Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Today a light will shine upon us, for the Lord is born for us; and He will be called Wondrous God, Prince of Peace, Father of future ages: and His reign will be without end. (cf Isaiah 9:1, Luke 1:33).

O God, who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary
bestowed on the human race
the grace of eternal salvation,
grant, we pray,
that we may experience the intercession of her,
through whom we were found worthy
to receive the author of life,
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

May God bless us in his mercy. (Psalm 67:2a).

“All who heard it were amazed (ἐθαύμασαν, ethaumasan) by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept (συνετήρει, suneterei) all these things, reflecting (συμβάλλουσα, sumballousa) on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them..” (Luke 2:6-12).”

Once again the familiar Bethlehem Nativity scene is before us this day as we rejoice in the Motherhood of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Yes, I know that pages of a calendar have flipped and a new one is now posted, a ball has dropped, fireworks, libations, the Mummers (for us Philadelphia folk) and all sorts of well-wishing and resolution-making fill the air. Yet throughout the Catholic Christian world, today is marked by celebrating the Gift of Mary as Mother of God, Mother of the Church. Today is the Church’s celebration of Mother’s Day with a clear focus on the Child born of Mary, given gratuitously to us for our salvation. This is a key point in the midst of the Christmas Mystery. Throughout the pages of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew and the Gospel according to Saint Luke, we meet many people whose lives are impacted substantially by the birth of Jesus Christ. Each person in the ‘Infancy Narrative’ acts as a teacher of Christian discipleship. By their actions and words, people such as Joseph, the shepherds and even Herod (in a negative way, of course) offer an insight as to what it means to be or to not be a disciple of the Newborn Savior. Towering over everyone in the ‘Infancy Narratives’ as a teacher of discipleship is Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Mary is the first and the model disciple.

So what does Mary do as the first and the model disciple? How does she teach us to be a disciple of her Son? First, she does nothing - she simply (and please pardon the poor grammar) be’s. Yes, I know it is not a word but throughout the history of theology, words have been ‘invented’ to assist in breaking open the Sacred Mysteries. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I often use this statement (or variations thereof), “Mary be’s” to underscore that the work of discipleship is never about activity, effort, energy or work that I initiate as a person to accomplish a ‘standing’ before God the Father. There certainly is activity that Mary does, effort and energy she expends, and certainly work that she does and accomplishes. Yet this activity, effort, energy and work is done in the mode of a humble response to the offer of gratuitous Life.

Thus when the shepherds proclaim all that was told them, everyone who hears the shepherd’s report is amazed (ἐθαύμασαν, ethaumasan). θαυμάζω (thaumázō) is a person’s expression that the events are outside one’s scope of explanation. The event may spark intense curiosity, astonishment, questioning, admiring, wondering or simply “Wow!” The event is as real to the person as today is Sunday (or whatever day of the week you are reading this blog entry). Any attempt by a listeners to disregard the event due to lack of explanation is met with words, admittedly bumbling at times, “It is real, I just can’t explain it!” (Try, for example, to capture in words the sight of Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. Even on a human level, we acknowledge events and experiences that are beyond both comprehension and expression, yet are nonetheless real.) In the New Testament and particularly the Gospels, θαυμάζω (thaumázō) conveys an additional quality. The experience or event, as real and as potent as it is for a person or persons, is part of the much larger unfolding of salvation history. In other words, it can never be “my moment,” “my wow time,” or “my astonishing event” not to mention “my Baptism,” “my First Communion,” “my Wedding day,” or “my Ordination.” Amazement in the Gospels (and hence for all disciples) is that moment, as ‘wow’ as it, that is never mine because it is part of a much larger picture. Thus “all” who listen to the shepherds teach us a valuable lesson about the experience of God-with-us: it’s not mine to have and to hold. The event and even little ole me is part of a much bigger picture.

Great lesson? Yes - AND - Mary teaches that there is more. Recognizing and celebrating God-with-us is a cause for genuine θαυμάζω (thaumázō). Mary, however, knows that there is more: the experience or the event of God-with-us has to be kept (συνετήρει, suneterei) and [continuously reflected upon (συμβάλλουσα, sumballousa). What does it mean to “keep” all these things? Isn’t that contrary to the Gospel sense that these experiences are not mine to keep? συντηρέω (syntēréō) is not so much about keeping in the hoarding sense as it is about protecting. συντηρέω (syntēréō) is the response Mary rendered knowing (in the sense of experiencing) that the events unfolding before her were all that she sang of when she visited her cousin Elizabeth months earlier. Seeing, knowing and recognizing God-with-us Who is about the work of our salvation is an awesome event that requires care. We cannot afford to be glib or casual about the Divine work in our midst and consequently we take reasonable steps to protect the wonderful wow moments of life that God the Father sends our way from time to time. We protect them by paying attention, stopping to soak in all that is happening, pulling the ear buds of the ipod out from our ears, turning away from television and computer monitors to be wholly present to the holy moment. In doing so, we are humbled by the enormity of the event or experience - not in a crushing way but in a way properly accommodated for our growth. Again, this is not something any of can force or engineer by way of a prayer technique or spirituality seminar. We can respond, however, by offering an environment or disposition for this Presence to growth according to Divine Will. This is the continuous reflecting that Mary does in response to the unfolding events before her. It's not Mary saying, ‘well, it is now time for me to reflect ... what shall I reflect upon?' No, reflecting is not an action that she initiates, it is rather a response to what God is doing (think often of how many describe the action of praying - ‘time to say my prayers.’ ‘Time to read my Office.’ The richness of the verb συμβάλλω (sumballo), which conveys a sense of ‘throwing together’ or ‘collecting’ is the same root for another English word, symbol. As used by the Evangelist Saint Luke, συμβάλλουσα (sumballousa) is a present-tense participle which in Greek grammar speaks of an action that is repeatedly done. The action of “reflecting” is actually a “collecting” of myself done, not by me, but by the Lord of Life.

And so for the disciple of the Newborn Savior, His Mother calls us today to three actions: θαυμάζω (thaumázō) - wowing in the salvific work of God-with-us, συντηρέω (syntēréō) valuing and protecting this work as singularly vital for life and συμβάλλω (sumballo) repeatedly being collected as one loved infinitely and intimately by God the Father that His will may always be done.

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