None may withstand your power

I was blindsided the first time someone accused me of worshipping the Virgin Mary. He said all Catholics do it, making me a pagan. Silly me, I’d never learned to worship her. I thought we were supposed to honor her. Thank heaven this person set me straight.

It’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the day honoring when Mary was conceived without original sin. The Virgin Mary has an important place in Catholicism, Orthodoxy and the Coptic Church, and she always has. It makes sense: if Jesus is the King of Kings, then she’s the Queen Mum.

You see something similar with Bathsheba and Solomon in the Bible. If you have a polygamist society, then there might well be multiple wives of the king, but the king only has one mother, so his mother becomes an influential figure. I’m not going to get into the whole theology of Mary here. Call me a mariolator in the comment box if you feel the need.

The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel novena contains a line saying “None may withstand your power.” That drew me up short the first time I read it because I thought, “Well, Jesus can. He’s God.” I figured it meant no created being. Then someone said, “Oh, I like to think even Jesus will change things when Mary asks him to.” Which, to be fair, he did once before, at Cana. It’s not my time yet — oh, but Mom asked, so I’ll do something for them.

I’ve begun realizing why she can ask for anything and God would grant it, and it makes a lot more sense than the demi-goddess nonsense some people have accused Catholicism of promoting.

My Patient Husband and I have a great marriage. Imagine if my kids were to say to their friends, “Dad never says no to Mom. She could ask for anything and he’d give it to her.”

It would be true, and here’s why — because my Patient Husband and I are a team. We work in parallel and we work in union, and we have a unified goal and share a vision of our future together. We share priorities, and because of that, you can draw a few conclusions:

1) That if I ask him for something, it’s in line with his vision and his priorities.

2) That I would never ask for something counter to his priorities.

3) That if I ask, it’s important to me.

4) That I understand the cost of what I’m asking.

To jump straight to “Dad gives Mom anything she wants” misses the point. It misses the work we’ve done to create that kind of union, the understanding, the care, the sacrifices we make for one another, the closeness.

It’s humbling to think of Mary having achieved that kind of close relationship with God, closer than anyone, as the spouse of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of the Word, the Daughter of the  Father. That she’s worked (let’s say) as hard at knowing and loving God as I did at knowing and loving my Patient Husband, at anticipating His wants and doing nice things for Him and making her decisions with a mind for what He wanted, and caring for Him. Always and without fail, making her goals match to His. That’s true espousal.

It’s more intelligible in my head to see her as someone who found someone she loved and then worked hard at letting Him know how much she loved him, and then forming a close friendship that eventually became intimate, to the point where one can’t refuse the other in large part because one couldn’t ask for something the other would refuse. Because she would refuse it too.


About philangelus

Mom, freelance writer, novelist, angelphile, Catholic, know-it-all.
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12 Responses to None may withstand your power

  1. Ivy says:

    Such a situation finds precedent in Sodom. G-d says he’s going to destroy the city; Abraham asks him to see first if he can’t find just a few righteous by merit of whom the city might be saved. G-d agrees.

    He does it to save Lot, and despite the dancing, that’s his goal, and that’s what he’s granted. He doesn’t ask about Gomorrah. Lot’s not a righteous man, not really. First he offers his daughters up to be raped by the mob, and then, when ordered by an angel to get out of town immediately, just grab the family and run, he starts packing. He’s the one the angels go to when they enter the city because they know what it’s all about. He’s saved for Abraham, and Raphael tries to send him straight on to Abraham (that he chooses a nearby small town instead in such close proximity to Abraham’s offering Isaac is meant to show he doesn’t carry the same level of holiness and obedience Abraham does).

    We honor Abraham, with I suspect the same intent that Catholics honor Mary, not as a divinity, but as a forebearer and guide.

    • philangelus says:

      You may be right. I had never heard before that Abraham was considered sinless in Judaism, unless you said it.

      Lot is…I dunno. He’s not the nicest guy. But Abraham loved him, so he was saved. A point I bring up in Seven Archangels:Arrow is that the angels didn’t have to bring Lot out of Sodom.They only had to destroy the city once they couldn’t find five people. They didn’t, so they could have destroyed Lot too. And instead they got him out with them.

  2. Jason Black says:

    Things an editor catches: perhaps you meant to say it’s the day when _Jesus_ was conceived without original sin? 🙂 Although I don’t recall the facts of her backstory being made clear anywhere in the New Testament, it seems like Mary was probably conceived the old fashioned way…

    • philangelus says:

      Catholicism teaches Jesus was a virgin birth. Mary was conceived the old-fashioned way but was preserved free of original sin from the moment of conception so she could be a pure mother for Jesus.

      The Annunciation is the feast of Jesus’s conception.The feast of the Immaculate Conception,today, is nine months before the feast of Mary’s birthday (or whatever we call it, I forget the name.)

      Don’t worry — I’ve read at least one book that had the same misunderstanding.

      • cricketB says:

        I don’t understand “Original Sin”. If conception happens within a loving, mutually-respectful, (insert other positive adjectives of your choice) church-blessed marriage, that’s not a sin. Help?

        • philangelus says:

          Original sin is the stain that’s on every human being’s soul which makes us prone to committing actual sin. We’re not perfect beings, and that’s why. It’s the result of humanity being a disobedient, fallen race.

