Mother of God Numbers 6:22–27; Galatians 4:4–7; Luke 2:16–21
Mother and model Mary is our mother; she is also our model, showing us how to put our trust in God.
Aretreat master was giving a retreat. Toward the end of it, a girl handed him a note. He put it in his pocket and forgot about it. After the retreat, he found it, unfolded it, and read:
“For the past eight months I have been in psychotherapy, a fact known to only a few people.
“As a child I experienced overwhelming fear because of hatred and abuse. A major focus of my life right now is to overcome and transform that fear. The details are unnecessary, but much of my fear is centered on my mother. . . I had become so turned off to the concept of mothers that I consciously rejected the love . . . of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
“After your talk, I walked outside feeling terribly alone. I prayed for the grace to break through the wall that was keeping me from trusting. . . . I wanted to cry, but haven’t in months.
“You may have noticed a small, round building near the cemetery. Curiosity is one of my strongest traits I walked to it and opened the door.
“When I looked inside, I was filled with fear. There stood a large statue of Mary. My first impulse was to run away in anger. But something drew me slowly to the kneeler at her feet. Then, I fell to my knees, weeping into the folds of her robes. “When it was over, I felt cleansed and new. I felt willing to be a trusting child. . . . Even more important, I felt that a mother’s love had touched me leaving in me a true desire to forgive my natural mother.’’
This moving story ties in beautifully with today’s feast of Mary the Mother of God. The feast underscores two points about Mary.
First,Mary is our mother. She isn’t just the mother of Jesus, who lived 2,000 years ago. She’s also our mother who lives today. And from her place in heaven, she wants to help us with a mother’s help.
Second,Mary is also our model. She’s someone we can admire and imitate. Consider just one of her traits: her trust in God.
When the angel told Mary she’d bear a son by the Holy Spirit, Mary knew this could cause Joseph to break off his engagement to her as indeed it almost did. But she put her trust in God.
And when the shepherds reported what the angels had said, Mary didn’t understand their words. But, again, she put her trust in God.
Later, when Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the Temple, Simeon told Mary, “. . . Sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.” Luke 2:35 Again,Mary didn’t understand these words. But she put her trust in God. Later still, when Jesus was 12, he remained behind in the Temple. When Mary asked him about this, Jesus replied, “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my father’s house?” Again,Mary didn’t understand. But she put her trust in God.
It’s precisely in the area of trust in God that Mary can help us today.
Recall the story of the girl on the retreat. She had a terrible childhood experience. It destroyed her ability to trust. She wanted to be able to trust again, but she couldn’t.
Then one day, by sheer accident, she found herself at the feet of Mary. She decided to pray to her. Recall her exact words: “I prayed for the grace to break through the wall that was keeping me from trusting.’’
Mary heard her prayer, and the girl was able to trust again.
Mary can also help us trust, just as she helped the girl on the retreat.
For example, we may be a parent who is concerned about a son or a daughter. Perhaps our son or daughter has stopped going to church, or is involved in a harmful relationship. No amount of prayer, good example, or reasoning does any good.
All that’s left now is to pray and to trust. And Mary will help us do this.
Or we may be a young person who is concerned about the future. We aren’t sure what we want to do. We aren’t sure what God wants us to do. We’ve talked to our parents and counselors. We’ve even prayed for guidance, but we are still in the dark. All that’s left now is to pray and to trust. And Mary will help us do this.
Or we may be a person who is concerned about personal faith. We know it isn’t strong. We worry about it. We have prayed to God for help, but he doesn’t seem to hear our prayers. We’re even beginning to wonder if he exists.
All that’s left now is to pray and to trust. And Mary will help us do this.
And so, today’s feast reminds us of something we may have forgotten.
It reminds us that Mary is our model and our mother. She’s someone we can turn to in time of need. She’s someone who can help us. She’s someone who wants to help us. All we need do is turn to her.
If we are looking for a New Year’s resolution, we could do no better than to resolve to give Mary a bigger role in our life.
