Mary, the Holy Mother Of God

Commentary on Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

In John’s Gospel, Mary is twice simply referred to as the “mother of Jesus” – at Cana when the water was turned into wine, and at the foot of the cross. John’s Gospel is also the one that emphasises most the origins of Jesus as the Word of God, existing before the beginning of time, and through whom all created things came to be. He does not really need to spell out the implications of the term “mother of Jesus”. But they are very extraordinary implications as we shall see.

The Gospel speaks of the earthly reality of Jesus and his mother. The shepherds, in great excitement after hearing the heavenly host sing the first “Gloria” ever sung say:

Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.

Perhaps what they discovered must have seemed, at first, an anti-climax. Just a man, a woman – the mother, and a baby lying in a feeding box in a dark and smelly cowshed (not that shepherds would have been much bothered by farmyard smells).

We are told that they were amazed, and no wonder. Is this what the angels had to sing about? No words of Mary or Joseph are recorded, although they must have shared some words with their visitors.

In all of this time, Mary must have been trying to understand what was really going on. One imagines at this stage, that if she had been greeted as “Mother of God”, she would have been both alarmed and surprised, even shocked. So the Gospel says that during all this time:

Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Perhaps a hint that Mary had shared these reflections later with the writer of the Gospel.

And that is what we also need to do as we kneel in front of the crib here in our church. Whatever was there, the shepherds, in their simple faith, saw something very special in that prosaic scene. Many others must have seen and just passed on. They might have thought or said: “Oh, another poor feckless couple expecting handouts.”

The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. They also told everyone around what they had seen. The shepherds were the very first heralds of the Good News, the Gospel message, and they were the first evangelisers. A strange choice, as they were regarded as sinful outcasts. Or, when we think about it a little more, was it so strange? For them, the joy of having met their Lord, knowing Jesus, must of its very nature be shared and communicated with others. Would that we were so filled with the same experience and the same joy that we would go around sharing it with all! Yet, sometimes even our neighbours, or our colleagues at work, do not know we are Christians! It is not considered “politically correct” to speak of one’s religious convictions.

Then, after eight days, the Gospel says in conclusion, his pious Jewish parents had the child circumcised like any normal Jewish boy in accordance with the Law. Jesus always observed and had the deepest respect for the Law. What he criticised were its abuses. And Christianity is not a rejection of the Law, but a fulfilling of its promises and a shift to a deeper and wider level of serving God.

No special privileges
If John, in his Gospel, speaks of Mary simply as the “mother of Jesus”, St Paul, in today’s Second Reading says even less:

…when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…

Mary’s name is not even mentioned. It has been suggested that this is in the spirit of the New Testament, where there is no privilege of class or individuals. People are distinguished by one thing only – by their service to the community in the name of Jesus the Lord. This applies as much to Mary as to any of the apostles – as well as to any other Christian disciple.

God’s Mother
Today’s feast, however, is called “Mary, the Holy Mother of God” and not just “Mother of Jesus”. For both Jews and Muslims who have the deepest respect for God and even his name, the idea that God could have a human being as his mother is totally preposterous and even blasphemous. It is a contradiction in terms for the Creator of all things to be mothered by a creature.

Yet we can take an example from human experience. The president of a country has a mother. Let us say the president’s name is John Smith. Mrs Smith at some stage became the mother of John Smith. But later, John was elected president of his country; he became President Smith. John and President Smith are one and the same person so Mrs Smith is the mother of John and also mother of the president of the country.

Mary gave birth to the human child that is Jesus. But that child is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus is both human and divine: two natures, but only one Person. Mary, as the Mother of Jesus, is also the Mother of that Person, and that Person is God, one with the Father and Holy Spirit. Clearly we are not expected to be able to understand or explain this any further. The nature of God is quite beyond us. We need the simple and trusting faith of the shepherds.

Special relationship
Today, we honour the unique privilege of Mary, and her special relationship with God. But where does Mary’s real greatness lie? There is a scene in the Gospel where a woman shouts out from the crowd:

Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you! (Luke 11:27)

It was a cry of praise to Jesus himself, but also a compliment to the mother of such a Son who was doing such marvellous things for the sick and the needy. As if today she were to say: “God bless the mother that produced a son like you!”

But Jesus replied:

Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it! (Luke 11:28)

In other words, Mary’s greatness – and indeed the greatness of any person – was not in her birth, or her parents or her Son, but in her unconditional response to the call of God, in her hearing and obeying the word of God. This she did from the moment of saying ‘Yes’ at the annunciation, to her standing silently and in grief at the foot of the cross.

She was “full of grace” not only for being chosen to be God’s mother, but in her total openness to be filled with that love of God. We too are constantly ‘graced’, and we too can be full of grace, not because we were baptised into the Catholic community, but by our own total, active identification with the way of Jesus, and by our opening up to the call of God as it unfolds in the unique circumstances of our own lives. We do this through total and unconditional service to those around us. It is a formidable challenge, but it also brings untold joys. Christianity, contrary to the opinion of some, is not for wimps.

Unique relationship
Mary had a unique relationship with the Blessed Trinity as daughter of the Father, mother of the Son, and spouse of the Holy Spirit. Her feelings are beautifully expressed in the Magnificat, which she spoke during her visit to her cousin Elizabeth. She is filled with joy as the recipient of God’s love, and also of an awesome responsibility.

God has looked on this lowly girl. Through her ‘Yes’, Mary became a partner, a major contributor in the work of salvation. No wonder that all generations call her blessed, for the Almighty has done such great things for her – and she also, in her human weakness, for him. She nurtured and reared Jesus, God’s own Son, and our Saviour.

For this, today we say a special Thanks to Mary. The Son is so often a reflection of the mother, as the woman in the Gospel so clearly realised. He is the one who will rout the “proud in heart”, but will “fill the hungry with good things”. We are, at the same time, among those who are hungry, and who are called on to feed others spiritually, emotionally and materially according to need.

Today’s feast is one of great joy for Mary herself as Jesus’ Mother and for us who owe so much to her total co-operation with God’s loving plan for us.

Thanks and Yes
As we leave the ‘old year’, there are two things we could remember:

  • To look back at all the events, big and small of the past year and say thanks;
  • To look forward with expectation and surrender to all that will come and say yes.
  • And finally, let us hear said to each one of us the beautiful blessing in today’s First Reading:

    The Lord bless you and keep you;
    the Lord make his face to shine upon you
    and be gracious to you;
    the Lord lift up his countenance upon you
    and give you peace.

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