The greatest created person

The role of 'Our Lady', educating women and the liberating role of faith

Jesus Christ, God the Son, came on earth as a man in order to overturn ‘the aboriginal calamity’, humankind’s assertion of equality with the Creator, and to give us the freedom to love outside ourselves. He achieved this through the generosity of a WOMAN.

Her name was Mary and her love of God was such that she did not hesitate when asked by God to become the mother of his Son on earth, surely the most unlikely of all requests! It left her vulnerable to the threat of stoning (as a pregnant unmarried girl at that time) and she could not have been certain that Joseph, her betrothed, would marry her in these unforeseen circumstances.

We are told that he did, and became protector to her and to her child. She remains both virgin and mother; she is the benchmark of womanhood, because of the quality of her loving.

Christians have, from very early times, always claimed her as their own – in many languages she is ‘Our Lady.’ No wonder that the image of Mary, with her Divine Son is one of the most familiar of all, wherever Christianity has touched the culture.

She reflects the existential nature of woman undamaged by sin – her loving, giving and understanding enabling her to identify herself with her son’s mission with such intensity of love that we see her as the loving mother of the whole world and the Queen of Heaven. She is the most powerful of women; that is why we ask her to pray for us.

WOMEN ASSERTING THEIR PERSONHOOD

Women’s understanding of themselves changed too, with the coming of Christianity. The laws of Rome, for the most part, gave, as we have seen, power of life and death over women to fathers and husbands. But by the end of the second century A.D., we find young girls defying their pagan fathers and refusing to marry the pagan husbands chosen for them, which would have meant giving up their Christian faith.

They asserted their autonomy as individuals. It was a time of great persecution and a number of young Roman women chose to be faithful to their love of Christ, rather than deny him, a choice that led to death - a choice that may well shock the people of our time.

But these young women believed in the thing that they professed, rather like anti-Nazis during World War II or dissidents in Stalin’s gulags. Note that they did not kill themselves. No doubt, they longed for a time when such choices were not presented to them. With tremendous courage, they determined not to reject Christ’s life and death in order to save themselves.

EDUCATING WOMEN

The formal education of women began in a surprising way under the auspices of an irascible scholar called Jerome in the fourth century. He was the first to translate the Bible into Latin. He was acquainted with a number of wealthy Roman women, who were Christians and he gave them lectures on the Christian faith.

They were remarkable women. One of them, Fabiola, set up the first known hospital, in order to care for pilgrims travelling to Rome. Her enterprise started off a tradition of medical care and hospitality which continues in the Catholic Church to this day, in many parts of the world.

Another of Jerome’s female pupils, Melania the Younger, by name, had inherited as many as a thousand slaves. She decided to free them because she was a Christian and she divided immense tracts of land in the Roman province of Africa between them – in a practical and personal way anticipating the work of William Wilberforce by a millennium and a half. .

These women were educated, they studied in many fields and revealed remarkable organisational talents. Their circle of women formed the proto-type of the convent and led to the life of the nun – a woman who dedicated herself entirely to God, living with like-minded women in community. Such women continue to this day. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is probably the best known religious sister of the last century, and she devoted her life to the care of the abandoned and dying, so that they would know love. Her sisters carry on her work all over the world.

Josephine Robinson studied at Oxford before working as an actress until she married and had children. She has worked for various Christian and pro-life charities and is author three books and numerous articles.
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We argue over Charlie Gard, but forget those spending whole lives caring for a disabled child

The everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over life and death.

“Sometimes,” says the mother, “I wish we’d let him go. Or that he’d just been allowed to slip away.” The father agrees, sometimes. So too does the child, who is not a child any more.

On good days, nobody thinks this way, but not all days are good. There have been bright spots during the course of the past four decades, occasional moments of real hope, but now everyone is tired, everyone is old and the mundane work of loving takes a ferocious toll.

When we talk about caring for sick children, we usually mean minors. It’s easiest that way. That for some parents, the exhaustion and intensity of those first days with a newborn never, ever ends – that you can be in your fifties, sixties, seventies, caring for a child in their twenties, thirties, forties – is not something the rest of us want to think about.

It’s hard to romanticise devotion strung out over that many hopeless, sleepless nights. Better to imagine the tragic mother holding on to the infant who still fits in her loving arms, not the son who’s now twice her size, himself edging towards middle-age and the cliff edge that comes when mummy’s no longer around.

Writing on the tragic case of Charlie Gard, the Guardian’s Giles Fraser claims that he would “rain fire on the whole world to hold my child for a day longer”. The Gard case, he argues, has “set the cool rational compassion of judicial judgement and clinical expertise against the passion of parental love”: “Which is why those who have never smelled the specific perfume of Charlie’s neck, those who have never held him tight or wept and prayed over his welfare, are deemed better placed to determine how he is to live and die.”

This may be true. It may also be true that right now, countless parents who have smelled their own child’s specific perfume, held them tightly, wept for them, loved them beyond all measure, are wishing only for that child’s suffering to end. What of their love? What of their reluctance to set the world aflame for one day more? And what of their need for a life of their own, away from the fantasies of those who’ll passionately defend a parent’s right to keep their child alive but won’t be there at 5am, night after night, cleaning out feeding tubes and mopping up shit?

Parental – in particular, maternal – devotion is seen as an endlessly renewable resource. A real parent never gets tired of loving. A real parent never wonders whether actually, all things considered, it might have caused less suffering for a child never to have been born at all. Such thoughts are impermissible, not least because they’re dangerous. Everyone’s life matters. Nonetheless, there are parents who have these thoughts, not because they don’t love their children, but because they do.

Reporting on the Gard case reminds me of the sanitised image we have of what constitutes the life of a parent of a sick child. It’s impossible not to feel enormous compassion for Charlie’s parents. As the mother of a toddler, I know that in a similar situation I’d have been torn apart. It’s not difficult to look at photos of Charlie and imagine one’s own child in his place. All babies are small and helpless; all babies cry out to be held.

But attitudes change as children get older. In the case of my own family, I noticed a real dropping away of support for my parents and disabled brother as the latter moved into adulthood. There were people who briefly picked him up as a kind of project and then, upon realising that there would be no schmaltzy ending to the story, dropped him again. Love and compassion don’t conquer all, patience runs out and dignity is clearly best respected from a distance.

All too often, the everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over who gets the right to decide whether an individual lives or dies. I don’t know any parents who truly want that right. Not only would it be morally untenable, it’s also a misrepresentation of what their struggles really are and mean.

What many parents who remain lifelong carers need is adequate respite support, a space in which to talk honestly, and the recognition that actually, sometimes loving is a grim and hopeless pursuit. Those who romanticise parental love – who, like Fraser, wallow in heroic portrayals of “battling, devoted parents” – do nothing to alleviate the suffering of those whose love mingles with resentment, exhaustion and sheer loneliness.

There are parents out there who, just occasionally, would be willing to set the world on fire to have a day’s respite from loving. But regardless of whether your child lives or dies, love never ends. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.