Thursday, August 19, 2010

St. Mary of Edessa (? to c.371)

"He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
(John 8:7)

In my late 20s, several years after my annullment, I met a woman nicknamed Holy Mary. She had beautiful clothing, a gorgeous Victorian home, and a successful salon business. Upon first glance, she was someone who seemed to have it all.
Yet, the more I got know to Mary, the more she revealed things about herself that alluded to a dark past. Pregnant and unwed as a teenager, a second child with another guy, living on welfare, and two failed marriages.
By the time I met her, Mary was married for a third time and making close to a six figure salary. She was also in church every Sunday and carried a rosary wherever she went.
Mary wanted desperately to have a third child and told me that maybe the reason she couldn't conceive was that she had an abortion with another man years before and this was her punishment. She said she wasn't going to try in vitro fertilization because it was her fate. If she did have a child that way, then she might die from cancer, and it would grow up without a mother.
What I found to be the oddest thing was that when Mary wasn't at home, she'd leave her teenage daughter behind to keep an eye on her husband. I wondered how she married a person that she didn't trust.
But, I learned a lot from my friendship with Mary. She took me to a Roman Catholic retreat center for a girls weekend. Even though I didn't want to go, she assured me that it would be good to be with other people and release negative emotions (going through my divorce and several short-term relationships) and get a fresh outlook on life.
She provided guidance that only someone 10 years older than myself could.
Then one day, when America Online was the foremost way to communicate with someone on live chat, my younger brother asked if he could use my computer and logged in under my name.
Mary, thinking it was me, confessed to having a year-long affair with her next door neighbor, a much younger married man with small children. My brother was horrified that he had to tell her that it wasn't me that she was chatting with.
I remember being judgmental about the situation and basically writing her out of my life (especially since her sister's husband asked me out on a date and, of course, I refused). How could she do such a thing? She was married and hadn't she found God?
Over time, when I reached the age Mary was when she committed adultery (that sounds so medieval), I had done many similar things. And I could see exactly where she was coming from. Now, I think of her as one of my role models in my younger years.
There's another Mary who lived a somewhat equally promiscuous life. St. Mary of Edessa, a patron saint against sexual temptation, was born in the 4th century. When her father died she was sent to live near his brother, St. Abraham Kidunaia. Her uncle's home was a hermit cell and she was the anchoress nearby.
Two decades passed and after having sex with a monk, St. Mary Edessa moved away embarrassed for what she had done. She chose to live a wild life and had frequent sex with numerous men.
After hearing about it, St. Abraham Kidunaia, disguised himself as a soldier, and went to see his niece. St. Mary Edessa, took him home with her, as she did with every guy she met.
Her uncle revealed his identity and convinced her to return home and go back to being the anchoress. She lived the rest of her life religiously.
St. Mary Edessa died c.371 and her feast day is Oct. 29.

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