Venial sins are almost inevitable in this wicked world, but fortunately they are wiped off your slate at Mass. Mortal sins, though, are not inevitable, and St. Maria Goretti took her parish priest very seriously when he said it would be better to die than to commit one. That said, there are legions of people, including in positions of trust in Catholic institutions, who will tell you that God's injunction against this mortal sin or that is merely "a man-made law." So far, I have heard this only about sins against purity. Nobody has yet told me that "Honour your father and mother" is a man-made law.
Anyway, not to be complacent about it, but if someone said, "Seraphic, you are a miserable sinner," I would have to say, "Damn straight." I would try not to get all humphy or say, "So are you, chum!"
But speaking as a married lady, I used to hate being told "Try to be like Our Lady" and "Try to be a good wife like Our Lady" and "Ask Our Lady's intercession that you might become more like her." First of all, Our Lady was spared from Original Sin. And then there is her perpetual virginity. I forget if I ever said flat out to whichever priest, "To be a good wife like Our Lady, I would have to ban my husband from my bed. Stop with the platitudes. Most married women can't be like Our Lady. The Holy Family is not like any other family in history, and it is tantamount to blasphemy to say that it is." Occasionally I argue with priests in the confessional, but actually I think I left this one alone. And I am glad, for actually the priests have been right.
To be a good wife like Our Lady does not mean literally to live a life of chastity-in-continence. It means living, thinking, speaking and acting in a manner consistent to what God has called you to be. Our Lady was called to be mother of Our Lord, and she dedicated her life to life to that task. Naturally, she did this as a woman, and at a time when society considered women most definitely second-rate. Mary always chose to do God's will, and Mary composed the great Magnificat. The more you really think about MARY, and not about her perpetual virginity and how unusual it was for a married lady, the more you see how she is to be emulated.
There has been a lot of writing on Mary through the ages. I didn't read much about her in theology school, however, as she had gone right out of fashion. I do not remember a single course in Mariology on offer. And really I hadn't much thought about Mary since that terrible afternoon years ago when, crushed by unhappiness as an unhappy wife, I desperately prayed the Memorare and then doubted the Blessed VIRGIN Mary could possibly understand what I was going through. Of course, the problem was not with Mary but my previously having identified with her status as a virgin. Poor young Seraphic.
Polish readers would be appalled to know how little Canadian and American Catholics are trained to think of Mary, and unless we had devoutly Marian parents or grandparents, our primary example of Marian devotion was John Paul II. It blew minds that "Totus Tuus" meant all Mary's, not all God's. What must the Protestants think?!?!? Oh woe, what a throwback to the Bad Old Days, grumble grumble. But as we didn't really focus on popes in my home, and I was defeated by JP's incomprehensible "Letter to the Youth of the World", I never understood what his Marian devotion was all about. As a pro-life activist, I prayed night rosaries, but without much Marian devotion. For me, the rosary was all about her Son.
But then, as an adult, I sat down and read Mulieris Dignitatem. I realized, first of all, that one reason why JP2 is so hard to read is that he thought in Polish, which has an entirely different sentence structure from English, and we have all been at the mercy of translators assuring whomever that they are fully bilingual in Polish and Latin, or Polish and English, etc. But more importantly, I really grasped the importance of Mary for all humanity. As I lectured in Kraków in 2012:
The text begins with Mary, who had such a crucial part to play in the most important moment of human history, the salvific event of the incarnation. Jan Paweł notes that Saint Paul, in saying that “God sent forth his son, born of a woman”(Gal 4:4), does not name Mary but underscores she was a woman (3). It is a woman at the centre of the salvific event. It is a woman who takes part in the dialogue of the Annunciation. It is a woman who “attains a union with God that exceeds all the expectations of the human spirit” (3). Never before had a human being been supernaturally elevated to union with God in Jesus Christ. And as the first person in such close union with God, Mary represents the humanity that belongs to all human beings, both men and women. But at the same time, of course, the union is between her own individual self and Jesus Christ, the union between mother and son.
And as for women, Mary dethrones Eve as the archetypal woman. Death came into the world through Eve, and women were not allowed to forget this, as if we were all carbon copies of Eve, capable of bringing disaster if we said boo to a goose. Mary, though, is the New Eve, as Christ is the New Adam; her "Yes" to God leads to the cancelling out of Eve's "No" when her Son redeems the world.
So now we women have a choice of models. Saint Edith Stein suggests choice is to between becoming a Temptress like Eve or a Mother like Mary. And this challenged me because I used to examine passport applications-- and applicants---and marvel at how differently 40+ women dealt with the ravages of time. In my youthful and 117 lb arrogance, I mentally divided them into the Hockey Moms, who had given up the battle, and the Glamour Queens, who were glorying in the fight. It was short hair vs bottle blonde, parka versus leopard print, soap and water versus maquillage. I knew which path I wanted to take, thanks very much. "La guerre? Yes sir!"
And as it happens, I am still on the side of looking your best and fighting a lazy tendency towards dowdiness. However, I am not on the side of Perpetual Sexiness and Being Found Desirable By All Men Possible. At least, I think it is wrong to belong to that side. I think it is a terrible temptation that needs to be resisted, especially in our current culture of infidelity and divorce. Once upon a time in the UK, working-class married women completely ostracized other working-class married women who tried to look sexy. Now.... Oh dear. I never really understood the expression mutton dressed as lamb until... La, la, la... Okay, I'll say it. Scottish hairdressers are really talented and don't charge a lot. They can give anyone the hair of a Swedish 20 year old. And so the busses and streets of Edinburgh a full of what look like Swedish 20 year olds until they turn around and you see that they are 50+ grandmothers with terrible skin and alcoholic noses.
Oh dear. How did I get there? Well, let's just say that it would never have occurred to Our Lady to try to look like a Swedish 20 year old. She would never have acknowledged there was any need for it. Her dignity as a woman was being the beloved daughter of God and her dignity as Mary of Nazareth was her call to be the Mother of God.
To be like Mary, then, is to recognize your own dignity as a woman, first as the daughter of God, and then according to your call to be what God has called you in particular to be. For my friend Lily that is to focus on her vocation as a wife and mother of two. For my friend Sister Berenike that is to strive to grow in holiness as a Benedictine novice. For my retired Single friend that is probably to grow in holiness as a good friend and example to others. For women in study, it is probably as Christian women called to study, in poverty, chastity and obedience to God. We are all called to the Evangelical Counsels, but they apply differently to different people, according to our states in life.
So if you do, don't get mad when a confessor hears your sexual sins and exhorts you to be more like Mary. He's not saying you are capable of her spotless purity; he's saying that she's a great model of feminine dignity and attentiveness to God. Go home and give Mulieris Dignitatem a read, and see if you can find "Woman" by Saint Edith Stein.