Let’s close with a prayer that St. Bernard used to pray daily to Mary:
“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, do not turn away from us, but in your mercy hear and answer us.
Series II Mother of God Numbers 6:22–27, Galatians 4:4–7, Luke 2:16–21
Still searching What Mary did is what we must do: let Jesus be born into our world through us.
Years ago there was a popular Broadway musical called Woman of the Year. It was about a TV talk-show hostess named Tess Harding.
In the play, Tess is the envy of every American woman. She knows all the celebrities of the day from the president of the United States to rock stars who fill stadiums with millions of adoring fans.
Tess sits down with these celebrities and laughs and talks with them on her show the way we laugh and talk with our friends.
Tess’s career reaches a high point when she is voted the “Woman of the Year.’’
In one scene Tess leaves her secretary a note saying that she has left her office to do an interview with the leader of a popular religious cult.
She concludes the note with a humorous comment, saying that if she’s not back within three days, her secretary should look for her passing out religious literature in the airport.
That Broadway musical and that humorous scene make a fitting introduction to today’s feast.
For today, New Year’s Day, we honor not the “Woman of the Year,’’ nor the “Woman of the Century,’’ but the “Woman of All History.’’ And the reason we honor Mary as the “Woman of All History’’
is dramatized by an episode that took place a number of years ago in a small southern town.
The Catholic priest and the Protestant minister of the town decided that it would be nice to put a Christmas crib in the town square.
So they drew up a list of businesspeople from whom they would solicit donations to pay for the project. One of the businesspeople on the priest’s list was the editor of the town’s weekly newspaper.
When the priest met with the editor, he said, “Our children will be inspired at seeing us give Jesus,Mary, and Joseph the place of honor in our town square.’’
The editor said, “I agree, but let’s leave Mary out of the crib scene, because giving her such a prominent place in the town square might give children the impression that we’re favoring your Catholic religion.’’
The priest responded, “I’ll be glad to leave Mary out of the scene if you will tell our children how Jesus could have been born without her.’’
The point is that Mary deserves the title “Woman of All History’’ because she gave birth to Jesus.
We honor Mary with this title because she is the mother of Jesus.
We honor Mary because without her Jesus could not have been born into our world. She is his mother. She is the Mother of the eternal Son of God.
This brings us to the second reason why the Broadway musical Woman of the Year makes a fitting introduction to today’s feast.
In the play, Tess Harding tells her secretary that if she is not back from her interview in three days, she should look for her passing out religious literature in the airport.
This is a kind of subtle admission that in spite of her success, Tess has not found fulfillment.
Even though Tess has been proclaimed “Woman of the Year,’’ she is still searching for something to give her life a deeper meaning. She’s still searching for something more than worldly fame and fortune.
She’s like Jerry Kramer, who years ago was named to the all pro football squad four different times. Yet, in spite of these honors, he wrote in his book Instant Replay:
“I often wonder . . . what’s my purpose here on earth besides playing the silly games I play every Sunday.’’
All of us can relate to the fictional Tess Harding and to the real-life Jerry Kramer.
We too are looking for something more than the fleeting honors of fame and fortune. We too are looking for something that will give our lives a deeper meaning.
And this brings us back to today’s feast: Mary the Mother of God.
Mary’s life took on deeper meaning when she agreed to let Jesus be born in her. She said to the angel Gabriel:
“I am the Lord’s servant . . . ; may it happen to me as you have said.” Luke 1:38
These words of Mary hold the key to the deeper meaning that we are all searching for.
Our lives will take on deeper meaning only when we do what Mary did: agree to let Jesus be born in us.
Only when we turn our lives over to God and let Jesus be born in us will our lives take on deeper meaning.
The day we say to God what Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant,” on that day we will find the deeper meaning that we are searching for. If we are looking for a New Year’s resolution, we could do no better than to resolve to imitate Mary, the Mother of God.
For our lives will take on deeper meaning only insofar as we do what she did and let Jesus be born in us.
