Saturday, December 31, 2016

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

No Sense of Obligation

When I was teaching college students in the classroom I had a peculiar requirement for them. It was a peculiar requirement because I never heard that a teacher, either my own or other teachers, made this requirement. I told my students that they never write the word “must” or “should” in the papers that they submit to me as part of an assignment or examination. If they did, they would get a deduction of 5 points. If they still insisted this deduction would increase to 10 points. The time even came when I would not accept an assignment or examination paper if it had the word “must” or “should”. I told them that instead they use words other than “must” and “should”.

As an explanation I told my students that the words “must” and “should” denote an obligation and I did not want them to have this idea that they were obliged to do something. I did not want them to feel obliged to do anything. Therefore I told them that they were not to use a word which denotes or refers to, an obligation.

This was particularly difficult for students in my Ethics class because the usual view of philosophers who teach Ethics is that human beings are obliged to perform certain acts if they are to attain happiness.

At first there were many violations of my peculiar requirement, but in time they were able to get rid of these two obligatory words in their assignments and examinations. They were able to find words which substituted for these words “must” and “should”. Instead of writing “I must study in order to pass my subject”, a sentence like this would be written, “It is advisable that I study so that I pass my subject”, the word “must” or “should” no longer there.

The reason why I share this little incident when I was still teaching college students in the classroom is because today we celebrate the solemnity of a woman who never felt a sense of obligation with regards to the law of God, who never used the word “must” or “should” as related to us by the Gospel today or by other passages in the four Gospels.

What this woman did, as related by our Gospel reading today, was that she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” And out of this keeping and reflection her conduct simply flowered from her heart. She behaved voluntarily as a result of this reflection, never feeling obliged to do something as a duty imposed from without.

This woman is Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose solemnity as Mother of God we celebrate today.

The Church has expressed so well the role of Mary in the mystery of salvation in the last chapter of the Vatican II document, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. There she is called Mother of God. The title of that chapter which is chapter viii reads THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, MOTHER OF GOD IN THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST AND THE CHURCH. The Church enjoins us to “reverence the memory "of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ".

It is interesting to note that in the English translation of this Document the word “must” occurs. Here is the full quotation: “Joined to Christ the Head and in the unity of fellowship with all His saints, the faithful must in the first place reverence the memory "of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ". Here we read, “the faithful must”. But in the Latin original there is no word “must” there because Latin does not have the word “must” as such. This sense is expressed by what is termed a gerundive, a verbal adjective used as a future passive participle expressing duty, necessity, fitness, etc.  

What is all this leading us to? The same Vatican II Council Document in number 64 tells us to imitate Mary, mother of God, who is also our Mother. If we imitate her we also imitate her voluntariness to obey all the laws of God. The Document says, “Embracing God's salvific will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by the grace of almighty God, serving the mystery of redemption.” Notice the words “with a full heart” and “she devoted herself totally”. She felt no sense of outward obligation imposed upon her. Her work was all from her heart with utmost devotion.

That is the ideal way of living as a Christian, as imitating our mother who is also the Mother of God because Jesus is a divine person, is God. We live with a full heart devoting ourselves totally to the redeeming of all or more precisely applying the fruits of Jesus’ redemption on more and more men and women in the church and in the world.

Where did Mama Mary get this full heartfelt devotion to the work of Jesus? It was from Jesus himself. The same Document says, “For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it.”

There we have it. All the beauty, all the wonders, all the graces we see in our Mother come from the superabundance of Jesus, depend entirely on it and draw all their power from it.

We have heard the expression, like father like son. In the case of Mary, like mother like son. But here we can reverse the expression, like son like mother. It is usual in human genetics that the son inherits the qualities of his mother. But in the case of Jesus and Mary it is Mary who inherits the qualities of her son. We have a reverse process here, the mother becoming like her son.

That is the lesson of the circumcision of Jesus. On the eighth day, our Gospel reading tells us, Jesus was circumcised. This was the first act of Jesus in following the law of God. As Paul said, circumcision is the beginning of following all the laws of God. Jesus did this not because he was obliged to do it for he had no sin but because he voluntarily surrendered to this rite out of love for us whom he was to rescue from the curse of the laws. He voluntarily fulfilled all the laws for us beginning with his circumcision. And Mary was the one who voluntarily submitted Jesus her son to be circumcised.

Both Jesus and Mary fulfilled all the laws of God without any sense of obligation, not by being compelled to do this from an external source, but they did all this for love of God and for love of us.

If we are the children of Mama Mary we also inherit her quality of doing God’s will with no sense of obligation but with a sense of full devotion borne out of total love.

Let us bow our heads in simple prayer. Mama Mary, you inherited the divine traits of your son Jesus as he inherited your human traits. Help us to love and serve God with all our heart, just like your son Jesus did, with no sense of obligation imposed from without. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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