Wednesday, September 7, 2016

THE BIRTH OF MARY


Homily for Sept. 8th, 2016: Rom. 8:28-30; Matt. 1:18-23.

What do today’s readings tell us about the birth of Mary, which we celebrate today? Nothing. Nor do the Scriptures tell us anything about how her earthly life ended. In defining Mary=s Assumption on All Saints Day 1950, Pope Pius XII said simply: AWhen the course of [Mary=s] earthly life had ended, she was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.@ Whether this happened before or after physical death, the Pope did not say. The body the Pope referred to is Mary=s new resurrection body: the body with which Jesus rose from the dead B the heavenly and spiritual body which, as St. Paul says, each one of us will receive in heaven (cf.1 Cor. 15:35-53). There Mary continues to pray for us. As the Catechism says: AThe Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary ... and to entrust supplications and praises to her.@ (No. 2682).

The Scriptures do tell us one thing about Mary, however, which we often overlook. When, after a frantic three-day search, Mary and Joseph found their 12-year old son in the Jerusalem Temple, he answered their reproaches by asking: “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Already at age twelve, Jesus knew that God was his Father, not Joseph. And Luke tells us that “they did not grasp what he said to them” (2:50)

There would be much more that Mary did not grasp. How much did she grasp about the angel’s message that she was to be the mother of God’s Son? Well, she grasped at least this: that in a little village where gossip was rife, and everybody knew everybody else’s business, she was going to be an unmarried mother. Yet despite this daunting prospect, and her still young age (Scripture scholars think she may have been no more than thirteen), Mary responded: “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say” (Luke 1:38).

Three decades later, after Jesus left home, he seemed on more than one occasion to be fulfilling his command to his disciples about turning one=s back on parents and other relatives (cf. Lk 14:26). At the marriage at Cana Jesus seemed to speak coldly to his mother. She seems not to have been present at the Last Supper. Only at Calvary was Mary permitted to stand beside her now dying Son, along with Athe disciple whom Jesus loved@ (John 19:26); deliberately unnamed, many Scripture scholars believe, to represent the ideal follower of Jesus Christ in every time and place.

The last glimpse we have of Mary in Scripture shows her with the apostles and Jesus= other friends, praying for the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Thereafter Mary disappears. Her work of bringing Christ to the world was taken over by the Church. From her place in heaven this woman whose life began and ended in obscurity continues to answer the prayer which Catholics have prayed for two millennia: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”