Mary and Bioethics

by Francis Etheredge

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



Most people do not understand the discipline of bioethics. It is an important issue and one Francis Etheredge investigates squarely. He is calling for a study of the Blessed Mother. Without recourse to God, bioethics is ultimately without meaning. From a secular perspective, bioethics cannot be more disconnected from Mary; however from that of the Catholic Christian, Mary is none other than the Mother of all the Living. Etheredge shows that bioethics is lacking a Marian view, accepting life as a divine gift, it is fundamentally ill-equipped to respond to human suffering genuinely and compassionately.

This book is a compilation of essays from scholars that Etheredge has met during his scholarly life. They provide a unique and meaningful addition to the study of Mariology and bioethics. He begins with an inquiry about the nature of man and woman, marriage and family life is also about beginning. He re-finds the language of the covenant, the promise of God to do good, in the reality of the Christian sacrament of marriage in which God is present and active: making present the paschal mystery in which Jesus Christ brings new life out of the sufferings and deaths of everyday life’s humiliations, tragedies and trials. Bioethics is not, then, superimposed upon the reality of human life, rather, just as the human person is a bioethical word so bioethics springs from the deepest account of human life, traversing the problems of meaning and suffering as indeed drawing afresh on the whole reality of an integral account of the human being in relationship: to God and to each other.

The first chapter takes the reader into the transition that brings new life to the mystery of marriage; and, as such, provides a renewable source of energy for the difficulties and sufferings of marriage and family life. The next three chapters a “Marian Triptych” is normally a set of three paintings and, therefore, what presents itself is a threefold image of what is visible. In a particular way then, the concrete choice of God comes with an enduring significance in terms of the constant challenge to understand the threefold providential workings of God; in the relational reality of womanhood, in the dynamic mystery of Christ and his Church and in terms of the significance of the times in which we live. It is on the path shown by this…sign of the woman that we follow the trail of hope toward Christ, who guides the ways of history through this sign that points the way, and more specifically, the originality of Mary’s role of mediation consists in its maternal character, which align it with Christ’s being born ever anew in the world”. In a world in which mother hood is disfigured the motherhood of Mary is a sign of hope in the ever anew coming of Christ.

In Chapter four is about prayer. Thinking of prayer, then it can seem that is is about “moments of prayer” as if, owing to the crises of life, we turn to God in prayer because it is impossible that anyone else can understand or help us; and, indeed, this remains a consolation in the depths of human suffering that the aloneness we experience is a kind of aloneness with the alone. In Chapter 5, the author expresses the fact that gratitude is twofold: “It is essential, however, to bear in mind that the two trajectories of thanksgiving towards one’s parents and toward God are not in competition; they exist next to, together with and in each other. Gratitude is essentially human, we are all caught up in a movement of gratitude that begins in being given existence as a gift and grows as it is permeated by the grace of salvation which comes through Christ and His Church.

In Chapter 6, the author points out there is a concreteness to the action of God. “If the concrete were not essential to Christianity, if the Lord were not truly flesh but ‘merely the product of an idea,” then Mary might have been only spiritually pregnant. Just as in the beginning the word of God brought creation to exist so the Incarnation of the Son of God shows forth the fruitful action of the Holy Spirit. While, then this generation may argue that man, male and female is a provisional project which may be adapted at will, what is actually astonishing is the unity in diversity of precisely those human relationships which originate with the beginning of man’s being, male or female. The dialogue of the sexes is, therefore, a part of the very revelation of God: a revelation which, in a sense, involves the unity in diversity of human relationships. In Chapter 7, in terms of the difficulties encountered in the culture in which we live, there are three problems which imply a breakdown in the possibility of understanding the value and mystery of marriage: the availability and use of pornography suggesting a blindness to the existence of the person as an incarnate spirit. There is nothing neutral about the situation of today and its many facets: facets that are actually profoundly implicated in the deepest questions of the human heart, the experience of agonizing sufferings and the problem of being unable to reason to and from the reality of the whole human being in relationship. The response of love, truth, and goodness to all the difficulties of life has to begin again, then in the new context of the regeneration of human life and culture, drawing on all that is good true and loving in the practice of today.

This book has a very important message but unfortunately it is written for a very specific and theologically astute audience. It is well documented and adequately foot-noted. There are highly credentialed professors writing for this topic and give us ample reflection on each different point they succinctly point out. There are many points that mirror the new encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti. Francis Etheredge along with the Pope realize that the greatest gift God gave each one of us is the gift of humanity. We give that gift of humanity to each other and to our God who created us.

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