Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God (January 1, 2015)
A number of years ago I was in my office talking to a patient. He knew I was Catholic and we’ve had an occasional chat about religion, but nothing very deep. For some reason, he turned to me and said, “You Catholics…you really like that whole ‘Mary thing’ don’t you?” My response was, “Yup. We think she’s pretty cool.” He then said, “Well as you know, I’m Baptist and the only time we ever talk about Mary is during Christmas.” Then the awkward pause started where I could feel him waiting for my next response. I briefly contemplated either changing the subject so I could get to my next patient or if I should go a little deeper about Catholic Marian theology without trying to get into a long, heated debate. My “chiropractor voice” was telling me to zip it and move on to the next patient but apparently my “Catholic deacon voice” was louder. So I went on to explain, “Unfortunately, there’s a TON of misconceptions about what Catholics believe when it comes to Mary. Please understand that we do NOT think she’s God, we do NOT think she’s above God and we do NOT worship her as God. We honor her because, if you think about it, Mary was the first one to say “yes” to Christ. God asked her to accept Christ, not only into her heart, but literally into her womb. Therefore, you could consider her to be the first Christian. And since God chose her to carry His only Son in her womb, I’d say that means we should give her our respect.” My friend’s reply was simply, “Wow. I never thought her in that way…but you’re right.”
So, in honor of today’s Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, I thought we could all use a little refresher as to why Mary’s “pretty cool”.
First of all, Mary’s “yes” to God is something that we can all learn from. In the first chapter of Luke, an angel appeared to Mary and told her she was to conceive the Son of God in her womb. Mary didn’t understand how this could happen since she was a virgin…but she didn’t let that hold her back. Instead she had enough faith to say, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” It takes faith to be willing to take a leap like that.
Have you ever doubted God’s plan? Have you ever been afraid to say “yes” to God calling you down a path that seemed scary?
Second, Mary models to us how important prayer can be to a person. Today’s Gospel passage from Luke chapter 2 describes when the shepherds went to the stable to visit the Christ Child. They told Mary and Joseph the message they received from the angels about how their child was to be the long awaited Messiah. Mary didn’t blow them off or turn to Joseph and say, “I think they’ve been out in the field a little too long.” No, instead it is written that she, “Kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” She turned to prayer.
Have you even been quick to judge someone because they sounded a little crazy or perhaps overly passionate? Do you take time to stop and pray before deciding your next move in life?
Third, Mary knows what it means to suffer. When Mary and Joseph took their infant son to the Temple to present him to the Lord, Simeon told Mary that “a sword would pierce her.” This foretold the pain and agony she would go through when her newborn baby would one day grow into a man and be tortured and killed for our sake. She did not fight it, she did not run from it. Mary’s obedience shows us there is always a better way when it comes to following God’s path, even in the face of evil.
How many of us run when our faith is challenged? How many of us question God when we have to endure pain and suffering?
The last point I want to make regarding Mary’s “coolness” is simply this, she is not only the mother of Jesus, who is God but she is also your heavenly mother. Let that sink in…you and I share the same mother as God. You see God wanted to become flesh so that He could save us all. He also wanted to do it in the normal way, which meant he needed to be born of a woman. Of all the women in all of eternity, He chose Mary to be the vessel for the Word to become flesh. Since we believe that Jesus is both man and God, this would make Mary the mother of God. Some non-Catholics get hung up here and assume we mean that Mary existed before God if we call her the Mother of God. We are not implying this at all. We are merely reinforcing the belief that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. With that in mind, remember the Gospel of John chapter 19 where Jesus was hanging on the cross while Mary and John the Apostle were at His feet. Just before He died, Jesus said to Mary, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he turned to John and said, “Behold your mother.” This command has always been understood by the Church as an act of entrusting the whole Church to Mary. Thus, since we are part of the Church, Mary is our mother also!
Before I became Catholic in 1999, I really had no concept of who Mary really was. Like my Baptist friend I mentioned earlier, if I heard her name, I immediately pictured a nativity scene but that’s about it. After becoming Catholic, I’ve had the joy of deepening my relationship with my heavenly Mother by learning more about her. And this has lead me to the ultimate reason why Mary is so incredibly cool…every time I learn something about Mary, it has lead me closer to her Son. You see, Mary is NOT God. She is, however, the Mother of God. And like any good mother, she points us, not to herself, but to her Son. Recall the wedding at Cana in John’s Gospel. When the wedding party ran out of wine, Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Meaning, “Listen to my Son and He will restore what is missing.”
At some point in time, you have asked a friend or family member to pray for you. So the next time you have doubts or are afraid to say yes to God, the next time something or someone sounds crazy, the next time you are enduring pain or suffering or your faith is challenged…in addition to turning to God in prayer, don’t be afraid to ask His mother to pray for you as well.