Sunday January 1st, 2017
A Reflection on the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
By: Larry T
In his book Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, Fr. Roch A. Kereszty O. Cist. writes:
Besides stressing that Mary and Joseph were truly husband and wife and that the son of Mary truly became the son of Joseph, the Gospels also give some hints about their relationship to one another and to Jesus. It seems likely that the reason Matthew (or at least the Aramaic tradition behind the present Greek text) gives why Joseph wanted to dismiss Mary was not a suspicion of Mary’s unfaithfulness but rather the fear of getting involved with a divine mystery, the presence of which Joseph sensed in his fiancée. He needed God’s assurance and command to overcome his awe. In Krämer’s reconstruction, the Aramaic text underlying Matthew 1:20 should be translated in this way: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife just because the child was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, “Do not let the fact that Mary is bearing a child conceived by the Holy Spirit frighten you from taking her as your wife.”
This Aramaic interpretation is startling, but makes sense: Joseph sensed a divine energy radiating from Mary which both awed and frightened him. Did the baby in Elizabeth’s womb also sense divine energy radiating from Mary? Is that what caused the baby to leap in Elizabeth’s womb? When Elizabeth was overcome by the Holy Spirit, cried out “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!” was that, too, a spontaneous response to the divine aura surrounding Mary? It’s a possibility worth considering.
Most modern Catholics accept that Jesus was both divine and human, and that Mary gave birth to Him; therefore logically, she is the “Mother of God”, and that’s the way it always was. But, the increasingly nonspiritual culture which we live in intentionally labels our traditional values as being unfounded and insists that clinging to them is senseless and useless; therein, is the stumbling block of accepting that’s the way it always was. Unless we are thoroughly versed in the history and tradition of our Catholic faith we face the same danger as a shallowly rooted tree which can be easily blown over by a strong gust of wind. This is what makes reviewing some of the landmark events in our Holy Mother’s life worthwhile.
At the most opportune time for mankind’s salvation, God instructed the angel Gabriel to take on human form so that he would be visible to Mary. When he appeared to Mary he saluted her with: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.”
Ignoring her bewildered silence, he continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” (Lk 1:28-33, Holy Angels Edition)
What did the angel Gabriel mean when he said “Hail, full of Grace”? Through the centuries our Church has become increasingly aware that this divine announcement meant that God preserved Mary from original sin at the very moment of her conception (C.C.C. 491). God then continued to shower graces upon her, preparing her to be the earthly mother of the Son of God, (God Bearer, in Greek: Theotokos).
Beginning with Jesus’ death and resurrection, how many years passed before his mother was officially proclaimed Theotokos? Nearly four-hundred years. Before Mary could receive the title of “Mother of God”, her Son had to be recognized as “Son of God” - for the early Church just getting to that threshold of understanding and acceptance was extraordinarily difficult. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. declared that Jesus was “begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father”. Then, in 381 A.D., the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople was forced to reaffirm that Jesus was “the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.”, and proclaimed that the text of the Nicene Creed was complete and forbade any change (addition or deletion) to it.
However, Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople, didn't agree. Nestorius and his following of sixteen other bishops denied Christ’s full humanity, arguing that Jesus had two separate persons, the divine Logos and the human Jesus. He opposed the title of Theotokos (God Bearer or Mother of God) for Mary, insisting that she should instead be called Christotokos (Bearer of Christ). He taught that Mary, the mother of Jesus gave birth to the human Christ, not the divine Logos who existed before Mary and indeed before time itself. Nestorius’ opponents found his teaching too close to the heresy of adoptionism – the idea that Christ had been born a man who had later been “adopted” as God’s son. His teaching was ruled heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. This led to the so-called Nestorian Schism where churches supportive of Nestorius separated from the rest of the Christian Church. The Council of Ephesus declared that the text of the Nicene Creed, previously decreed at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., and the revisions of the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. were accurate and complete; Jesus was truly the Son of God and Mary was indeed the Mother of God.
In what way can these events bolster our faith? Mary had free will; she could have simply said, No thank you, but her “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy word.” signaled her willingness to participate in God’s plan. God created the earth and we live on it, in this we have no choice. God’s Kingdom on earth arrived with the birth of Jesus. We have two options: choose to be a subject in God's Kingdom on earth or live out a simplistic existence on God's earth. We, the willing subjects of God's Kingdom on earth, that is, those of us who accept His gift of faith, are tasked with collaborating with Him in the expansion of His Kingdom; this is how we signal our willingness to participate in His plan. How do we go about that?
Just as Joseph and Elizabeth sensed a divine presence radiating from Mary as she carried our Lord, so should those who we come in contact with sense the divine spirit of Jesus dwelling in us, and that can be as simple as a smile in His name, our demeanor and more importantly, our actions. “We ought to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:6 R.S.V.)