September 7, 2017

Reflection for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Nativity of the Mary

Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Micah 5:1-4a or Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and
they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.” (Mt 1:23)

Recently I had occasion to speak to someone who has been away from the Catholic Church for several years. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that her children are in Catholic schools, she and her family have decided to return to the sacraments. In the course of our discussion, she mentioned that for a time she had worshipped with a local fundamentalist group who took every possible opportunity to bash the Catholic Church. This group was particularly concerned with the alleged Catholic worship of Mary. With the celebration of Mary’s birth falling on September 8, I decided to use this space to set the record straight on these matters.

Mary holds a high place in the Christian world. She is the Immaculate Conception. She was chosen from all time to be the mother of Christ. Thus she was conceived without original sin, redeemed by her Son in a different way from all others. At the Annunciation, her “Yes” to the angel reverberated throughout all creation as she ushered in a new era, the time of salvation. Mary put her life plans and dreams aside to raise this Son, and she had no other children, remaining a virgin for eternity. She stood at the foot of the cross and watched helplessly as her Son died for us all. After the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. The Church believes that only she and Jesus are presently in heaven body and soul. Indeed, the Blessed Mother is to be revered for her role in salvation history.

Catholic theology has held for centuries that while Mary holds this revered place in the body of Christ, it is only God, in the Trinity, that is truly worshipped. We pray to God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is God who created each of us. It is God through Christ that has redeemed us. And it is God through the Holy Spirit that sustains the Church daily, calling us to holiness. The goal of all prayer is union with Christ. While Mary is revered, all worship and praise is directed to God. While Mary is an example of holiness and discipleship, it is only through the passion, death, and resurrection of her Son Jesus that salvation will be attained. All Marian devotions are called to lead us to her Son Jesus. Mary would have it no other way.

So what is Mary’s role? Ultimately, Mary is the example par excellence of holiness and discipleship who intercedes for us to her Son, Jesus. There are two moments of her life on which I will focus: the Annunciation and her standing at the foot of the cross.

First, the Annunciation. Mary is called through the angel’s announcement to be the mother of Jesus. She was the most unlikely of candidates for this position. She was not connected politically or socially and was probably poor, as were most workers in the temple. Yet, in God’s plan, she was the one! And she said yes! She didn’t know the implications of the decision that one-syllable word offered. While her “yes” ushered in a whole new era in salvation history, it changed her life forever. She was engaged and, like all young couples, she and Joseph had plans. Those plans quickly changed. Mary is an example of holiness and discipleship. All of us are called to do as she did. Our “yes” to the Lord should be unequivocal. Like Mary, we ought not to fret over the details, but instead trust in the Lord. Indeed, Mary shows us what discipleship is all about. Let’s pray that her spirit of discipleship and trust is born in the lives of all the followers of Jesus.

Second, the foot of the cross. Mary watched her Son die. There is no agony worse than for a parent to watch his or her own child die. Mary was helpless, yet she stood there. She always stood by her Son. She had to know that the authorities were tiring of him, and that things could go badly soon. Yet she stays with Jesus right to the end. Even most of the Apostles ran and hid. But not Mary. Now she intercedes for all of us to her Son.

The fundamentalist group had it wrong. While Catholics revere Mary, they pray to God. Look to Mary as your primary example of holiness and discipleship. Seek her intercession by asking her to pray for you and intercede for you and on behalf of those you love. The popular prayer “Hail Mary” in the first half reveres Mary for who she is and what she did. In the second part, it seeks her intercession: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” shows us what discipleship is all about. Let’s pray that her spirit of discipleship and trust is born in the lives of all the followers of Jesus.

Msgr. Bernard W. Bourgeois is pastor of Christ the King, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and St. Patrick Parishes in Rutland, VT.

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