Sunday, January 1, 2017

Solemnity of Mary 2017

There are two main reasons people find it difficult to approach and honor and develop a great spiritual relationship with Mary. They are two mistakes, and they’re both mistakes about Jesus.

The first mistake about Jesus that keeps you away from Mary is a mistake about Jesus’ divinity. Jesus is truly God. He is the Second Person of the Trinity. To think that a creature could somehow be in competition with Him for honor and glory is to vastly underestimate that divinity! All the true and legitimate devotion to Mary points to this unmistakably. For example: we call her the Mediatrix of all grace… that means all grace comes through her. People really flip at that, but they aren’t thinking it through. Does all grace come from God? Is Jesus God? Did Jesus come to us through Mary? If all grace comes from God, and Jesus is God, and Jesus came to us through (like literally through) Mary… the logic is pretty simple. And we balk, because “Mediatrix of all grace” sounds like such high praise, surely that’s something we should say about only Jesus? No way. That is not high enough praise for Jesus by a million miles. He certainly is the one true mediator between Heaven and Earth, but He is not just the mediator of all grace, He is the source and giver of all grace. Mary isn’t the source and giver of grace; it’s only the grace of God that comes through her… that’s what being a mediator is. That’s just one example. When people worry that devotion to Mary competes with Jesus, it’s sometimes not because they’re thinking too much of Mary, but because they’re thinking too little of Jesus.

So if the first mistake is selling short the true divinity of Jesus, you might guess the second: it’s missing His true humanity. Sometimes when people resist devotion to Mary, the real problem is that they don’t really, really believe that Jesus could be like us. That He could be really and truly one of us. And what’s more human than having a Mom? Maybe we’re on board about His divinity, we believe He is God, but we pull up short at the idea that God could have a Mom. He was born of her womb, sure, and I guess they lived together and she maybe did some cooking or something… but it was all very mystical and certainly not the family life that you and I experience. We can deal with Jesus having some lady as a sort of womb donor, but you just can’t talk about God having a Mom.
Bouguereau, Virgin of the Lilies

But we do talk about God having a Mom. Because Jesus is God. And Jesus is really, truly one of us: human. So if the very phrase “mother of God” sounds vaguely alarming, like we’re raising her up above God in a way, follow that thought and think it through. Do you believe Jesus is God? Yes? Is Mary the mother of Jesus? Yes. Well, then, logic doesn’t get simpler than that. That makes her the mother of God.

But really, people aren’t stumbling on the logic. They’re stumbling on the idea that God could be so small and humble as to be born of a human woman, to place Himself into a human family life, to really actually have a Mom. Yes! Stick with that thought, follow that thread, because what you’ve got hold of there is the great mystery of Christmas. He really became one of us. Our God really did take this humble path to save us.

And that brings us to why we do all the veneration of Mary in the Church. It’s not just about making a big deal out of her, but imitating. When the Church does a May Crowning and puts a flowery crown on a statue of Mary, guess what? It’s not because we think Mary is feeling unappreciated and needs to be buttered up. She doesn’t need flowers. She’s with God. She doesn’t need anything. The flowers are for us. The rosaries are for us. The statues are for us. Because we want to know and imitate this woman and ask for her help. We help each other in the Church, and that doesn’t mean we think Jesus isn’t enough. He’s the one who told us to help each other.

Christianity is about following Jesus, and other people help us do that. None of us are going to give birth to the source of all grace, but we can all be mediators of Christ in our own way. We all have a list of people who help and inspire us in our walk with Christ. Some we have in common as a Church: Sts. Francis and Clare. St. John Paul II, St. Theresa of Calcutta. Others are our own: my grandfathers in heaven, my grandmothers and my parents and sister on earth. My holy friends who help and inspire me. We all have our lists… and Mary belongs right up at the top. When I take help and inspiration in my walk with Jesus from my friend Chris, Jesus doesn’t say “hey, stop that, he’s distracting you from me.” And no more does He say that when we seek help and inspiration from His own mother.

One of my first thoughts waking up today was about the Solemnity of Mary, and as my eyes opened and adjusted to the light and my limbs started to awaken, a prayer came into my heart and mind: “Jesus, let me be this day according to Your will. Show me what you can do with me today.”

Well, I’m no Mary. It didn’t take long for that perfect intention to bang up against selfishness and habit. But I’m working on it, and so are you. We just don’t have a better example, or a stronger help, or a more radiant inspiration than this woman, whose trust in God’s promise and openness to God’s will actually reached what all of us are striving for. What if we did start every day repeating her ‘fiat,’ saying, “God show me what you can do with my day?” What if we gave Him a whole new year?

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