January 21, 1997
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Five-hundred and thirty years ago. . . .
Marian Spirituality and the Interreligious Dialogue
In Mary, LIFE is Sacred
Recently, a group of parishioners from the town of Villapando (Zamora), Spain, wrote to the Marian Library stating that their ancestors in the parish of San Nicolas had vowed themselves in the year 1466 to honor and defend the Immaculate Conception. The parish priest, Fr. A. Tomas Osorio sent a photocopy of the declaration of the text of the vow of 1466 together with the renewals of the vow in 1498 and 1527. In 1466, thirteen representatives from Villapando and the surrounding villages, during a time of war and pestilence, pledged themselves to honor the Virgin Mary "without stain, without sin conceived in the womb of her mother St. Anne," asking Mary to protect the town and its surroundings. In return the feast of the Conception of Mary would be celebrated as a feast day preceded by a day of fasting and abstinence, celebrated with Mass, sermon, Vespers, and a dinner for twenty of the town's poor. This vow anticipated thirty-one years later a similar pledge made by the theological faculty of the Sorbonne (1497).
Congratulations to the parishioners on Villapando on the dedication of their new church of San Nicholas on August 25, 1996.
During these weeks, as the churches pray for unity, we include this article by Rev. Thomas A. Thompson of the Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute. This article appeared in the winter 1996-97 Marian Library Newsletter.
The 47th annual meeting of the Mariological Society of America was held on the campus of Villanova University, Philadelphia, May 29-31, 1996. The theme for the 1996 meeting was "Marian Spirituality and the Interreligious Dialogue." Ecumenical dialogues have occurred between the Catholic Church and the other Christian churches during the last thirty years. Alongside the ecumenical dialogue, there is also the interreligious dialogue, between Catholicism and the major religions of the world.
The interreligious dialogue has its origins in Vatican II's "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" (1965). This document speaks of the respect which the Church has for "the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of the truth which enlightens all people." The dialogue with the world religions is coordinated by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and, in the United States, the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Pope John Paul II has made no little contribution to advancing the interreligious dialogue. Many of his insights are contained in Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1991) from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. As the title indicates, dialogue and proclamation are inseparable, are both integral to the Church's evangelizing mission.
The interreligious dialogue, according to the pope, is not limited to theological exchange between scholars. It also involves dialogue dealing with social problems and the challenges facing humanity. Interreligious dialogue deals with spirituality and religious experience where persons,"rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute"(#42).
The Mariological Society's program was one of the first programs to relate Mary to the interreligious dialogue. The historical figure of Mary is present in some of the world's religions; in others, there are traits of spirituality which we identify as Marian. The spirituality of first-century Judaism contributes to a better understanding of Mary, daughter of Israel, and true child of Israel. (See Lawrence E. Frizzell's "Mary and the Biblical Heritage," Marian Studies 46  26-40).
Mary is mentioned thirty-four times in the Qu'ran, the only woman mentioned by name, and Islam pays Mary its highest compliment, namely, that she is a person of faith and of submission to God, a model to be imitated by all Muslims. In some parts of the Middle East, Muslims, particularly women, visit Marian shrines to seek her intercession. Speaking of Muslims, Vatican II had said, "Although not acknowledging him as God, they [Muslims] venerate Jesus as a prophet, his virgin Mother they also honor and even at times invoke."
In the great religions of Asia, there are female images of compassion which bear a similitude to Mary. Maria Reis-Habito's presentation at this meeting spoke of how Japanese Christians transformed the Buddhist deity of compassion into a thinly veiled image of Mary, known as Maria-Kannon. In a recent study, Francis X. Clooney, S.J., has shown the similarity between Christian and Hindu texts. As you read the following poem of the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, place the verses of Mary's Magnificat alongside the verses:
Thou has made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again
and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou has carried overhills and dales,
and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy
and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still though pourest, and still there is room to fill.
In Redemptoris missio, Pope John Paul II wrote, "God does not fail to be present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression" (55). There is also a sense in which we join others in the search for God. At the end of the day of prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage for peace with leaders of the world religions at Assisi, Pope John Paul II said: "Let us see here an anticipation of what God would like the developing history of humanity to be: a fraternal journey in which we accompany one another toward the transcendental goal which is set before us" (Dialogue 79). The Virgin Mary can also be seen in this context. "In Mary is summed up the longing and searching of the whole human race for God" (Society of Mary's Rule of Life, 7).
Marian Studies available
Address all inquiries to MSA Secretariat; The Marian Library; University of Dayton 45469-1390 (phone 937 229-4294).
We invite you to pray for the human, helpless life of tiny children in the wombs of their mothers!
On March 25, 1995, Pope John Paul II published a letter entitled: The Gospel of Life [Evangelium Vitae]. This work is a testimony to life in every form. At the conclusion of the document, the pope reflects on Mary, the woman who carried the God of Life in her womb for nine months. The following is a brief quote from the letter:
102. At the end of this Encyclical, we naturally look again to the Lord Jesus, "the Child born for us" (cf. Is 9:6), that in him we may contemplate "the Life" which "was made manifest" (1 Jn 1:2). ...
The one who accepted "Life" in the name of all and for the sake of all was Mary, the Virgin Mother; she is thus most closely and personally associated with the Gospel of life. Mary's consent at the Annunication and her motherhood stand at the very beginning of the mystery of life which Christ came to bestow on humanity (cf. Jn 10:10). Through her acceptance and loving care for the life of the Incarnate Word, human life has been rescued from condemnation to final and eternal death.
For this reason, Mary, "like the Church of which she is the type, is a mother of all who are reborn to life. She is in fact the mother of the Life by which everyone lives, and when she brought forth from herself; she in some way brought to rebirth all those who were to live by that Life." [Blessed Guerric of Igny, In Assumptione B. Mariae, Sermo I, 2: PL 185,188]
As the Church contemplates Mary's motherhood, she discovers the meaning of her own motherhood and the way in which she is called to express it. At the same time, the Church's experience of motherhood leads to a most profound understanding of Mary's experience as the incomparable model of how life should be welcomed and cared for.
105. The angel's Annunciation to Mary is framed by these reassuring words: "Do not be afraid, Mary" and "with God nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:30, 37). The whole of the Virgin Mother's life is in fact pervaded by the certainty that God is near to her and that he accompanies her with his providential care. The same is true of the Church, which finds "a place prepared by God" (Rev 12:6) in the desert, the place of trial but also of the manifestation of God's love for his people (cf. Hos 2:16). Mary is a living word of comfort for the Church in her struggle against death. Showing us the Son, the Church assures us that in him the forces of death have already been defeated: "Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Life's own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign." [Roman Missal, Sequence for Easter Sunday]
The Lamb who was slain is alive, bearing the marks of his passion in the splendor of the resurrection. He alone is master of all the events of history: he opens its "seals" (cf. Rev 5:1-10) and proclaims, in time and beyond, the power of life over death. In the "new Jerusalem," that new world towards which human history is traveling, "death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4).
And as we, the pilgrim people, the people of life and for life, make our way in confidence towards "a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1), we look to her who is for us "a sign of sure hope and solace." [Lumen Gentium 68]
bright dawn of the new world,
Mother of the living,
to you do we entrust the cause of life:
Look down, O Mother,
upon the vast numbers
of babies not allowed to be born,
of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women
who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed
by indifference or out of misguided mercy.
Grant that all who believe in your Son
may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love
to the people of our time.
Obtain for them the grace
to accept that Gospel
as a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude
throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely, in order to build,
together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love,
to the praise and glory of God,
the Creator and lover of life.
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