary “is present in Cana of Galilee as the Mother of Jesus, and in a significant way she contributes to that ‘beginning of the signs’ which reveal the messianic power of her Son.” Her motherhood, said John Paul, was in the dimension of the Kingdom of God, “in the salvific radius of God’s Fatherhood.” Considered in the magnitude of cosmic events, the specifics of the miracle at Cana were small, a response to an immediate need. Through them, however, Mary impelled Christ into his messianic mission. Pope John Paul II wrote:

Thus there is a mediation: Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings. She puts herself ‘in the middle,’ that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider but in her position as mother. She knows that as such she can point out to her Son the needs of mankind, and in fact, she ‘has the right’ to do so. Her mediation is thus in the nature of intercession. Mary ‘intercedes’ for mankind. {footnote}Pope John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer, Encyclical Letter (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1987), Article #21, p. 31.{/footnote}

Mary did not receive Gabriel’s message or carry Christ in her womb in the manner of a channel, basically untouched by what flowed through her. Rather, her entire body-person was forever involved. With her Fiat, she gave flesh of her flesh, consecrated her whole being so that humanity might receive, meet, and know the Word made flesh for our salvation. As a human person, she was free. She could have drawn in, closed herself to the message and mission. But hers was not a pro forma response, a “yes” to something pre-determined, that would simply pass through her, use her as a mere instrument. She questioned, understood enough, and said “Be it done to me.” In receiving and responding to a personal encounter beyond her own powers, she became the medium, in whom and through whom, the personal Word of salvation came for the benefit of all.

The culmination of Our Lady’s dogmatically-defined privileges is her Assumption, body and soul, into heaven. This is of particular importance regarding her body-person as Mediatrix. She is the only creature who was defined as having already been received into heaven as total body-person. She personally exemplifies the preciousness of body-of matter and its capacity for glorification. Even now, she mediates that mystery concretely but transcendentally in eternal life. Matter is already glorified in a creature, Mary, Mother of God.

A fourth aspect of mediation, considered within the context of faith is this: what is conveyed is for the common good and, as such, must be truthful. Mediation is an interface for communion of persons and the conveying of truth. It is not a gift for the personal aggrandizement of the one who mediates. The Visitation mystery emphasizes this in a particular way.

Adrienne von Speyr, in her book, Handmaid of the Lord, reflects on the Visitation mystery that followed so closely upon the Incarnation:

Through the encounter with the angel who addressed her as ‘full of grace,’ Mary has become the mediatrix of grace. Wherever she goes with her Child, the grace of the Child flows out through her into the world. The Child in her womb gives her the grace to awaken the mission of John by way of his mother. In few events does it become so impressively evident that grace always overflows and never stops at the person. It goes from Jesus to Mary, from Mary to Elizabeth and from Elizabeth to John, there to be thoroughly poured out, and finally, thus increased, to return to the divine Source to which John points. It is obedience that first shows Mary how she is to administer the grace she has received, by virtue of obedience she retains nothing for herself, so that the grace of the Son has lost nothing of its power and urgency when it has passed through her hands. Therefore Elizabeth is also sure that she has received divine grace, and for that reason she can also be sure that she in turn, selfless and obedient, passes it on to her son. {footnote}Adrienne von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), pp. 45f.{/footnote}

Lumen Gentium designates Mary as “Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (#62). Note how the titles coinhere in one another. As Mediatrix, she “comes between” in order to unite, or to further deeper union. At Cana, Our Lady is helper and advocate for the couple that “have no wine” for their wedding guests. Much more, she is “in medias res” in order to impel her Son into his public mission. She is benefactress who, through the simple needs of a village wedding, mediates what is for the good of all. It is a moment of truth, transcending this and every wedding. The Mediatrix at Cana mediates her Son into his redemptive journey: the Bridegroom who will make ordinary wine the means of Transubstantiation and Eucharistic self-gift. To participate in, and mediate one truth, puts one in touch with all truth. As the poet Sister Maura Eichner asks in a similar context: “If you were God, would you have thought of that?”

Mediation in the Contemporary World

Why suggest that Mary as Mediatrix is exemplar for the contemporary world? The fourfold qualities of integral mediation in Mary’s person highlight also the challenges which contemporary life and culture present when mediation is understood as 1) trinitarian; 2) centered (in order to provide an interface for communication and union); 3) requiring matter and embodiment; and 4) conveying what is for the good of others, authentically, truthfully.

