Homily for the Feast of Mary, Mother of God

Our liturgy this morning invites us to turn our eyes to the Bethlehem scene and to be reminded that the light of the guiding star shines not only on the new-born Babe but also on His lovely mother. This Feast of Mary, Mother of God, has only recently reclaimed its place in our Catholic calendar. But the truth which it celebrates is implicit in all our Marian devotion. We believe in her Immaculate Conception because we believe that it was the prelude and preparation for her Virginal Motherhood. We believe in her Bodily Assumption into Heaven and we honor her as Queen of Angels and Saints because of her preeminent place as Mother of Christ, the King. Throughout the Christian centuries, wherever she is venerated and under whatever title she is named, the foundational truth, always presupposed in every prayer and every praise, the one title which contains them all is Mary, Mother of God. Every time we come together for Sunday Mass, we profess our faith that "for us and for our salvation" the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, "came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became Man." Every time we pray our rosary, fifty three times we call upon her: “Holy Mary, Mother of God". Our belief in her Virginal Motherhood is inseparable from our belief in the Incarnation and the Divine Identity of Jesus, Our Savior. He is Son of God and Son of Mary. Christmas celebrates not only His Nativity but also her Motherhood.

Today, the Church invites us to reflect more deeply on the wonder of Mary’s Motherhood. Really to do that, we must follow the gospel story from Bethlehem to Nazareth and there again "find Jesus with Mary, His Mother". If I were to ask you wonderful women here this morning: "Tell us, from your own experience, what does ‘mothering’ involve?", I am sure you would answer that it goes way beyond giving birth. It includes all those years and all those ways of loving nurture and gradual guidance from infancy to maturity. That’s the way it was with Mary. We call those years at Nazareth "the hidden years". But perhaps we ought better to call them "the learning years". It used to be very much the fashion with spiritual writers to allow Our Lord very little leeway for normal human growth and discovery. But nowadays, scripture scholars are much more inclined to let the Infant Jesus to be a real baby who cried when He was hungry and cling tight to his mother when He was afraid - and to allow the Boy Jesus to be a real Boy who climbed to the top of olive trees and skinned his knees on the rocky ground of Nazareth. Children learn by doing and by being around people who know and can teach, both by word and by quiet example. As we come to know Our Lord better, we discover how much of His Mother there was in Him. His open-eyed awareness of the goodness and beauty of the world around Him; the reverent familiarity with which He turned to His Heavenly Father in prayer; His sensitivity to the feelings and even the unspoken needs of others; His gentleness in dealing with people who fail; the graciousness and respect with which He could establish comfortable and loving relationships with people - women as well as men; even His dawning awareness of His own identity as Messiah - all these must have been in great part due to her quiet tutelage. "He went down to Nazareth", St. Luke tells us, "and was obedient to them. And He grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and men. " Surely Our Lord’s self-awareness and His wonderful way with people had their root and first flowering there. And in all of this, the mark of Mary was on Him. Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to sum up her influence: "He had His Mother’s eyes."

The Motherhood of Mary - what does it mean personally for you and for me? How does it define our own relationship to Mary? The Vatican Council answers that question for us in the final chapter of the Constitution on the Church, a chapter totally taken up with the continuing role of Mary in the Continuing Presence and the Saving Work of Jesus. In unequivocal words, the Council declared: "Taught by the Holy Spirit, the Church honor her with filial affection and respect as a Most Beloved Mother." The special title under which we are invited to venerate her is "Mother of the Church". It is only when we bring the Church to life in terms of real flesh and blood people - persons in vital relationship to Christ, and in Him, one to another - only when we realize that we are the Church, the pilgrim people of God, then that title takes on is full richness of meaning. We begin to see that when we call Mary, "Mother of the Church" we are really laying our personal claim to her - our act of faith that somehow, in the ongoing work of redemption, Mary continues to claim a central role - a real relationship with us. And that relationship has so much in common with all she was to Our Lord that we, like Jesus and with Jesus, can truly call her "Mother". We dare to believe that she knows us personally and loves us as members of her own family. In such a relationship there can be no such thing as remoteness. She becomes ours in a completely personal way. And all the wonderful influences of Mary upon Jesus, all the lessons He learned from His Mother, she stands ready to share with us: her kind of faith; her way of praying; her courage and strength and total gift of herself to God. We, like our Elder Brother, Jesus, ought to bear the mark of Our Mother.

When we think of Real Devotion to Our Blessed Mother, spontaneously we find ourselves remembering our recently deceased Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. He was preeminently the Marian Pope. His coat of arms had blazoned on it in golden letters the letter M - standing for both Mary and Mother - and with the letter his words to live by - in Latin: "Totus Tuus" , All Yours..

Again and again throughout his long papacy, in encyclical letters and pastoral exhortations, he urged the Church to deeper devotion to the Mother of Our Redeemer. No significant message of his was complete without its Marian entrustment. Among the hundreds of his prayers honoring Our Blessed Mother, I borrow one with which to lead us in our passage from liturgy of word into our liturgy of Eucharist. He wrote it five years ago at the beginning of the Church’s millennial celebration and I have somewhat freely adapted it for our prayer this morning.

Mother of Our Redeemer, Mother of the Church, we join our praise to that of believers the world over and from the beginning. With great joy we call you "Blessed Virgin" - "Blessed Mother of God".

Before the creation of the world, the Father chose you. You believed in His love and bowed humbly to His choice.

The Son of God desired you for His Mother. You received Him with ready obedience and undivided heart.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you became the Virgin Mother of your Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord Who is forever the Light of the world.

To you, Mary, we entrust ourselves. Guide our every step in our journey of faith. Confidently we call upon your powerful help and protection as we honor you as Mother of God and Our Mother.