By Nick France
Hail Mary full of Grace,
Each year around Christmas, my mind always seems to wander off, and I begin to think about the Holy family, and the hardships they must have endured. For their story is not the traditional one of a young couple about to give birth to an ordinary child. Theirs is the most unique situation there ever was (to say the least). Joseph, of the house of David, had to come to grips with the fact that his virgin wife was with child, and imagine this, that she was conceived of the Holy Spirit. I would imagine that even for Joseph, and knowing what we know about the Blessed Virgin Mary, this had to be incredibly difficult for him.
The Lord is with thee…
According to the Gospel of Matthew, we come to know that he did not believe at first, and although he was an upright man and unwilling to expose her to the law, he had decided to divorce her quietly. This is what Joseph intended to do, and who would blame him? This was the origin of first century Palestine, and to have a child without a husband was against the law and extremely disgraceful. (Even today this is the benchmark of peoples belief systems, those who believe in the virgin birth, and those who do not). This was not something you wanted to be associated with, unless your wife was carrying a child Divine in nature, and the Savior of mankind. This is what Joseph came to understand as the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream. The angel made clear to him this child was conceived of the Holy Spirit and would come to free the people of sin.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
It is no doubt that Mary dominates my thoughts with all the trials she overcame. The sacrifice she underwent so that she could say yes, yes to God, and be a part of His redemptive plan. For it was the trust and faith she had in God, which was nothing short of amazing. But for her trust and faith, (as we know she had free will to deny God) we would not know Jesus, our Lord and Savior, as we do.
Imagine how alone and confused she must have felt after coming to know from the angel Gabriel that she had been chosen by God to bare the redeemer of the world? Even in today’s day, a pregnant, unwed teen is not looked upon as the most noble of things. Imagine how Mary must have felt in her day? She was taking an incredible leap of faith here.
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
While many Christians are attracted to Mary, their knowledge of her is not as broad as one would imagine for those so devoted to someone. In other words, why are so many people, especially Catholics, attracted to someone they know very little about? Loving someone without knowledge of them is more like a crush or infatuation. This can turn to true devotion with increased knowledge. To come to know Mary deeper; one need only turn to Church dogma.
Holy Mary, Mother of God…
We all know Mary as the mother of God; her title in the Church is Theotokos or God-bearer. She has a special function in the Church in being the Mother of God, as she is the mother of the head of the Church, Jesus. This makes her our mother as Christians, as we are members of the Church. We base this belief on the passage in John’s Gospel when from the cross Jesus said to John, “Behold your mother,” telling him to care for Mary. To Mary he said, “Woman behold your son” (John 19:26-27). The Church has long interpreted those words to include us as well as John. Also, some point out this passage as an indication of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, The Perpetual Virginity of Mary is a doctrine of the Church as well. If Mary had other sons and Jesus had other brothers, why would Jesus say from the cross to Mary “Woman behold your son” referring to John if in fact Mary had a biological son?
Some might ask why Mary? Why would God choose Mary for this awesome task? We all know that in our own child rearing and preparation for childbirth, good health plays an important role. Mothers must take extra care of themselves as the vessel of the child in order to ensure good health for the child. She must abstain from harmful chemicals and medications as well as other dangers that would harm the child. These harmful things can affect future generations as well.
God’s plan warranted someone special indeed, someone worthy of bearing the Son of God. So when God chose Mary, he was choosing someone perfect, for He created Mary that way. At the time when Mary was conceived by Joachim and Anne, she was already free of Original Sin. This belief (the sinlessness of Mary) is called the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Many confuse the Immaculate Conception with Jesus’ conception, but it is really pertaining to Mary’s.
Again it was her free will to say no to God that makes this all the more amazing. She was not just a passive instrument in God’s will, she chose to take part in His plan against all odds and knowing full well it would likely be a life of heartache and turmoil. I can only suspect she anticipated great joy and love from her choice as well. It had to be somewhat reassuring to be in God’s favor as she was. We learn from Luke’s Gospel that the angel Gabriel said to her, “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women.” (Luke 1:28) Although she was deeply troubled by his words, Mary accepted her fate and said to the angel, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.” (Luke 1:38)
It is from Luke’s Gospel we learn the Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.
At the end of her earthly life we know that Mary was taken up to heaven – body and soul. We know this as the doctrine of the Assumption. Mary was so pure in spirit that God deemed her body holy enough to bear God and he would see to it that her body would never decay like yours and mine. The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are related. "The Immaculate Conception [was] the beginning of life, the promise, and the Assumption [was] the end, the realization of that promise."
As we contemplate the life of Mary we try to understand the blessings she had bestowed upon her. Certainly these blessings came with intense worries and strife. To be subject of this much honor was a double-edged sword, to say the least. To be a pregnant, unwed mother as a teenager in Mary’s day meant cause to be thrown out of her town and stoned to death – not exactly the making of a prom queen.
From the birth of Jesus to the flight into Egypt to the cross at Calvary, Mary’s life was not easy, yet her perfection and love for Jesus and Grace from God is something for us all to aspire to become. Like a champion boxer is to the up-and-coming contender, an inspiration of dedication and prowess, so is Mary to all Christians. For Mary exemplifies the very nature of a true Christian and what we all should be, or at least have the opportunity to be, because of her son, Jesus, and the sacrifice He made for us all.
This Christmas, in addition to Jesus, let’s all remember Mary in a special way, after all it is about the birth of Christ, but it’s also about the life of Christ and the way in which Mary shaped it, as only our Mother can. Merry Christmas. †
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen
Read more about Mary – Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer).