I have a long history of Catholic envy. (This is not news to friends and family.) It probably all started years ago, growing up a Baptist girl in a Catholic town. Baptists have a pared-down and iconoclastic theology while Catholics keep piling on more traditions and saints and gold leaf. And I’ve always been jealous.
In our not-huge town, there were three Catholic parishes: St. Paul of the Cross, Mary Seat of Wisdom and Our Lady of Ransom (the latter always giving me a “But what does it mean?!” pause, knowing certainly that it was named ironically, like Garrison Keillor’s Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility). My Catholic friends did not appreciate that they were Catholic while I was the envious outsider. They rolled their eyes when reciting the rote prayers of the mass. And felt perfectly weighed-down by meatless Lenten Fridays. But there was something that seemed so Old World exotic about the whole Catholic lifestyle. Gilded alters, holy days, real wine at communion, totalitarian religion: I wanted it.
I still adore all things Catholic and of all the Baptist-taboo Catholic pageantry, I think I love Mary most of all. She epitomizes Godliness and Christian charity. And she always has this gracefully serene countenance, like she is humbly and blissfully ignorant of all the “Queen of Heaven” praise. Flowing blue gown, a radiant beauty. To be honest, I’m probably most attracted to her because she was Baptist Enemy #1. I’m sure we wouldn’t admit this fact, but Mary encapsulates the Catholic-Protestant divide. And I’ve always been a rebel.
So what’s a Baptist girl to do? I sneak Mary into every part of my life where she’ll fit. I have a painted plaster statue of Mary that I found at a garage sale years ago. It’s painted with the hushed hues and gold detailing of a 1950’s holy card, and it reigns over my work studio. Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and Perpetual Disorganization. I love it. And I hid “Mary” names in all my daughters’ given names (Molly, Maureen, and Marie).
And while I’d never admit it, sometimes after an argument with my husband, I’ll assume a meek Mary Full of Grace sweet-smile look on my face and absolve myself of all sin.
More prominently, I love Marian imagery for my designs. In fact, I have been slowly amassing an arsenal of Mary charms and Mary holy cards (and I don’t even know how to use a holy card!). If the Lutherans attack, I’ll be ready. Mary medals, like the Miraculous medal, or the Mexican Guadalupe medal, are somehow sweet and holy, but a little edgy, if that makes any sense at all. I’m using these medals more and more in my own jewelry (shown) and I love the Catholic swag that they bring. The over-decoration packs so much interest and texture into the tiniest silver charms. A saintly Mary icon standing on a bed of roses, surrounded by stars and halos and symbols and scallops, and THEN: a tiny prayer printed around the edge. Wow! (What’s on the flip side?)
And full to the brim with my Mary finds, I am currently stocking them in my supply shop. So everyone can love Mary like I do. Real holy cards are little works of art, and I’ve stocked up on all my favorite Marys: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mary Queen of Heaven and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Oh, I love Mary!
Now if all this Mary-love could just get me canonized as the first Baptist-born saint.