Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2020 – Year A
Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Ps 67 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21
by Deacon Michael Stinson, Guest Homilist
When I was in college, I often went to a particular convenience store that was near our campus. I usually went there in the evening to get coffee, when I was studying in one of the classrooms that was just across the road. The name of that store was “Tinee Giant.” I went there so often that I bought a mug with the store logo on it, and I still have it. For some reason they spelled “Tiny,” T-I-N-E-E.
That name, Tinee Giant, is what we call in English class an oxymoron. It’s a figure of speech that puts two things together that seem to be opposite, like tiny and giant. How can something be tiny and giant at the same time? I’ll bet you can think of more oxymorons: “jumbo shrimp”? That’s a favorite one. “Open secret,” “virtual reality,” “alone in a crowd,” “unpopular celebrity,” and of course, you can quote Shakespeare: a “damned saint,” an “honorable villain.”
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first created!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
That’s all from Romeo and Juliet.
You might be wondering what oxymorons and convenience stores have to do with our celebration today, when we remember the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God. It’s this idea of combining things that don’t seem as if they can be combined; mixing things that don’t seem as if they can be mixed. If you were listening a few minutes ago, we heard another oxymoron in the Collect for today’s Mass. It includes these words: “God, who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary bestowed on the human race the grace of eternal salvation…”
When I read that a few days ago, this phrase caught my attention: “fruitful virginity.” That’s a contradiction, an oxymoron, isn’t it? Remember in the rosary, when we’re praying to Mary, we call Jesus “the Fruit of thy womb.” The baby Jesus was the fruit of Mary, His mother. So the Collect says we’re here today to celebrate the fruitful virginity of Mary – an oxymoron, something that is biologically impossible, except that, in this case, it’s literally historically true. Mary was a virgin mother. A woman was the mother of God. A creation created the Creator. That which is finite contained that which is infinite. A woman conceived and gave birth to one who has existed eternally. Contradiction, but true.
People sometimes criticize Christianity because it can’t be fully, rationally explained, but Christianity is a revealed religion. Although much of it is rationally comprehensible, God also reveals things to us that we cannot know purely through reason. This is not a weakness; this is a strength.
People sometimes say they want a religion that is completely logical, completely rational. But if a religion is completely understandable by our human intellect, is it really worthy of our respect? Is it really worthy of the God who created us? Would we accept a being who is completely comprehensible as God? Would a completely comprehensible being really be God?
The Church has always said that, while we can know some truths about God, we can never completely understand God. If that’s true, there will always be mysteries involved with our faith. When we start putting the truths of our faith into words, sometimes we end up using oxymorons. Not because it’s not true, but because we’re talking about God being God.
God created the universe, and God can set aside the laws of nature when He chooses to do so. A virgin can bear a son. She can be fruitful. One was: Mary. Many of the mysteries of our faith involve this young Hebrew woman who was born without sin, who lived without sin, and who gave birth to God.
We’re here because our Church begins and ends every year with the language of these truths: the incarnation; God came in the flesh; a baby was God; and that baby’s mother was a sinless virgin. Impossible, as far as science can explain things, but it happened, and we’re here because it did. As we celebrate this oxymoron – this idea of “fruitful virginity” – we can also ask this: How can it help us in our own lives?
Mary is the saint above all other saints, a unique human, unlike any who has ever lived or ever will live, and she is the model for us. But we can’t do exactly what she did. We’re not sinless.
But what about this idea of fruitful virginity? One way we can follow Mary’s example and apply this idea in our own lives is to think about the plan that God has for our lives. God has something particular for every one of us to do. We say it in different ways, but that’s what we mean by vocation: what God has for you to do with your life.
At different times in our lives, that can be a more or less pressing concern. What does God want me to do when I finish high school? When I finish college? What kind of job should I do? Is God calling me to some kind of full-time work in His Church? At other times in our lives, it seems pretty clear to us that we should keep doing what we’re already doing. Maybe you’re already in the place that God wanted you to be and you just need to keep working. But sometimes, either when we’re trying to figure out what our vocation is, or when we’re in the middle of living it, God calls us to do things that seem to be impossible, at least as far as human effort is concerned.
That’s what happened to Mary. The angel Gabriel told her that she would have a son, but she knew that physically, humanly speaking, that was impossible. Remember what Mary said to Gabriel: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
Think about what she didn’t say. She didn’t say, “That’s impossible, since I have no relations with a man.” Humanly speaking, that would have made perfect sense. But Mary didn’t say it was impossible. She asked how it would be possible. She asked God how He would resolve the paradox; how the oxymoron could be true; how she could become a fruitful virgin.
Being the Mother of God was Mary’s vocation, and she accepted it even though she couldn’t understand how this contradiction could possibly be true, based on what she knew about the real world.
Sometimes we might end up in a spot like that. Every one of us has a vocation – the thing that God is telling you to do. And guess what: sometimes God can call us to do things that seem impossible. If He does, who understands that better than Mary?
Now, at the beginning of the new year, is a great time to ask God: Am I doing everything You want me to do, or is there something else? And if God does call us to do something that seems impossible, we have a choice: We can say, “That’s impossible.” Or, we can say what Mary, the fruitful virgin, said: “How can this be possible?”