MARY, MOTHER OF GOD (JANUARY 1, 2019)
Mary is celebrated in surprising places; she is the person who has been on the cover of TIME MAGAZINE more than any other.
Mary is honored with many, many titles. Today we celebrate her under the most basic of all her titles: Mary the mother of God. This is the one title from which all others flow - and my personal, only title. For me, all other titles are redundant. All other titles derive from this one. She, a young, unknown Jewish girl from a relatively obscure village, was chosen to bear in her body the messiah.
Little is known about her. Matthew and Luke are the only two authors in the new testament that include any description of events before Jesus began his public ministry. Nothing at all is known about Mary prior to the angel’s arrival.
Devotion to her approached adoration by the beginning of Vatican II in 1962, there was a proposal to publish a separate document on Mary. The council fathers decided against it. They noted that many of the faithful were honoring Mary more than Jesus. So, the council fathers decided to speak of Mary in the context of the church. Why? She was present at its foundation; she was the mother of Jesus and she was one of his first disciples.
There is a dubious Latin inscription in many churches: ad Jesum per Mariam - to Jesus thru Mary. We cannot ever forget that Jesus/God is the end point of our prayer and worship. We need no intermediary when we speak to our Lord – his door is always open; there is no gatekeeper.
The primary place of Jesus is brought out in today’s Gospel. When we carefully read it, we recognize that the focus is not on Mary but on Jesus and what his coming into the world means. This highlights the difference between how Peter reacted so differently, decades later, at Jesus’ transfiguration from the way Mary reacted, here. Peter experienced a marvel and said: let’s do something – let’s build three tents here. Mary’s reaction to her experience of angels and shepherds is not to do, but to treasure, to reflect, to ponder.
Reflection follows observing and listening carefully. She took the experience to heart. She quietly went over the words, interacted with the experience, allowed it to saturate her memory of it. Mary’s attitude of treasuring and pondering brings us back to the very heart of Christianity: Jesus - the one whom she treasures and ponders.
Besides forming Jesus body during her pregnancy, Mary would later help Jesus form his human personality as he grew. We need to remember that Jesus was like you and me in all things but sin. His mother influenced his personality as our mothers influenced us. For us, there were traits we took on from our mother and perhaps others we did not take. Jesus’ personality traits can also be traced to his mother: his gentleness, his compassion for people who were hurting, his kind and respectful treatment of women in an historical period that treated women as things, mere possessions. These gifts were part of her motherhood; these were the qualities she passed on to Jesus.
Standing at the threshold of a new year, we are invited to honor Mary both for teaching us the need for reflection on our experience and for her helping to form Jesus’ personality. More profoundly, we honor Jesus who came to show us the way to his father, the way into the kingdom of God.
Our treasuring and pondering prepare us to be ready for the mysteries of what this New Year will hold for us.