The revealed truth of inner trinitarian life remains a stumbling block for many today-or even seems irrelevant. The Old Testament testifies how difficult it was for people to receive the truth of One God in a culture that clung to multiple deities. The New Testament, especially the Johannine and Pauline Letters and The Acts of the Apostles, manifests how challenging it was to bring the truths of Christian Revelation to those ensnared in Gnostic pleromas with their demi-gods and aeons. Recently, not only outside, but within the Church, there has been misunderstanding of, and resistance to the document Dominus Jesus. Since the archeological discovery of Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi in the last century, a Gnostic revival of sorts has flourished, as evidenced in the New Age Movement, and a widespread fascination with works such as The Da Vinci Code.

In revealing the inner life of the Trinity, Jesus said “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself; it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work” (Jn. 14:10). “But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learned … Everything the Father has is mine; that is why I said: All he tells you will be taken from what is mine” (Jn. 16: 13, 15). In light of Jesus’ revelation, the Church expresses the identity of each Divine Person in terms of relation. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est eloquently dwelt on the truth that God is Love. The Trinity is Perfect Love. The more perfect love is, the more that love will be expressed in self-gift, deference, reverence for the other. To say that marian mediation is trinitarian in its source means that Mary exemplifies, in a creaturely manner, the qualities of such divine love.

Contemporary cultures, especially among Western nations, increasingly place high value on choices that counter authentic communion of persons. Radical independence is prized and many avoid making permanent commitments or choose legal forms of union with protective clauses. One thinks, for example, of the legal partnership created in France at the turn of the millennium: the so-called PACS (Pacte civil de solidarite), an acronym designating a legal agreement that falls short of marriage while specifying some benefits and responsibilities for each of the partners. One couple, in their late twenties, who entered this civil union, said that although they had lived together for eight years, they did not feel ready for marriage. The New York Times reported that “both are children of divorce and they think marriage is a burdensome institution, weighed down with religious connotations, likely to end badly and at enormous expense.” {footnote}Suzanne Daley, “French Couples Take Plunge that Falls Short of Marriage,” in The New York Times International (Tuesday, April 18, 2000), pp. A1 and 4.{/footnote} Another couple who entered the agreement in 1999 said that they would never marry, even if they could, because “It is such a heavy thing, marriage.”

In bypassing the trinitarian aspects of permanent relationship and total self-gift, many in Western cultures are reinterpreting relationship and marriage-eviscerating their meaning while retaining the terminology–such as “marriage,” “family,” and “parent.” Reinterpretation is then followed by attempts to legalize such arrangements. When forms of union no longer bear a recognizable trinitarian image, they cannot mediate what has never truly been received or given. They “float in the space” of subjective interpretation, and can change according to personal choice and the exigencies of the moment.

A second aspect of genuine mediation is centering through which one’s entire body-person becomes a midpoint for communication and bringing others into union. Each newborn child responds to others and the environment as if all were of one piece, with the child as the center of his universe. When the child cries, the universe responds to its needs and wants. If there is healthful growth, this changes. For example, a child will push endlessly at baubles hung over its cradle, gradually experiencing “otherness”; there is a growing realization that it is not the center of the universe. There are “others” with their own reality. This brings the possibility of relation. If such development does not occur, the infant grows into the child, the teen, the adult who retains the notion that he/she IS the center of the universe, not a mediator, but one who draws everything back to self. Like the space vehicle that responded to an attraction within its small being that outweighed even the attraction of a star, such a person may close in upon self-or try to change reality to suit individual choices and desires. Christ’s call to human fulfillment in the Beatitudes: his description of the Last Judgment; and Mary’s “Be it done to me,” reveal what brings true “beatitude”- the mediation of good things for others.

In the film, The Passion of the Christ, there is a perceptive scene, placed in the high priest’s house on the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Christ is incarcerated in a cell beneath the house. Mary silently moves across the flagstone floor above the cells-intent, listening. Suddenly, she kneels and bends down, pressing her face to a flagstone, communing with her Son imprisoned below. The film portrays Mary’s communion with him, her entire body-person united to his pain and suffering. It is a union between Mother and Son that transcends stone and distance.

Thirdly, authentic human mediation is incarnational, embodied. For both Christ and Mary there has to be a body. The Letter to the Hebrews is amazing for the number of ways it emphasizes this truth.

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,

prepared a body for me.

You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;

then I said, just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book …

‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’ (Heb 10:5b-7. 9)

The Letter to the Hebrews also stresses that God never said to an angel, “You are my Son, today I have become your father” (Heb 1:5). Rather, for a short while the Son is described as being made lower than the angels, but now crowned with glory and splendor “because he submitted to death; by God’s grace he had to experience death for all mankind” (Heb 2:9). As compassionate high priest, Christ, “During his life on earth … offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learned to obey through suffering” (Heb 5:7-8).

