Mother of God
Numbers 6:22–27; Galatians 4:4–7; Luke 2:16–21
Mother of All
Mary is not only the Mother of God but also the mother of us all.
Years ago Fulton Oursler was the editor
of a highly successful national magazine. The story behind his rise to success is fascinating. But even more fascinating is the story of his search for God.
As a reporter for the Baltimore American, Oursler had covered Methodist meetings, Baptist conventions, and outdoor revivals. He had even waited for ghosts
in darkroom séances.
“Out of all of this,” he says, “I emerged at the age of 30
a self-styled agnostic.”
But instead of finding peace, his unbelief left him totally empty inside. It also left him unhappy. Eventually the emptiness and unhappiness turned into gnawing depression.
Then one day serious trouble threatened his family.
He needed help. But the kind of help he needed was not the kind of help friends could give. There was not one to whom he could turn, not even God—for he didn’t believe in God.
One windy day in New York he was walking down Fifth Avenue.
He came to the cathedral.
He stopped, looked at it, and thought.
He was desperate.
Minutes later he found himself walking up the steps, going inside, and sitting down. After a few minutes of collecting his thoughts, he bowed his head and asked for the gift of faith.
He sat there a while, then got up, and walked over the Chapel of Our Lady in the cathedral.
He went inside, knelt down, and prayed the following prayer:
“In ten minutes or less I may change my mind. I may scoff at all this and love error again. Pay no attention to me then. For this little time I am in my right mind and heart. This is my best—take it and forget the rest, and, if you are really there, help me.”
At that moment, he said, there began a remarkable transformation in his life. The transformation ended in his becoming a deeply committed Christian.
Fulton Oursler’s search for God ended in the House of God.
And his spiritual birth into a new life began in a chapel dedicated to Mary the Mother of God.
And what an appropriate place for it to take place. Mary is not only the Mother of God. She is the spiritual mother of all humankind as well.
For when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she gave birth also to a new human race. Paul expresses this mystery this way in today’s second reading:
“[w]hen the right time finally came, God sent his own Son.
He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s children. . . . And since you are his child, God will give you all that he has for his children.”
Commenting on this great mystery, Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (22) says:
“For, by his incarnation, he, the son of God has in a certain way united himself with each man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.”
Indeed, when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she gave birth to a new human race as well. And so Mary is not only the Mother of God. She is also the mother of us all.
Because Mary is our mother, she is a powerful advocate for us in heaven. To ignore Mary’s motherly concern for us is to ignore God’s gift of her motherhood to us.
And this brings us to the new year.
A new year is a time of new hope.
A new year is a time of new life.
A new year is a chance to begin again.
Last year is past and over. This year has just been born and lies ahead. It is God’s gift to us.
What we do with it is our gift to God.
It is fitting that the Church should choose January 1 as the day on which to celebrate the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. For it reminds us that because of Mary’s motherhood,
you and I were given a whole new life. We were given new hope, the kind of hope only God can give.
If we are looking for a New Year’s resolution, we could do no better than to resolve to make Mary a more important part of our life. And one way to do this is through prayer. We can ask Mary to intercede for us as she has for so many other children of hers throughout history. A simple way to do this is to pray daily that special prayer to Mary, the Hail Mary.
Another way to do it is to imitate Mary’s own way of praying.
One way she prayed was to mediate on God’s activity not only in human history but also in her own daily life.
Luke gives us an insight into this way of praying when he tells us at the end of the birth narrative: “Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them.” Luke 2:19
Another way Mary prayed was to speak to God spontaneously from her heart.
Luke gives us an insight into this way of praying when he describes the prayer she made during her visit to Elizabeth.
Let’s use it as our own closing prayer.
I invite you to pray it along with me in silence:
“My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God
my Savior, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant!
“From now on all people will call me happy, because of the
great things the Mighty God has done for me. . . .
“He has stretched out his mighty arm . . . and lifted up the
lowly. . . .
He has kept the promise he made to our ancestors. . . .
He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham and to all his
descendants forever!” Luke 1:46–55
Mother of God
Numbers 6:22–27; Galatians 4:4–7; Luke 2:16–21
We bless God by sharing with others God’s blessings to us.
In 1979 archaeologists were digging outside Jerusalem. Suddenly they stumbled upon a cave filled with jars, oil lamps, and jewelry. These objects, they discovered later,
had been placed in the cave nearly 600 years before the birth of Jesus.