          (Think of it as you “origin.” It comes from the fact that every new person originates from a fallen world.)

  3. cricketB says:

    So the potential to sin is actually a form of sin? Shades of “sin by action” vs “sin by intent” vs “need both”.

    Our great great great …. grandparents sinned …(Apple / Eden? ) , so I’m guilty? That doesn’t sit right. Asking for help making good decisions, trying to help correct mistakes my ancestors made, in a general social sort of way, those feel right. Started out “It’s not my fault!” and it’s shifted to “But fixing it is the right thing to do, regardless of whose fault.”

    • philangelus says:

      I’m not explaining it right. Let’s say you have a glass mug, and I drop it on the floor so the inner structure of the mug is weakened. It isn’t a broken mug, but it isn’t as strong as a mug that wasn’t dropped.

      Later when I put very hot water into it, the stress of the hot water, which would not make a whole mug shatter, cracks the mug that has stress-fractures.

      Original sin would then be the stress-fractures in our souls that make us prone to actual breakage. And yes, it would be because of the disobedience of our very-very-very-very long-ago forebears (Adam and Eve if you will, or whatever early choice was posed to humanity that we failed if you don’t believe in Genesis as literal.)

      So original sin itself isn’t the same thing as sinning. It’s the condition we’re born with that makes us the flawed creatures we are today.

    • philangelus says:

      Here’s another thought: you’re assuming life is fair. Why? There’s no precedent for that in reality.

      The reality is, my husband was born with a genetic predisposition toward diabetes that isn’t his fault. Kiddo#2 has a genetic predisposition toward bad skin. I have a genetic predisposition toward heart disease. These things aren’t our fault. My relative were ill, and now I’m not going to be healthy either? Why is that?

      Moreover, my daughter Emily died because of exposure to some unknown substance (maybe a virus, maybe something envornmental) while she was gestating, and it interrupted her development. Fair? Not at all. That shouldn’t sit right either.

      Every religion needs to explain innocent suffering. It’s a big question, and the answers are multifaceted. Maybe we’re making up for sins in a past lifetime. Maybe we’re suffering because of Adam & Eve’s bad apple. And so on. But the underlying assumption is that there should be fairness, and where is that coming from? Because in the animal kingdom, animals do not care about fair and even division, and they’re not concerned with innocent suffering. The big animal comes and takes the meat, or takes the females, and he doesn’t say to himself, “Perhaps the other animals should eat too.” Right?

      The fact that we’re all so conscious of fairness and we wonder why there’s innocent suffering at all is the best indicator that fairness, justice and an explanation exists. Otherwise the question would be meaningless.

  4. cricketB says:

    Stress-fractures in our soul. Neat image. Brings up the responsibility we have to avoid hot water and find some duct tape, also to be understanding when someone else’s fractures are visible.

    Sometimes the die roll against us, even though no one did anything wrong. Sometimes they roll for us. I was born to well-educated and prudent parents. It’s nothing I did right or wrong, nothing I could control, just luck. I’m grateful for it, make the most of it, and try to re-balance others’ dice, but don’t take credit for it. Nor do I feel guilt for what my ancestors did.

    I guess the concept strikes me as useful but unnecessary. I know I have the potential to do wrong. So does everything around me, not just humans. I don’t need an explanation, it just is. I don’t see it as a flaw worthy of a title, just a fact. A bridge isn’t flawed if it can’t exceed it’s design load.

    Reminds me of a poem by Kipling. He absolutely understood engineers.

    The Hymn of Breaking Strain.

    • philangelus says:

      I’ll check out the poem.

      You know you have the potential to do wrong, but in a theological structure, the question becomes why would a perfect and omnipotent God create a world where evil could happen? Why wouldn’t a perfect God create a perfect world? Or in a polytheistic society,the same question over all gods.Or in a highly philosophical society,why is there injustice?

      Every worldview has to address that question. We know we have the potential to do wrong (in fact, I have done wrong in the past and know I will in the future) but the next question becomes,”Why do I have this potential?” and of course, “By what yard stick am I judging right and wrong?”

  5. Ivy says:

    The yardstick is the bigger question. So much has been “right” at one time and “wrong”‘ another. If you help someone’s slave escape, are you helping one fellow human being or steeling from another? Obvious answer today, but go back to the days of the underground railroad, and people were debating that.

    I say, with a 35% decrease in new diagnoses of heart disease after Blumberg instituted the no smoking in bars and restaurants ban, his policy is a good thing. It saves lives. A friend thinks it keeps customers away, depriving her of some income. It’s a bad thing in her eyes. Which measure do we apply?

    What about an abortion where the mother’s life is in danger if she doesn’t abort, say cancer of the uterus? Good or bad? You have to kill to save a life, either kill the mother to save the baby or kill the baby to save the mother, but which?

    What about socialized health care? Do we hand something so important to a bureaucracy known for messing up (scary enough they have control over the military) or do we say, “Sorry, please go die somewhere quietly” to a sick person who just lost a job, thus lost insurance?

    Is it evil to give money to a person crying that he’s starving if he later uses the money to hire an underage prostitute?

    Even when we try to do right, we’re good at doing wrong.

    A perfect G-d would create a complete world, and that would include the potential for both good and evil.

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