My mother has a lot of stories about me as I was growing up. Some of them are funny or interesting, others are just a little painful or embarrassing. I suspect your mother has or had stories like that about you too. Maybe they are funny or maybe they are sad, but these are the stories that make us cringe a little bit when we hear them.
I wonder how Jesus felt about the stories Mary remembered about him. Probably they didn’t make him cringe! Luke tells us of all the amazing things that were observed and said about Jesus, even in his infancy, and all these things are what Mary kept and reflected on in her heart. I think it’s fair to say that she probably didn’t understand all of them at the time, or at least she didn’t know where they were leading, although she certainly knew that her son was someone very special, the Son of God. And so she keeps all these things and reflects on them in her heart. She is the first, really, to receive the Gospel – observing it, as it were, while it was happening and unfolding. And so she is the model for all of us hearers of the Word; we too catch little phrases or episodes that we later reflect on in our hearts. When we first hear them, it might well be that we don’t understand them. But we know that we can later reflect on them in our hearts, and the Holy Spirit will reveal their meaning.
The Church gives us this wonderful feast of Mary on this, the octave day of Christmas. In a very real way, the Church still celebrates this day as Christmas day – that’s one of the wonderful things about being Catholic. We don’t have to cast off Christmas with the wrapping paper; we get to celebrate for many days. But to celebrate the eighth day of Christmas as the feast of Mary, the Mother of God is a wonderful and appropriate thing to do. We all know that if Mary hadn’t said “yes” to God’s invitation and cooperated with his plan for her, that salvation history might have gone rather poorly, to say the least. We are indebted to Mary’s faith, a faith which made possible the salvation of the whole world and everyone ever to live in it.
More than that, Mary’s faith is a model for us. We often do not know where God is leading us, but in faith we are called to say “yes” anyway. How willing are we to do that? We are often called upon to take a leap of faith, make a fiat, and cooperate with God’s saving plan for us and for others. Just like Mary, we have no way of knowing where that might lead us; just like Mary, that might lead to heartache and sorrow; but just like Mary, it may lead to redemption beyond belief, beyond anything we can imagine.
And so, yes, Mary is the Mother of God. And let me tell you, this was a doctrine that didn’t come without a price. People fought over whether a human woman could ever be the mother of God. How would that be possible? But the alternative, really, would be to say that Jesus was not God, because we clearly know that Mary was his mother. So to say that Mary was not the Mother of God is to say in a very real and precarious way that Jesus was not God, and we know just as surely that that would be incorrect. Jesus was fully human but also fully divine, his human and divine natures intertwined in his person without any separation or division or degradation of one nature at the expense of another. And so, as theologians teach us, Mary is the Mother of God the Word according to his human nature. Sister Sarah made us memorize that in seminary, and every once in a while, when I’m feeling particularly theologically courageous, I reflect on that statement and marvel at its beauty.
So, Mary is the Mother of God, but Mary is also the Mother of the Church, leading its members to her son Jesus and to faith in God. She is mother of priests, caring for us in a special way and interceding for the faithful completion of our mission. She is the mother of mothers, interceding for them and showing them how to nurture faith in their children. She is the mother of the faithful, showing us how to cooperate fully with God’s plan. She is mother of scripture scholars and those who just love the scriptures, having seen the Word unfold before her and treasuring it in her heart. She is the mother of disciples, having been the first of the disciples and the most dedicated of them all. She is the Mother of God, and our mother, and we cannot sing our Christmas carols without singing her praises too. We honor her faith and example today, and we ask for her intercession for our lives, for our families, for our Church and our world.
Pray for us, o holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.