Sunday, December 31, 2017
January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Of all the titles of Mary, her motherhood is the title I like best. I love to collect photos of Mary showing her with the Child Jesus. There is something in that mystery that draws me. Of course, it gives me much delight to know that I was also born on the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome - August 5th. The Basilica is the largest basilica in the West dedicated to the Mother of God. It was erected, as the story goes, at the site where Our Lady of the Snows appeared.
A great heresy in the Church, promulgated by Bishop Nestorius, claimed that Mary was not the Mother of God, but the mother of the man, Jesus. He proposed that Mary could not have borne God since he is God, but bore only the man. In saying this, he was actually denying the divinity of Jesus. This heresy was put to rest in 431 at the Council of Ephesus when the Greek Fathers of the Church, headed by St. Cyril of Alexandria, defined the maternity of Mary. It was on this Council that the title of "Theotokos" or "God-Bearer",was first used.
It is interesting to note that Mary's motherhood is presented to us by the Church calendar at the beginning of the year. This maternal role actually began at the Annunciation when Mary agreed to be the Mother of the Son of God. But because the Church wants to put the spotlight on the person of Jesus, the Emmanuel, Mary sort of faded into the background. Now that the climax of Christmas is somewhat over, Mary is again brought back on stage. It is also fitting to celebrate this feast at the opening of a new year because it brings to mind the reality that Mary is the dawn and Christ the Rising Sun. She is the one that leads us to God. She opens the way so that we can follow the path of true discipleship. The document "Lumen Gentium" says that Mary is the first of Christ's faithful disciples.
It is unfortunate that this motherhood of Mary is rejected by many, Protestants and Catholics alike. By Protestants, because of a misunderstanding and fear that she will take away from Jesus the honor and worship that he solely deserves. By Catholics, because they have reduced Mary solely as an object of empty and silly devotions, the heroine of mythic proportion. Saint Therese of Lisieux one day complained about the manner in which priests of her days talked about Mary in their homilies. "They talk of her imagined life, not her real life. Why can't they talk about how she doubted like us, that she suffered like us."
Of all the insights about Mary, one I ponder the most, is our late Pope John Paul II's words in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater that Mary is blessed BECAUSE SHE BELIEVED. It was her faith alone that we can all strive to imitate. Her other attributes of the Immaculate Conception and Divine Motherhood are attributes that will never be ours. But her faith, her trust and surrender, are virtues we can all imitate. Woman of Faith.. Mother of God... Mother of Mine.