In the opening years of the Third Millennium, the gift of body is often distorted, violated, treated as an object to be manipulated and refashioned. During the twentieth century the human body came to be considered a malleable artifact- raw material for experimentation, or for recombination with other forms of life and matter. Robert Brungs, founder of ITEST (Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology) recalled with quiet horror the slogan of the World’s Fair, held in Chicago in 1933. It stated: “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms.” Near the entrance to the Fair was a looming sculpture meant to interpret that slogan. It portrayed a large robot, bent down over two human figures like a mechanical womb. That was 1933. The sequence of “science finding, industry applying, and man conforming” has indeed moved rapidly. It is common to hear the present status of mankind described as “posthuman.”

Approximately sixty years after the Chicago World’s Fair, N. Katherine Hayles published her book How We Became Posthuman. Drawing insights from her sixteen-years study of the history of cybernetics and the convictions that have spurred technological development she wrote:

What is the posthuman? Think of it as a point of view characterized by the following assumptions … First, the posthuman view privileges informational pattern over material instantiation, so that embodiment in a biological substrate is seen as an accident of history rather than an inevitability of life. Second, the posthuman considers consciousness, regarded as the seat of human identity in the Western tradition long before Descartes thought he was a mind thinking, as an epiphenomenon, as an evolutionary upstart trying to claim that it is the whole show when in actuality it is only a minor sideshow. Third, the posthuman view thinks of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate, so that extending or replacing the body with other prostheses becomes a continuation of a process that began long before we were born. Fourth, and most important, by these and other means, the posthuman view configures human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines. In the posthuman, there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot technology and human goals. {footnote}N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 2-3.{/footnote}

Hayles is not overstating what has already occurred. This is not science fiction. Applications of these convictions and technologies are happening so rapidly that what persons in the mid-20th century would have considered unthinkable have become commonplace-often, not only tolerated in some nations, but affirmed by legal right. I cite just two examples from recent months that exemplify a rapidly changing understanding of the human person in regard to animal life and the artificial/ commercial means of producing children.

In 2005 the London Zoo opened an exhibit called “Humans.” Eight living humans, wearing fig leaves over their bathing suits, sat in a zoo’s cage labeled “Warning: Humans in Their Habitat.” This was not a college prank. Rather, writes Mary Beth Bonacci:

…[T]he point of this exhibit is to make a ‘statement.’ According to London Zoo spokeswoman Polly Wills, ‘Seeing people in a different environment, among other animals … teaches members of the public that the human is just another primate.’ Tom Mahoney, one of the eight fig-leaf clad participants, agrees. ‘A lot of people think humans are above other animals,’ he told the Associated Press. ‘When they see humans as animals, here, it kind of reminds us that we’re not that special.’ {footnote}Mary Beth Bonacc i, “Humans: The Latest Exhibit at the Zoo,” in Arlington Catholic Herald (Sept. 8, 2005), p. 25.{/footnote}

In February of this year, under the headline “Dispatch From a Sperm Bank: Multiple Moms, One Nameless Donor,” there was a report about eleven single women who have given birth to children via one male sperm-donor called “401.” Artificial insemination, practiced in the breeding of animals, is now practiced and zealously advertised for women who not only want to have a child, but want to specify, according to catalogue order, the characteristics they want a sperm-donor to have.

The Post article reported:

On the Web site for Fairfax Cryobank [Virginia, USA]- one of the largest in the country-a sperm shopper can browse the catalogue for Mr. Right Donor. Free of charge, she can find a staff assessment of the man, as well as all sorts of preferred paternal criteria: eye and hair color, nationality, blood type, height and profession. (For PhD, MD and attorney sperm, there is a premium charge of $425 a sample). Donors make a six-month commitment and are paid $900 to $1,500 a month. {footnote}Lois Romano, “Dispatch From a Sperm Bank: Multiple Single Moms, One Nameless Donor,” in The Washington Post (Monday, February 27, 2006), p. A2.{/footnote}

For an extra fee, more details are available regarding the sperm “donor” such as his baby picture, an audiotape and extensive medical history. In our Washington, DC areas there are repeated radio advertisements promoting an IVF Center that promises a pregnancy within a definite number of attempts, or “your money back.” Children by guarantee! Artificial production and marketing of children is now a fact! It does not stop there, however. The United States Senate is going to consider a bill “which would allow fertility clinic patients to donate their spare embryos to federally financed researchers.” {footnote}Rick Weiss, “Senate to Consider Stem Cell Proposals,” in The Washington Post (Friday, June 30, 2006), p. A5.{/footnote} The “donation” of spare children for research: for those who profess belief in the Incarnation, in the sanctity of every human life, in marriage as image of Christ’s union with the Church, and the human body-person as dwelling-place of the Trinity, these are egregious violations of the human person. In early centuries of Christianity, Gnostic and Docetist systems of belief penetrated nations in the Mediterranean Basin. Knowledge for an elite group was the means of salvation and the body was considered a problem, an encumbrance to be eluded as much as possible. Basic heresies tend to recur in history, and current fascination with Gnostic writings should not surprise us.

