Blog Template Theology of the Body: Indulgences on the Road: Our Lady of Solidarity

Monday, March 16, 2009

Indulgences on the Road: Our Lady of Solidarity

At last, my travel notes, with apologies for my delay... I have been attending to my family through the past week.

I began my field trip for research on the doctrine of indulgences at the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, which was erected in 1930 on the west coast of Mexico. The parish is famous for its devotion, which the faithful people manifest in their collection of beautiful devotional statues and, more importantly, in their personal lives. I was particularly struck by the army of single and married middle-aged women who serve the cathedral as its ministry staff. They were all there at Sunday Mass, wearing long white dresses and enormous versions of the scapular of Mt. Carmel, in solidarity with the lovely depiction of Mary as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, as shown above.

The Carmel story goes that the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England on Sunday, 16 July, 1251. In answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed religious community, she appeared to him with a scapular in her hand and said the following:

"Take, beloved son, this scapular of thine order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant."

This pious tradition reflects on of the central aspects of Catholic doctrine: God has entered into real solidarity with humanity. In contrast to the Protestant teachings of monergism, Catholic Christians have always believed the full sense of the promise of God: "I will dwell with them, and they will be my people." (Zechariah 8:8) The theological sense of that statement is one of real interaction between the infinite and perfect God and His sinful, limited creature, which is possible only because God loves us enough to make this sort of real relationship possible by His mercy and grace. In this dynamic, humanity has something to give to God. We know this from the historical fact that God incarnate was, at various points in His earthly life, given everything by the creature who bore Him. Mary is the creature who most radically gives everything to Christ- her reputation, her womb, her body and bloodline, her home, and (in the vivid sense that is so often depicted in medieval art) a mother's milk for His nourishment. The Son of God thus entrusted His life to His creature, whom He had prepared for Himself.

It is in this way that the Church knows Mary as the one who gives to God and to her fellow creatures from all the grace that was first given to her, in order that she might be the pure mother and bearer of the Word. As she gave to God, so she also gives from God to us: just as we do for one another, so she also gives tokens of the covenant, renewed ways of prayer, instruction, and help in times of trouble. But even more so, from Mary we know something about ourselves. As her fellow creatures, we know that we too must have something of real value to give even to God; as Scripture tells us, we must give to Him our very selves, in the demonstration of our love and faith, in exchange for His very self. It is in this way we enter into covenant with God: God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. (I Corinthians 1:9) Thus, we have a covenant. We have solidarity with God.

Pope John Paul II brought it all home for my study of indulgences when he explained in 1999 that "indulgences are expressions of God's mercy... the starting-point for understanding indulgences is the abundance of God's mercy revealed in the Cross of Christ. The crucified Jesus is the great indulgence that the Father has offered humanity through the forgiveness of sins and the possibility of living as children in the Holy Spirit. However, in the logic of the covenant which is the heart of the whole economy of salvation, this gift does not reach us without our acceptance and response." (L'Osservatore Romano, 6 October 1999)

More to come...