During Advent and Christmas, Christians look to the Virgin Mary in a special way as we prepare for the birth of Jesus at Christmas. This year is no different. Ruth Everhart wrote in the Washington Post last week about her struggle of processing her rape and the purity of Mary in Christian teaching.
As a victim of sexual assault, I can understand her struggle, but her theology and understanding behind traditions in the Christian church are incorrect and therefore lead to a misguided view of Our Lady. (If the reader or anyone the reader knows is going through a healing process, I suggest reading Dawn Eden’s “My Peace I Give You” and “Remembering God’s Mercy.” Both of these are breakthrough resources for healing sexual wounds through the eyes of faith.)
Everhart used phrases such as, “I know what it’s like to be a good girl whose life got upended by what someone did to her body” and asking, “How was it really?” This places the story of the Incarnation on the level of ancient Greek myths where powerful gods come down from their heavens to rape beautiful women. The story of Christianity could not be more different.
Mary Agreed to Carry Jesus
Christianity breaks with many ancient cultures in its deep respect for women, which is what drew many women to the early church and continues to draw women today. Everhart’s statement links her own tragic experience of rape with Mary’s at the Incarnation, yet it is clear from the book of Luke that Mary wasn’t raped or forced in any way.
The angel Gabriel was sent by God the father to Mary to ask her to be the mother of God. She asked him how this would come to pass and, after pondering Gabriel’s answer, she responded, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). That’s definitely consent to God’s plan.
The Holy Spirit’s work within Mary wasn’t foreign. St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote that the Holy Spirit (the love of God as a third person in the Trinity) was infused with Mary’s soul from the beginning. According to Kolbe, that’s because Mary is the Immaculate Conception, instead of just being immaculately conceived in her own mother’s womb. From the moment of her conception to the present moment, her soul has been totally united to the Holy Spirit.
Nothing about this implies rape or God doing something to Mary’s body. Instead, from her own conception to that of her Son’s—and indeed, for her entire life—she was united to God in a singular way.
The church’s appreciation and respect for women resounds elsewhere in the gospels and in the life of the early church. Women were the ones Jesus entrusted himself to at his most vulnerable moments. He shared the truth of the gospel with them, and they were receptive to his message, responding with, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).
The Church Offers Love to Assaulted Women
It is because of Mary’s “yes” and obedience to God’s plan that she has been raised to one of the highest positions in the church, with titles such as Queen of Heaven and Earth and Queen of Angels and of Prophets. The church did not do this to shame women who have been raped or sexually assaulted. Leaders in the church do not weaponize Mary’s virginity to come after those who have been victims of assault.
Rather, they offer a space of love and healing for victims and preach the truth of who women are: that we are beautiful human beings made by love in the image of God, and that no rape or assault can ever take that away. Being violently abused doesn’t change your “purity.” The church is there for healing and restoration, not to blame victims for what has happened to them.
Mary’s title of virgin mother is not meant to confound or discourage women in following in her footsteps, but rather to encourage women to live out their true Christian vocations. Everhart incorrectly argues that Mary has set the bar too high for women. Mother Maria Theotokos Adams, S.S.V.M. gave a beautiful talk to a gathering of young Catholic women on this aspect of womanhood last June.
Every woman is a daughter, a sister, a virgin, and a mother; daughter of God and our parents, a sister in Christ, a spiritual or physical mother, and yes a virgin, whether spiritually or physically. Oftentimes when our society thinks about virgins they think of people who are missing something or missing out. But really, virginity is about keeping something, or possessing something only given to certain people. Even married couples who have given themselves to each other will have a part of themselves which only God can have, making “purity” much more than a physical attribute.
Aligning our wounds with the teachings of the church can be painful at times, but through the example of Mary and with Christ’s grace, we continue in service to his church and his people, following his plan for our lives.