What particularly concerns us here is the challenge that current aberrations present regarding the mysteries of Redemption and mediation. The body and the material universe are crucial to the mysteries expressed in Catholic faith, including the marian doctrines. That is why it is necessary to read the signs of our time regarding the human person, embodiment, marriage and procreation when reflecting on mediation.

The robot that was portrayed as overshadowing man and woman in the World’s Fair of 1933 is now available in multiple smaller forms for use in homes, institutions, and industry. In 2003, the Harvard Business Review published an article called “Technology and Human Vulnerability: A Conversation with MIT’s Sherry Turkle.”

Turkle is considered one of the most distinguished scholars in the area of technology’s influence on human identity. A sociologist and psychologist, she has spent more than twenty years closely observing “how people interact and relate to computers and other high-tech products.” {footnote}”Technology and Human Vulnerability: A Conversation with Sherry Turkle,” in Harvard Business Review (September, 2003), p. 44.{/footnote} The senior editor of the Review who interviewed her said “…there is every indication that the future will include robots that seem to express feelings and moods. What will it mean to people when their primary daily companion is a robotic dog? Or a hospital patient when her health care attendant is built in the form of a robot nurse?” Turkle, who has studied the effects of technical fabrications (such as robotic baby dolls and dogs) on the lives of children and seniors in nursing homes, said that some elders are frustrated if the robot does not say “I love you.” She observed:

…I found one woman’s comment on AIBO, Sony’s dog robot, especially striking in terms of what it might augur for the future of person-machine relationships: ‘[AIBO] is better than a real dog. It won’t do dangerous things, and it won’t betray you … Also, it won’t die suddenly and make you feel very sad.’ … The sight of children and the elderly exchanging tenderness with robotic pets brings philosophy down to earth. In the end, the question is not whether children will come to love their toy robots more than their parents, but what will loving itself come to mean?{footnote}Ibid, p. 46.{/footnote}

Disembodiment is a basic issue for faith and theology in our day. As early as the 1950’s, N. Katherine Hayles notes: “Norbert Wiener proposed it was theoretically possible to telegraph a human being … The producers of Star Trek operate from similar premises when they imagine that the body can be dematerialized into an informational pattern, and rematerialized, without change, at a remote location.” {footnote}Hayles, How We Became Posthuman, p. 1.{/footnote}

Awareness of the technical and the virtual becomes increasingly important for anyone seeking to understand Christ as The Mediator and Our Lady as Mediatrix. Each of the marian dogmas stems from the uniqueness of her embodied gifts. She was conceived without sin. She conceived Jesus in her true body through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. She is Mother of God, Theotokos, in an incomparable bodily mediation. She is assumed body and soul into eternal life. There can be nothing virtual in these mysteries of faith.

The fourth aspect of mediation, flowing from its Trinitarian, centering and incarnational aspects: it is meant for the good of all, authentically, truthfully. Christ identified himself as the divine “I am”-the way, the truth, and the life. “The one who sent me is truthful,” he said in the treasury of the Temple (Jn. 8:26). He responded to Pilate’s questioning: “Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice” (Jn. 18:37). What a travesty of mediation when that which is conveyed is not for the good of others, not truthful and does not reverence the truths of being.

The means of communication in our time are often summed up in the word “media.” The word can mean highly organized institutions that produce sophisticated methods of communication. The term can also refer to audio-visual and print materials, but it especially refers to electronic forms of communication: computers, the Internet, television, radio, and wireless messages of various kinds. We are inundated-lifesoaked- in images and information. Google Print, for example, has a goal “to organize all of the world’s information and make it universally accessible, whatever the consequences.” {footnote}David A. Vise, “Google: What Lurks in Its Soul?” in The Washington Post (Sunday, November 13, 2005), p. B1.{/footnote}