One piece of jewelry, especially, caught their attention. It was a tiny silver scroll no bigger that a child’s little finger. A place for a cord through the center of it told them that it was once worn around the neck of some Israelite.
When a Jewish scholar translated the words on the scroll, he could hardly believe his eyes. They were the words of a blessing that God gave to Moses.
They were the words of a blessing that his own father used to bless him in his boyhood.
They were the words of a blessing that is still used today in synagogues and churches around the world.
They were the words of the beautiful blessing we find in today’s first reading:
“May the LORD bless you and take care of you;
May the LORD be kind and gracious to you;
May the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24–26
How fitting these words are in the light of today’s gospel. For Joseph undoubtedly used these same words to bless Jesus as he lay in the manger and, again, as he held him in his arms just before giving him his name.
On this feast of Mary the Mother of God—honoring the woman who was called “blessed’’ among women—let’s look at how the Bible talks about the word blessing.
The Bible talks about blessing in four different ways.
First, it talks about God blessing people. Thus God blesses Adam and Eve, saying, “Have many children, . . .” Genesis 1:28 The purpose of the blessing is to confer something special upon them: the power to reproduce themselves.
Second, the Bible talks about people blessing God. Thus Paul says to the Ephesians, “Let us give thanks to the God . . .
he has blessed us . . .” Ephesians 1:3
The purpose of the blessing is to thank and praise God for the undeserved blessings God gives us.
Third, the Bible talks about people blessing other people.
Thus Isaac blesses his son. (Genesis 27:27)
The purpose of the blessing is to ask God to confer on his son something special.
Finally, the Bible talks about people blessing things.
Thus Jesus himself blesses bread. (Luke 9:16)
The purpose of the blessing is to make bread holy in a special way for the benefit of his followers.
In brief, then, when God blesses us, it’s to give us something special. When we bless God, it’s to thank and praise God for some undeserved, special gift.
This leads us to two practical conclusions.
First, as we close out the old year, we should thank God for blessing us during the past year.
Touching on the point of gratitude, Henry Ward Beecher made this comparison.
Suppose someone gave you a dish of sand mixed with fine iron filings. You look for the filings with your eyes, but you can’t see them. You feel for them with your fingers, but you can’t feel them.
Then you take a tiny magnet and draw it through the sand in the dish. Suddenly the magnet is covered with iron filings.
The ungrateful person, says Beecher, is like our fingers feeling for the filings. Such a person finds nothing in life to be thankful for.
The grateful person, on the other hand, is like the magnet sweeping through the sand. That person finds hundreds of things to be grateful for.
The famous marathon runner Bill Rodgers was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Instead of being assigned to military service, he was assigned to civilian service. He was sent to work in a home for retarded men.
One of those men, named Joe, affected Bill’s life profoundly. Rodgers says, and I quote:
“Whenever I saw Joe, he seemed to be wearing a big
welcome-to-my-world smile. . . . The smallest act of kindness
or the smallest object given to him made him brim with gratitude. Joe found reasons to be grateful even in the most trying circumstances.”
Joe was like the magnet sweeping through the sand. He found hundreds of things to be thankful for.
This brings us to the second practical conclusion.
Besides counting our blessings from God during the year,
we should consider sharing some of our blessings with others
during the coming year. For this is how we bless God for having blessed us. Let me illustrate.
On Thanksgiving Day of 1985, 175 syndicated cartoonists banded together to give 90 million American readers the same Thanksgiving Day message. It was this:
While we in America are blessed with plenty, there are others in the world who have very little.
Typical of how the cartoonists chose to communicate this message was the Peanuts cartoon. It showed Linus asking Charlie Brown if he were going to have a big Thanksgiving Day dinner. Charlie says nonchalantly, “I guess so, but I never think much about food.’’
Snoopy overhears him, looks at his empty dish, and says,
“He’d think a lot about food if his dish were as empty as mine.’’
The message of the Peanuts cartoon is clear: The next worst thing to having too little food is having too much. It makes us insensitive to those who go hungry, and ungrateful to God, who gives us so much.
Let’s close with a prayer:
God our Father, on this feast of Mary the Mother of God,
give us an appreciation of the many gifts you have given us during the past year.
