Last weekend I preached on the Gospel of the Wedding Feast at Cana, and specifically on the two lines that “the mother of Jesus,” or Mary, had in the Gospel passage, i.e. “They have no wine,” and “Do whatever He tells you.” I don’t often preach on Mary. I contend this paucity is not due to a lack of devotion to Mary on my part (others may be of a different opinion) but rather because there has been so much bad and overly emotional Mariology in the Church that I find it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff in proper appreciation for Mary, Mother of the Church.
In any case, focusing on Mary last weekend reminded me of something that struck me about our church interior when I first got here, namely, its very masculine character. At least in images and visuals our church is top heavy with masculine images. In most Catholic Churches, on the right side of the altar (the left as you look at it) there is usually an image of Mary, with Joseph on the other side. In our church they have been supplanted, if I may use that term, by images of Sts. Peter and Paul. Since this parish is staffed by the Paulist Fathers the prominence of the Apostles and missionaries Peter and Paul seems to me altogether fitting and proper.
As an American community of men we Paulists fit right into the American ethos of the active and “masculine” virtues. The Paulists are missionaries who stress going out, reaching out, action and accomplishment. We are not known particularly for contemplation, reflection, “pondering in our hearts” as Mary had done, and generally what were known in a more benighted age as the “feminine virtues.” This active stance and emphasis on accomplishment fits well into a Texas ethos as well.
But a consequence of this prominence of Sts. Peter and Paul is a sort of displacement of Mary and Joseph. Joseph is off to the side altar by the side entrance. I have always thought that the lighting on his statue, which shines on his feet and casts his face into shadow, is appropriate since we know so little about Joseph, either his life before his marriage to Mary or what became of him after Jesus was discovered in the Temple. In any case St. Joseph is at least partially visible while the statue of St. Mary, effectively hidden back in the little Our Lady’s Chapel, is completely invisible except for those making the effort to visit the chapel. Mary does also appear in the various stations of the cross, but her most prominent position in the church is as the Mother of Perpetual help in the middle shrine on the South side of the church.
More striking to me than the limited representations of Mary in our church is that she is the ONLY woman presented. There is no representation of St Elizabeth Ann Seton, no image of St. Claire, no icon of St Mary Magdalene, no picture of St. Paul’s co-worker St. Phoebe, no St. Teresa of Avila, not even an image of The Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux. In this our church is a little different.
I suppose we are all quite comfortable with the preponderance of male Saints in our church (Sts Paul, Peter, Joseph, Austin and Servant of God Isaac Hecker). But perhaps it would profit us to at least recognize we have a gender imbalance in the representation of holy person in our church, and be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to seek a wider representation of the holy people of God. Just a thought.