Wednesday, December 30, 2015

We honour the Son when we honour the Mother

Solemnity of Mary Mother of God 2016

The name of the feast which we celebrate today has given cause to Protestants to accuse us Catholics of idolising Mary as it has scandalised Muslims into thinking that we Christians believe that the eternal God could have been birthed by another, a mortal person for that matter. For that would seem to be the apparent conclusion to be drawn from such an august title conferred on a mere mortal. But little do many Protestants and even Catholics realise, the title seeks to honour the Son more than the mother. The great theologian saint, St Louis Marie de Montfort, who was responsible for the promotion of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary writes, “We never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son.”

To accuse Mary of being a distraction is to totally miss the mark when it comes to the Church’s teachings and especially the dogmas concerning Mary. The four Marian dogmas of the Church, two ancient (the Ever Virgin and the Mother of God) and two modern (the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption), are essentially Christological as well as Christo-centric. The first two points to the nature of Christ and highlights his divinity, whereas the second two demonstrates in a concrete way his mission, the salvation of all humanity, already prefigured in his mother.

First, the title ‘Mother of God’ speaks to us of Jesus. The title the Church uses to honour Mary’s name is testimony of the Church’s most central belief – that Jesus is both human and divine. If Mary is not the Mother of God, then either Christ is not God (and that is the denial of his divinity – the Arian heresy) or Mary is not his Mother (the denial of his humanity – the Docetist heresy). Finally, the title ‘Mother of God’ attests that Jesus is both God and man in the same person. This was the reason for which the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus adopted this august title for our Lady. It expresses the deep unity between God and man realised in Jesus and how God bound himself to man and united man to himself in the most profound unity that exists – the unity of the person.

Secondly, the title ‘Mother of God’ also speaks to us of God. In other words, it not only a Mariological or Christological title, but also a theological one. Mary’s divine motherhood attests to the humility of God, a God who not only condescended to take on our human condition, but a God who took on a mother and placed himself in her care. This is a powerful reminder that we, in our hubris, need not built pyramids or towers to reach the heavens to search for God. This is because God has already come down by silently entering the womb of a mortal woman. By entering into our mortal condition, God sanctified and deified our lives, injured by original sin. God became man in order that men may become gods.

But apart from its Christological and theological implications, the title also speaks to humanity about ourselves? To confess that God has taken flesh like ours, has ‘emptied himself taking the form of a servant’ (Phil 2:7), and has joined our human race, is to state that the kingdom of God has arrived in our midst. In and by the flesh of Mary, God has entered our world. In the gospel of St Luke, Mary is depicted as the new Ark of the Covenant, God’s dwelling who journeys to the house of Elizabeth and is greeted by the joyful leaping of the child. The presence of God in the ark, which the people of Israel adored, and to which only the high priest had access, is now, through the mystery of the Incarnation, manifest in the face of every human being. From the moment God’s word took flesh in Mary, human beings have become God’s dwelling place on earth.

The title also addresses the confusion brought about by modern ideologies that seeks to fragmentise the human person. The mystery of the Incarnation consistently refuses to accept ancient dualistic assumptions that fragment life into independently existing parts (matter and spirit, body and soul, female and male, emotion and reason etc.). We therefore resist any alienated, other-worldly view of redemption that expresses a pessimism toward the world, and which does not appreciate the goodness of God’s physical creation.

And so as the world celebrates the beginning of a New Year and many start it off with a whole list of resolutions, let us as echo the prayer of St Augustine as we make our own list of resolutions for this Year of Mercy: “His Mother carried him in her womb, may we carry him in our hearts; the Virgin became pregnant with the Incarnation of Christ, may our hearts become pregnant with faith in Christ; she brought forth the Saviour, may our souls bring forth salvation and praise. May our souls be not sterile, but fertile for God.”

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