And if we do that, then we too will someday be able to say what she said in prayer:
“My heart praises the Lord. . . . From now on all people will call me happy, because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me. [God’s] name is holy. . . . [God] has brought down mighty kings . . . and lifted up the lowly. [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands.” Luke 1:46–53 Series III Mother of God Numbers 6:22–27, Galatians 4:4–7, Luke 2:16–21
Model disciple We are called to do what Mary did: to let Jesus be born anew in our world through us.
The shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. Luke 2:16
Acollege student was on retreat. At one point he came in to talk to the retreat master.
The conversation drifted to Mary, the Mother of God. Suddenly the student said, “Father, would you like to hear a poem that I wrote about Mary?”
With that, he flipped open a small spiral note pad and read:
Today I saw a water lily growing in a pond. It had the freshest yellow color I’d ever seen.
The lily a precious treasure was unconcerned about whether anyone noticed its astounding beauty.
As I sat there, watching it unfold its petals noiselessly, I thought of Mary pregnant with the child Jesus. She, too, was a precious treasure. She, too, was unconcerned about whether anyone noticed her astounding beauty. To those who did, she shared a secret. Her beauty came not from herself, but from the Jesus-life unfolding its petals noiselessly within her. Slightly adapted
I have heard many poems on Mary, but few have touched on the mystery of today’s feast so beautifully.
The glory of Mary is ultimately traceable to her motherhood. Physically, she was the mother of Jesus. Spiritually, she is our mother.
We are all aware of Mary being the mother of Jesus. But we sometimes tend to forget that, spiritually, she is our mother as well.
Saint Teresa of Avila is one of the Church’s great saints and authors. Her mother died when she was 12, just when she needed a mother most. Teresa describes the loss of her mother this way:
I was sick of heart. Then, one day, I went before an image of Our Lady.
With many tears, I pleaded with her to be my mother and she heard my prayer.
The impact of the spiritual motherhood of Mary extends beyond individuals to all of society. A beautiful illustration of what this means comes from John Ruskin,who is regarded as one of England’s great masters of prose. He was also a student and critic of the social conditions of his time.
Commenting on Mary’s impact on society, especially the plight of women in his time, he wrote:
After the most careful examination, neither as adversary nor friend, of the influence of Catholicism . . . I am persuaded that the honor paid the Madonna has been one of the noblest and most vital graces and has never been other than productive of true holiness of life and purity of character.
There has probably not been an innocent cottage home throughout the length and breadth of Europe during the period of Christianity,in which the imaged presence of the Madonna has not given sanctity to the humblest duties, and comfort to the sorest trials of the lives of women. John Ruskin, quoted in The Madonna: An Anthology of Verse and Prose (1998)
In brief, the motherhood of Mary throughout history extends beyond being the physical mother of Jesus to being the spiritual mother not only of each of us personally but to all society.
Small wonder that the glory of Mary has been eulogized from earliest Christian times.
Saint Sophronius was born around 550 in Damascus. That was the city where Saint Paul regained his sight after being struck blind on the road leading to Damascus. After Saint Paul’s conversion, his preaching began to have such a powerful impact that his enemies sought to kill him.
He escaped by being let down in a basket at night from a window opening in the city wall.
Sophronius is described in Butler’s Lives of the Saints in these words:
He was one of the most engaging personalities of his time, cultured, open-minded, and passionately concerned about orthodoxy.
Sophronius eventually became the patriarch of Jerusalem and an author who is highly regarded, even to this day.
An example of his writing is this beautiful tribute to Mary. It makes a fitting conclusion to comments on Mary, the Mother of God, on this her feast.
Saint Sophronius addresses Mary in these words:
Who could describe your splendour? Who could tell of your mystery? Who could know how to proclaim your grandeur? . . .
You have surpassed the angelic legions. You have surpassed all creatures. . . .
We acclaim you:Hail, full of grace! Sophronius, quoted in The Madonna: An Anthology of Verse and Prose (1998)