08 September 2015

God loving us through Mary

From 2006. . .

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


There is no “Once upon a time…” in the Catholic faith, no “Long ago and far away…” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the New Covenant, the Father of all creation operates in history for our salvation—dates, times, places, people, events—real history, real stories, faithful narratives of His people struggling to love Him and to be loved by Him. The Eastern Orthodox bishop and theologian, John Zizioulas, writes: “History is the sacrament of Israel’s religion.” Meaning that history, the record of God’s creative and re-creative work in His world, reveals God to us, makes Him better known to us. Through His Word from the Law and the Prophets, through His Word to Mary, our Mother, and through the revelation of the New Covenant in the Word Made Flesh, our Father brings us to Him, reels us in, and gives us new life. The celebration of Mary’s nativity is a celebration of our redemption in history—not an escape from this world in timeless myth but the blessing of this world in Christ’s birth as Lord and Savior.


OK. Why the theology lecture, Father? Here’s why: how easy is it for us to fall into the foggy mush of neo-pagan escapism, the near-Gnostic desire to understand our salvation as some sort of mystical escape from the dirty world, from the heavy stuff of living in bodies that betray our spiritual efforts, and other bodies—you people out there!—who won’t stop sinning, who won’t Do Right and make my work at getting holier easier for me! How quickly and easily we can come to think of our spiritual lives as the difficult work of ridding ourselves of what makes it possible for us to be perfected in God’s love: one another.


If we will be saved together, then we must live together in holiness and that means living in this world, in this history of God’s creation, among His works of beauty and goodness AND among the uglinesses and evils we build from what He has given us. Salvation is not about getting out of here as fast as possible. Salvation is about getting back into the family of God and witnessing, preaching, and teaching His healing Word; living every day, every hour, every minute in thanksgiving, in humble gratitude to Him for your very being, saying “thank you” for the fact of your existence, and the existence of everyone else, all of whom reveal Him to you.

Celebrating our Blessed Mother’s birth exalts her sacrificial fiat, her “let it be done to me” as a moment in history, a real event that calls out her predestined purpose, her prophetic place as the one who gives flesh to the Son. This took place. This took a place. An event with a location and a time. It took place to fulfill what the Lord had said in His Word through the prophet. And b/c it was done to her according to His Word and her Yes, the child is named Emmanuel, God-With-Us. And He is with us—in His family gathered here, in His priests, in His sacrifice of the altar, in His history, and in His Church.

If and when you are tempted by the devil of spiritual escapism—a spirit that tempts us with the false notion that we must get away from the dirt and the ugliness and sordidness of created things, especially other people, in order to be saved—if and when you are tempted by this devil, give thanks for Mary’s birth. Give thanks for her fiat. Give thanks to her for bearing Jesus and bringing the Word to us. And remember that God is with us—not “once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away,” but right now, right here loving us through His family. Loving us back to Him until he comes again.
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