Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
January 1, 2017 – Year A
by Rev. Mr. Mike Stinson, Permanent Deacon, St. George, Scottsville
Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Psalm 67 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21
Your deacon Eddie and I were both raised as Baptists, and most of the preaching I heard in the first few decades of my life was Baptist preaching — including a few times just down the street at Bedford Baptist Church.
You might know that the preaching tradition in Baptist churches is a little different than here in the Catholic church. One way it’s different is that Baptists often feel encouraged to talk back to their preachers — to say “Amen,” or “that’s right,” or “Praise Jesus,” or other things.
Now don’t worry — I’m not going to try to make you say anything you don’t want to say! But not long ago, I realized that I knew what I needed to do if I really wanted to get a Catholic congregation to say something to me when I’m preaching. I think some of you would say something if — right in the middle of my homily — I sneezed.
Wouldn’t you? And what would you say —
Right! “Bless you.” Thank you! And I did get you to say something, how about that? And those words that you said are important words — — bless you.
The Bible is full of blessings and promises of blessings. And today, on this day when we celebrate Mary as the Mother of God, our first reading and our psalm both focus on blessings.
And when we think about Mary, and her son, we can see why it makes sense to talk about blessings today. Mary was the mother of Jesus. And in Jesus, God gave his people the greatest possible blessing.
Since Jesus was God, we call Mary the Mother of God. Mary lived without sin, and had a son who lived without sin, and was born to be the savior of his people. When we think about that, we might say — who was more blessed than her?
Her cousin Elizabeth recognized this: when Mary arrived at her home, she said, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
And in response to Elizabeth, Mary predicted that in the future, people from “all ages” would call her blessed — and they have. Every time we pray a Hail Mary we help fulfill that prediction.
But we should never forget that the blessings Mary received from God came with pain and with struggles.
Mary was completely open to God’s plan for her life. She was open to the blessings of God — no matter what they brought her. She knew she was blessed — but her life wasn’t easy. Her life as the Mother of God was unpredictable. It included what we might call an unplanned pregnancy. She had to deliver her child away from the security of home. Her family had to flee as refugees to Egypt.
When Jesus was eight days old, a prophet told Mary that living with her unique son would bring her sorrow. He warned her, “you yourself a sword will pierce” because of Jesus. And it was true.
Mary watched her innocent son being betrayed by a friend, arrested, charged with crimes he didn’t commit, tortured, and then executed slowly and painfully. From the point of view of ordinary, everyday people, and ordinary, everyday life, those don’t sound like blessings, do they?
But despite all this — Mary recognized that becoming the Mother of God was a blessing — even though there were times when it might not have seemed like it.
Mary suffered as she watched her son die. But for all of us, the death of Jesus was a great blessing — he was not only God in human form, showing us how to live; he died so that we could live as we should, and could live with him forever.
Jesus sacrificed himself to provide a way to heaven for us. And as he did, Mary was with him. The pain of Mary and her son, which is hard for us to imagine, became a greater blessing for us than we could have imagined.
Mary accepted the call to be the Mother of God — and she also accepted the pain that came with that call. And we can respond the same way to difficult situations in our lives.
If we’re following God’s call in our lives — with Mary’s help, and the help of her son, we can remember that we’re blessed, too, even when we’re suffering.
When we’re confused or in pain; when we can’t understand why we face prejudice or abuse; when death comes to our family or friends — slowly and painfully, or unexpectedly — we can still trust God, even in our suffering.
That’s what Mary did. And we can remember Mary, and talk to Mary, and consider ourselves blessed. Not because our pain is somehow erased or ignored — it is not! It is real! But because Mary and her son knew real pain, too.
As the Mother of God, Mary had a son who was human, like us, but also divine — so we can say that God knows what it feels like to hurt like a human being — because he was a human, too.
On the other hand — thankfully, many times our blessings are obvious, and we enjoy them. To put it bluntly, for many of us — life’s not all bad. Most of us are greatly blessed. And the blessings we have, we know are good because of Jesus.
By taking a human body, Jesus affirmed creation. He affirmed matter, the stuff we’re made of, and the world we live in. It makes sense for us to bless things and to enjoy our blessings because Jesus blessed all of creation when he became human.
In Catholic churches, we might not talk back to the preacher very much, but we are good at blessing things. And when we do, we can say that we’re following the example of Jesus.
Catholics have a special Book of Blessings, which most of you have probably seen. And Catholics bless all kinds of things besides people and food — we bless water, candles, cars, ships, clothes, dogs, chalices, rosaries, hymnals, icons, houses, organs, and more. I’ve even seen a guinea pig get blessed.
But no matter what gets blessed, knowing that we’re blessed — even when we aren’t feeling blessed — is itself a blessing. And like Mary, we can know that we’re blessed, no matter how we feel at the moment. That’s one thing Mary teaches us in our relationship with her, which is also itself a great blessing.
And as we give and receive blessings for so many good things in our lives, and as we deal with the difficult things in our lives, we know that our greatest blessing of all is Jesus, and that we know him through Mary, the Mother of God.
So, in this new year:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.