Truly our Sister: A Theology Of Mary In The Communion Of Saints Paperback – 3 May 2006
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"I know of no book on Mary, past or present, that is superior to Truly Our Sister. It is remarkably creative, challenging, and groundbreaking, and yet deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition. Elizabeth Johnson has already established herself as one of the Catholic Church's leading theologians. This book solidifies and enhances that well-deserved reputation." Richard P. McBrien, Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology, Notre Dame University "With her outstanding command of critical feminist theory and theology, biblical scholarship, history, and even archeology, Elizabeth Johnson has framed a thoughtful proposal for the place of Mary of Nazareth in the communion of saints. A companion to her stunning volume, Friends of God and Prophets, this book exceeds its riches to offer a superb, beautifully written treatise that demonstrates the power and possibilities of post-Vatican II theology for the world today. It is simply breath-taking in its scope and achievement." Anne Carr, Professor of Theology, Divinity School, The University of Chicago"
About the Author
Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., is distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University. She has received numerous awards, including the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for She Who Is (1993), the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion for Friends of God and Prophets (1999), and the Book Award of the College Theology Society for Truly Our Sister (2004). She was also the recipient of the John Courtney Murray Award of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Jerome Award of the Catholic Library Association, and the Monika K. Hellwig Award of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.'
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In the present book, so to speak, she comes back down to earth by focusing on Mary, who was intimately linked to the Spirit and yet remains far more accessible to us humans. Mary can be named, and quite naturally be represented as a woman. She is a definitely more attractive, familiar and reassuring image than that of a spirit.
The author goes, maybe with too much detail, into the historical and cultural contexts in which Mary spent her time on earth. She does that in order to show that Mary was a real woman, a real sister to the other women of this world. She rejects the usual image of Mary as the perfect icon because she finds it counterproductive. All the out-of-this-world privileges which are bestowed on her in the classical view, actually put her out of reach from other women. In the end, she has nothing left in common with the real women of this world.
Elizabeth Johnson wants to convince that despite all that has been said, Mary remains within reach of her twenty first century sisters. That Mary was a very active, autonomous and responsible woman who can be and should be a real model for all the women of this world, because she actually was one of them. She lived and strived in a difficult male-oriented patriarchal society. She lived and acted in her own right, and not as someone who received her identity through a man from whom she should necessarily depend.
This also holds true regarding the unique relationship that Mary enjoyed with the Divine. Elizabeth Johnson wants to demonstrate that Mary was not just a passive obedient tool in the hands of God, but an active, willing and determined participant in the history of God's self communication to humanity. When she was visited by the angel, she decided on her own to agree and to go along with God's project. And then, during all her life she remained consistent with this positive and responsible attitude.
A lot of other interesting considerations are to be found all along this stimulating book, if the reader takes his or her time on the way.
Dr. Johnson's book in no way denigrates the character of Mary the mother of Jesus, but instead seeks to articulate all of the virtues of Mary that we (and women in particular) can find in Mary as a role model. The "Our Sister" in the title is not intended as some claim to deny the fact that Mary was the mother of God and a role model for maternity, but refers to the fact that as Mary is also God's daughter, and through that aspect she is also our sister through religion. The title's use originates from quote by Pope Paul VI, and as such should not be considered "unorthodox."
The book analyses the virtues that Mary demonstrated in her life, which offer hope and reassurance to particularly women (thought they should not be precluded from men) during daily struggles. Dr. Johnson pays special attention to the plight of oppressed women. In scripture, when the angel appeared to Mary, and asked her to do God's will, Mary said yes. When doing so, she did so without hesitation, and did not first seek the opinion of her male guardian, who during the time period would have had the ultimate legal custody of Mary's future, nor did she consult a rabbi. The implications of accepting God's will were that she may possible be bearing a child out of wedlock, which would have socially stigmatize her, and made her an outcast of society, but she had faith that God would provide. Mary's obedience to the will of God as a priority over concerns about the law of men was courageous and loyal. Her trust in God to protect her during her potential time of difficulty demonstrated exemplary faith, trust, and hope. This is the image of Mary that provides the most help and reassurance to the women interviewed by Dr. Johnson, during their times of ordeal, and hope during times that no physical assistance seems in sight for them.
However, the image of Mary presented by Christianity focused on her obedience, meekness, and virginity. It did not stress that Mary's obedience was to God rather than to patriarchal institutions, and that her humility to God's will. Although it was a miracle for a virgin to give birth and that aspect of the story helps to demonstrate that Jesus was the Christ promised, virginity was not an uncommon characteristic of a young unmarried woman in Jesus' society.
The image that a church dominated by men constructed of Mary as a role model, extols values that make it easy to subjugate women and render their voices invisible. It is an image, ironically, that received no input from women, but to which all women were commanded to use as a role model; basically saying theses are the virtues that you should find inspirational. It is also an incomplete image and does not convey the fullness of virtues demonstrated by Mary, which can help women today: Mary's courage to say yes to God's will, and to follow Jesus to the foot of the cross; Mary's priority of obedience to what is truly good as opposed to what society tells her is the norm; her humility towards God, but her leadership in the realm of men that was demonstrated by her catapulting Jesus' public ministry by asking him to change the water into wine at the marriage of Cana; and an acknowledgement that Mary did suffer when God's will was being fulfilled through the crucifixion.
An image of Mary that neglects these components of her life is not only terrible because it is incomplete and does injustice to the role that Mary played in religious history, but it dangerous to women. Dr. Johnson notes a study by psychologists among women of Hispanic culture, in which women who remain in abusive situations do so because they believe it is their role in life to suffer with humility any injustice that life gives them, as if it is God's will, similar to the interpretation that Mary was always obedient and meek and inactive, as mariansmo, a set of behavioral patterns that women tend to display when living in cultures dominated machismo. People need to be reminded that Mary is not a women who accpeted suffering for the sole sake of suffeirng as a virtue, nor did she accept suffering so that the false laws of men that perputuate injustice would be promoted in society. Mary accepted suffering when it was necessary to do so in order to fulfill God's plan and to contribute to creating his kingdom on earth.
Dr. Johnson's book explores all of Mary's virtues. The end result is an image that pays full honor to the entire scope of Mary's life, rather than propagating an incomplete image of Mary resulting from piecing together only certain aspects of Mary's virtues, which cause predominantly women to recourse to a model that tells them to always suffer injustice quietly as a virtue - the consequence of Christianity's portrayal of Mary for the majority of its existence. Dr. Johnson's image of Mary honors her in all her glory, rather than only highlighting the aspects which can be used against women by cultural and religious institutions. The end result is a role model in which all people (not only women) can find inspiration and better guidance for discerning God's plan for their lives, and a deeper respect for the role that Mary played in her time, which increases the reasons and motivation to honor her.