In the various liturgies at Our Lady of Guadalupe it is hard to miss the frequent references to “virginity”.

Our Lady of Guadalupe 1Perhaps it is inevitable that the topic of Mary’s virginity should arise regularly in a community dedicated to the sixteenth century apparition of the Virgin Mary near Mexico City and dominated by the famous icon representing Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego. But, to ears not steeped in Roman Catholic devotion to Mary, the constant references to virginity can be unsettling.

The idea of Mary’s ever-virgin status feels like a devaluation of sex, as if, Mary could only be truly holy by refraining from the slightly seamy matter of sexuality.

But, as I sit with the constant references to “virginity” in our worship, it begins to feel to me that the preoccupation with virginity may have less to do with sex and more to do with devotion.

I begin to see “virginity” as a symbol, an emblem of Mary’s single-minded dedication to God.  Mary is honoured as the “ever-virgin Mother of God” because she chose a life of perpetual obedience to the divine. She sought to bring her life into alignment with the truth, beauty, and light of God that became embodied in her son Jesus.

Because of Mary’s devotion she is said to have borne the presence of God and brought forth that presence in the world.

The example of Mary is a call to all followers of Jesus to give ourselves in complete, undivided devotion to love. In this act of self-offering and utter abandonment, we find that our lives begin to embody the presence of Christ in a way that enables us to manifest more fully the reality of God’s presence in the world. We are all called to the same singleness of focus that characterized Mary’s life.

This is the beauty of the monastery and the challenge of the world.

In the monastery, the external trappings of life are oriented towards encouraging and enhancing the single-minded focus on the presence and action of Love at the heart of all reality.

Outside the monastery, the world is oriented towards distracting us from our awareness of the deeper reality of God’s presence. We live in a fragmented world; we are constantly drawn away from depth. We are surrounded by the clamouring voices of the surface that deny the reality and the validity of purity and light that we discern, when we become more conscious, hidden just beneath the surface.

The image of Mary’s perpetual virginity is not a devaluation of sex. It is a call for me to allow my life to become more radically focused, more single-mindedly dedicated to opening myself to the deep reality of God. I, like Mary, am in a sense called to be virginal in my dedication to the ineffable reality that is so easily obscured in the clutter and chaos of my life. I am called to put aside those distractions that cause me to lose my consciousness of Christ in order that I might more fully bear the image of that God in whom my true identity resides.

The monks’ emphasis on virginity reminds me that, if I can put aside for a moment my reactivity to certain words and concepts that have been passed down in my tradition and listen more carefully, I may discover a new depth and richness opening in my faith.