31 December 2011

Mary, Mother of Our Freedom

NB.  Nevermind about the whole confusing Zechariah with Simeon. . .I was right the first time.
Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

Listen Here (8.00am Mass)

We call her "Advocate of Eve," "Seat of Wisdom," "Cause of Our Joy," "Help of Christians," and "Mother of Sorrows." We greet her in prayer, “Hail, Mary! Full of grace!” And we call upon her intercession using a variety of names: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Knock, Queen of the Americas, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor. But all these titles and names are meaningless unless we understand the one title that makes all the others possible: Theotokos, God-bearer, the one who gives birth to God. Mary is who and what she is for us b/c she is first and foremost the Holy Mother of God. This title was settled upon in 431 A.D. by the Church Fathers at the Council of Ephesus. Fighting back a heresy that wanted us to believe that the Christ was actually two different persons—one human and one divine—the Fathers declared that Christ is just one divine person with two natures (human and divine). Mary gave birth to the divine person of Jesus Christ, making her the mother of God Incarnate. And since we never celebrate a Marian feast w/o remembering the One to Whom Mary always points us, we also celebrate her son, Jesus, the Messiah. Given all this, I'd like to propose another title for Mary: Mother of Our Freedom! Why this title? Paul writes to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. . .so that we might receive adoption as sons. . .So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.” 

We are no longer slaves but sons, heirs; and made so by God through the faithful cooperation of Mary. The Mother of Our Freedom cooperated (operated with) the Holy Spirit and received into her womb the seed of the Word, which grew into the divine person of Jesus. His birth into human history and his death into eternal life makes our salvation possible. He cuts a path through the thorny tangle of sin and death and draws us behind him to be taken up, made holy, and seated at our inherited place at the banquet table of God. Our release from the slavery of sin, our escape from the inevitability of death is accomplished by Christ through the cooperation of Mary. She is the Mother of Our Freedom b/c she gave birth to the only means of our freedom. From slaves to heirs, we move ever closer to the perfection of Christ.

Our perfection in Christ is both our work and the work of God. Just like our Blessed Mother cooperated with the work of the Holy Spirit to conceive and give birth to Jesus, we too are vowed to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit to conceive and give birth to the Word, making his flesh and blood our flesh and blood; surrendering our hearts and minds, and our hands and voices to the holy work of preaching and teaching the Good News to the world. The longer and harder we work at accomplishing this task, the higher we climb in holiness and the deeper we delve into divine wisdom. Like the shepherds who find the Holy Family in the manger and “made known the message that had been told them about [the Christ],” we too are vowed to finding Christ, following him, and making his message known. After seeing the Christ-child, the shepherds go home, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” And we too will return home, our heavenly home, glorifying and praising God, if we do what we have promised as followers of Christ to do. Mary held on the message of the shepherds, reflecting on it in her heart, remembering Simeon's warning in the temple that her heart would be pierced by the sufferings of her son. While the shepherds adored and the people were amazed, Mary quietly grieved, knowing the destiny of the one sent to redeem us all from the slavery of sin.

Mary's grief must have been nearly unbearable. Having assented to the conception of the Word and given him birth, she is left with the sure knowledge that her son is the long-awaited Messiah, the One who would suffer and die for the sins of men. To gain our freedom, the Mother of Our Freedom had not only to bear the Christ into this world, she had to witness his suffering and death for our sakes. And not only was she a witness to his passion, she suffered along with him as any mother would. Her heart, pierced by the sword of grief, bled out even as Jesus bled out on the cross. As painful as his death and her grief no doubt were, as a result, we rose as a race to be the adopted children of the Father, heirs to His kingdom. Granted the inheritance of the ages, in possession of God's promise of eternal life, and the possibility of perfection through His Christ, what do we do in order to give thanks? How do mere creatures show appreciation to the One who created and re-created them? There is nothing we can do or say that would equal this gift, that would express the enormity of this sacrifice for us. We are left to do only that which we have already vowed to do: bring the message of God's love and mercy to the world in all we do, say, think, and feel. Despite opposition, persecution, ridicule, and violence, we deliver the message that Christ is Lord! When we do as Christ did, and speak as he spoke, we grow closer to our perfection in him.

Some 1,600 years ago, a council of Church Fathers hashed out a theological statement that confirmed what most Christians at the time already believed: that Mary is the Holy Mother of God Incarnate. As the mother of God, she bore into the world the Son who grew up to teach and preach the saving word of his Father's mercy to sinners. Not only did he teach and preach his Father's mercy, he embodied that mercy; he gave that mercy flesh and bone and walked among us as a sign of contradiction, a rock upon which men's hearts and minds would be broken to reveal the truth inside. When confronted with the raw truth that your sins are forgiven and that you are no longer a slave to sin, the truth that dwells secretly within breaks out and flourishes in the light of Christ. The shepherds wandered the desert on the word of an angel until they found Christ. The truth in their hearts dropped them to their knees in adoration. Those near the manger, the ones who heard the shepherds' message, had their hardened hearts softened and exposed. They were left amazed by the Good News. Mary, Mother of Sorrows, had her heart broken on the knowledge that her son would suffer and die. The truth in her heart led her to a life of humble service to the Lord. Within the Body of Christ, his Church, there is a truth that will renew us, a truth that will bring us to remember our vows, and urge us to rededicate ourselves to the hard work that Mary started when she said Yes to God. That truth is this: each of us and all of us together are the flesh and blood of God's Word, not just people who believe or people who do good works, but the People of God who walk out into the world to be—however imperfect—Christs for one another. Mary, Mother of Our Freedom, gave birth to the only means of our freedom, Christ Jesus the Lord. Will you, will we say Yes to God, conceive His Word, and keep in the world the mercy and love that Jesus lived and died to bring to us? Do this holy work and the Lord will bless you and keep you! The Lord will let his face shine upon you. . .The Lord will look upon you kindly and give you peace!

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  1. Fr. Philip,
    The paragraph on "Mary's grief" departs from your main point. I find it distracting and would drop it. Simplicity and clarity are Marian virtues. I think she would agree with me on this. :)

  2. Anonymous10:23 PM

    Did young Mariam see the crucifix in the manger? She said 'yes' to the will of God, but in doing so I think she gave God carte blanche as it were. >We< know that her son will suffer a horrible, bloody, humiliating death for our sins, but I'm not convinced >she< knew that a priori. Zechariah hinted at it in the temple, that her heart would be pierced, but the details as to how that would unfold don't seem to have been explicit at the outset - all of which in any case takes away absolutely nothing from her beautiful, total acceptance of God's will.

  3. Anon., Mary didn't need to see the crucifix in the manger to know the fate of the Messiah. As a good Jewish woman, she was well aware of the long prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Savior, cf. Isiah. Zechariah's warning (thanks for the correction!) in the temple about her grief only needed to be in passing b/c every good Jew knew all about the fate of the Messiah.

  4. Zechariah? "Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him" (Luke 2:25).

  5. Ben, HA! I was right in the first place. Geez, I'm getting old and easily confused.

  6. Anonymous3:46 PM

    I wonder if you read G.K.Chersterton's Maryland poem. The last stanza is about Our Lady's 100 title - Our Lady of Liberty.