It’s difficult to talk about the Virgin Mary. On the extremes, some Protestants contend that reverencing her borders on polytheism while some Catholics take offense at any slight (as if somebody said something bad about your mom).
It is my opinion, from Scripture, that Mary was a virgin until after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:25) and that when the Gospels talk about Jesus’ brothers, they mean just that (John 7:3). I think that Mary was fallible, just like the rest of us, and needed salvation through her Son just as we do. Recall the story about when she and her other sons came to take Jesus away because they thought He was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:20-34). It is also seems that she jumped the gun with her request of Jesus to do something about the wine shortage at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Jesus told Mary that His “Hour has not yet come” (John 2:1-12). Moments later, however, Jesus does change the water into wine. My conclusion: God the Father must have then told Jesus to go ahead and perform the miracle, honoring her request.
Mary was blessed and graced like no other in history (Luke 1). I think that most Protestants pay too little attention to Mary as a model of faith, obedience, and perseverance compared to Jesus’ other male disciples. The Orthodox Church has a slightly different perspective on Mary than the Catholic Church. There is no Immaculate Conception of Mary in Orthodoxy—the belief that Mary was born without the stain of Original Sin. In Orthodox iconography, Mary is never pictured without Jesus. I think that’s healthier. Mary was born like the rest of us and must always point to Jesus as her own Savior and Lord. Thus, the sightings of the Virgin Mary—alone—at places such as Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, and Medjugorje present me with some problems.
Some of my problems with the apparitions are: Why Mary and not other disciples? Is it because she’s a woman and sometimes the church needs a more feminine touch? Why does the first purported sighting of Mary (in Spain, 40 A.D.) occur while she is still alive in Jerusalem? Why is this predominantly a Roman Catholic thing? Why does Mary usually come across as the merciful one who is trying to “Hold back the heavy arm of my Son” in judgement of the people? (This is from The Apparition of La Salette.) Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ mercy is highlighted as in this passage from the Apostle Paul:
“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.” (1Timothy 1:16)
All that aside, I believe that God could send Mary as an ambassador if He thought it would bring people closer to Jesus as “The way, the truth, and the life” because no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Thus, I always inspect the fruit of the apparitions—do they point people to Jesus? If they only increase devotion to Mary, that’s the biggest problem of all.
Look at the span of her life and see where Mary was after the resurrection of Jesus. She was with the believers in the Upper Room, waiting for the Holy Spirit to fall upon them (Acts 1:12-14). We would be wise to do likewise. She became part of the community of the faithful that shared with one another as each had need. She must have devoted herself to prayer and to the Apostles’ teaching like the rest of the church (Acts 2:42-4). Let’s be like Mary.
Ultimately, Mary falls at her Son’s feet with all of the saints, thanking Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Revelation 7:9-10). The result of her being “Highly favored,” the one of whom Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women,” and she whom “All generations will call blessed” lives happily under her Son’s rule, now and unto the ages of ages.