Help us bless you in return during the coming year by sharing some of our gifts with others who have far, far less than we do.
Mother of God
Numbers 6:22–27, Galatians 4:4–7, Luke 2:16–21
Title “Mother of God”
Mary gave flesh to God.
The shepherds . . .found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. Luke 2:16
Saint Francis de Sales was born in France in the 16th century, about 20 years after the death of Martin Luther.
The Reformation was in full swing and all kinds of religious teachings were being spread about. One of the cruelest and most devastating was the Calvinist belief of predestination.
It held that we were predestined at birth for either heaven or hell. It went on to say that most people were predestined for hell.
This teaching slowly began to impact not only on the thinking of Protestants but also on the thinking of some Catholics.
At one point in his youthful life, Francis de Sales began to fear that he was predestined for hell.
That fear brought on a depression that tore his soul apart and destroyed his health.
In spite of his fear and depression, however, Francis promised that even if he were predestined for hell, he would never curse God, as some people of his day were doing.
Shortly after making that prayer, he knelt at the statue of Mary and recited a prayer called the Memorare. It had been composed centuries earlier by Saint Bernard and reads:
Remember, O most loving Virgin Mary, that never was it known
that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence, we turn to you,
O Virgin of virgins, our Mother. To you we come, before you we stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions,
but in your mercy hear and answer us. Amen.
By the time he finished the prayer, his fear and depression had vanished. They never returned again.
In place of the depression came a deep peace and a deep conviction born of faith that God intended all people to be saved.
Saint Paul himself had written to Timothy, saying, Jesus “gave himself to redeem the whole human race. . . . God wants everyone to be saved.” 1 Timothy 2:6
And that brings us to today’s feast, the Mother of God.
The title “Mother of God” does not mean
that Mary is God’s mother from all eternity.
What does it mean? It means that since Jesus is God become man, in this sense, we may call Mary the “Mother of God.”
In other words, Mary is the mother of Jesus. And Jesus is God become man. Therefore, in a very true sense, she may be called the “Mother of God.”
Historically, the title “Mother of God” dates back to the Council of Ephesus in the year 431 C.E.
That council affirmed that Jesus has two natures (divine and human) but was not two persons, as some wrongly taught.
In affirming that Jesus was only “one” person, the council added that Mary could, therefore, be called the Mother of God. For, most certainly, Jesus is God—according to the flesh.
It is particularly fitting that the Church should choose January 1 as the day on which to celebrate the feast of the Mother of God.
For it reminds us that because Mary gave birth to Jesus,
we were given a whole new life. We were given new hope,
the kind of hope only God can give.
If we are looking for a New Year’s resolution, we could do no better than to resolve to give Mary a greater role in our lives. And one way to do this is through prayer. We can ask Mary to intercede for us as she did for Saint Francis de Sales.
A simple way to ask Mary’s help is to say a special prayer to her daily, for example, the Memorare or the Hail Mary.
Another way to seek Mary’s help is to imitate her way of praying.
One of the ways she prayed was spontaneously from her heart.
Luke gives us an insight into this way of praying when he describes the prayer she made during her visit to Elizabeth. She prayed:
“My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Savior, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant!” Luke 1:46–48
A final way that Mary prayed was to meditate on God’s activity not only in human history but also in her own daily life.
Again, Luke gives us an insight into this way of praying when he tells us in today’s Gospel:
Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. Luke 2:19
Let us close with a meditation on Mary. It sums up
on this New Year’s Day one of the major messages of the feast:
Mary gave flesh to God—flesh to be visible to human eyes,
flesh to touch the leper’s wounds.
Mary gave hands to God—hands to bless the little children, hands to break bread for the hungry.
Mary gave feet to God—feet to walk among the sick, feet to go in search of the sinner.
Mary gave eyes to God—eyes to weep at a friend’s grave, eyes to look into the human heart.
Jesus no longer walks in flesh today. If he is to be seen by human eyes, it must be in and through us.
If he is to continue to heal the sick, touch the leper, and bless the children, it must be with our hands and feet.
If he is to continue to feed the hungry, and look into the human heart, it must be with our hands and our eyes.
As Mary gave flesh to Jesus in her day, we must give flesh to Jesus in our day.
And if we do as Mary did, Jesus will walk among us once again and make our world new again.