The media absorb more and more of life. The forms range from small, handheld games which children play on minute screens, to worldwide networks which communicate the conduct of war or inundate air waves with pornography. Fifty years ago, Marshall McLuhan, Canadian genius, was prescient when he said “The medium is the message.” He meant that it was not only what was transmitted via the media, but the forms of media themselves that were a predominant message of the future. He noted that they “would have far-reaching sociological, aesthetic, and philosophical consequences, to the point of actually altering the ways in which we experience the world.” {footnote}”The medium is the message,” from The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd ed., 2002, E. D. Hirsch et al eds.,, accessed on June 5, 2006.{/footnote}

We know how indiscriminate, how sly and disdainful of truth, messages conveyed by the media can sometimes be. Recently, I came across an uninvited advertisement on the Internet for bogus academic degrees. Someone calling himself “Jerry Burnett” was offering a “Genuine college degree in two weeks.” The ad filled less than a half page when printed, but it urged “have you ever thought that the only thing stopping you from a great job and better pay was a few letters behind your name? Well now you can get them! BA BSC MBA PHD.” {footnote}See{/footnote}There is “No study required” and it’s 100% verifiable. A legal loophole allows some colleges to do this, the ad assured.

In this place, honoring Mary’s personal mediation of conversion and hope to children (and through their mediation, to the world) it is especially pertinent to consider how the electronic media are impacting the lives of children across the world. Children almost seem to be born “wired for transmission.” Their small hands hold miniature screens that absorb so much of their lives. They are often incapable of distinguishing what is real from what is only virtual. A playful cartoon in the daily paper illustrates this. In “The Family Circus,” the grandmother tells the little boy Jeffy: “I’ve been enjoying the weather lately.” He replies, “I don’t watch that channel.” Unfortunately, it is not always innocent misunderstanding that affects children.

Over a year ago, in Japan, noted for its courteous respect, the nation was horrified by an incident occurring in one of its schools. A girl in the fourth grade brutally murdered a fellow student in the school’s washroom. The next day, when brought before authorities, she asked that the murdered child be brought in so that she could apologize to her personally. In electronic games, if a figure was eliminated, it could be brought back again for another game. The girl could not distinguish the actual taking of life from the manipulation of characters in a game.

Adults, also, can be caught in a virtual environment of their own choosing. There are programs available on the computer that invite participants to replace their undesirable bodies with “avatars” of their own contriving, and to fashion virtual environments which they can inhabit and where they can interact with other virtual people. One site on the Internet, called Second Life, suggests to those who are interested:

Second Life is an online digital world, built, shaped, and owned by the participants. Create a shared reality in a world full of people, activities, adventures, and fun … Explore a boundless world of surprise and adventure. Fly through an ever-evolving 3D landscape and encounter wonderful places and things-all created by residents like you … Change your appearance to look like anything-an imaginary superhero, a mythical monster, or your own mirror image. Or, change your surroundings. Build your dream home …

Technological information can take on a life of its own to the point where we can be deceived or uncertain whether a real person is addressing us from that vast arena called cyberspace. For many, this can bring confusion or even a shrug, perhaps, about the difference between the truly supernatural and what is only an extremely clever electronic fabrication. I find that serious students of the electronic media are sometimes more prescient about the impact these media have on faith and human life than many within the Church. Michael Heim, for example, wrote almost a generation ago:

Will human nature itself change? Will we soon pass some point where we are so altered by our imaginations and inventions as to be unrecognizable to Shakespeare or the writers of the ancient Greek plays?

No one knows, but many are trying to imagine such a world. They describe our children and grandchildren as no longer being like us. They call them trans-human, or posthuman. {footnote}Mich ael Heim, The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1993), p. 111.{/footnote}

What a mystery the Church places before us in Mary as Mediatrix who is intercessor, participant in the mediation of her Son, and exemplar for the contemporary world, which so often operates from a position of isolated independence, selfcenteredness, disembodiment and relativity. I have suggested that it is crucial to consider the meaning of mediation in its larger dimensions-trinitarian, centered, embodied, and truthfully conveying and uniting what is for the good of others. Marian mediation, while it means her intercession on our behalf, continues to involve her entire body-person, as it does that of her Son, The Mediator.

The understanding we have of mediation affects every mystery in the deposit of faith.

In Mary: The Church at the Source, coauthored by then- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, the future Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

Mary is not ensconced merely in the past or merely in heaven, God’s preserve. She is, and remains, present and active in this hour of history. She is an acting person here and today. Her life is not only behind us, nor is it only above us. She goes before us, as the Pope repeatedly stresses. She interprets the historical moment for us, not through theories, but through action, through the action of showing us the way forward. To be sure, in this texture of action it also comes to light who she is, who we are …

Mariology therefore becomes a theology of history and an imperative to action. {footnote}Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, MARY: The Church at the Source, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), p. 46.{/footnote}

19 views0 comments


bottom of page