Mary, God's and our Mother

Al Cariño
January 1st
Reproduced with Permission

The story is told that shortly after the election of John XXIII, the pope who convoked the historic Second Vatican Council, he went home to his little village in Italy to see his mother. After lovingly embracing her, he proudly presented the papal ring to her, saying, "Mother, at last, the papal ring." With face beaming with pride for her son, she lovingly held his hand, raised it to her lips and reverently kissed the papal ring. Then she said, "Son, remember that without this wedding ring, you would not have had that papal ring."

As we celebrate the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, I remember what Jaime Cardinal Sin of the Archdiocese of Manila said in one of his Christmas Messages. He said that our salvation consisted of two kinds of emptiness - the empty womb and the empty tomb. With the empty womb came the long awaited Promised One and with the empty tomb came the resurrection of Christ - the culmination of His redemptive work.

From all eternity, it was God's plan to redeem fallen humanity by making His Son take flesh, by allowing His Son to be like us in all things except sin. We had our first inkling on this when after the Fall of our first parents but before driving them out of the Garden of Eden, God said to the devil, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel" (Gen. 3:15). In this, we see a future mortal struggle between the woman's and the devil's offsprings. But whereas the devil's offspring would only strike at the heels of the woman's offspring, meaning, make him suffer, hers would strike at the head of the devil's offspring, meaning, deal him a fatal blow. Scripture scholars take this verse as God's first promise of the redemption of humankind and a woman would play a crucial role in it.

Over the centuries, this first "good news" from God would be made clearer by the prophets, specially Isaiah, who, in one inspired moment, said, "The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel" (Isa. 7:14). Since then, it was every Jewish woman's hope that she would be the one chosen by God to bear the Messiah in her womb.

At the appointed time, God sent His angel Gabriel to a young Jewish maiden named Mary, saying, "Hail, favored one! ... Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High." At that moment, the fate of the world hanged in the balance as it awaited her response. Finally, she said, "May it be done to me according to your word." With her "yes", God could now proceed with His plan for our redemption.

True, Mary was conceived without sin in preparation for the crucial role God planned for her. This we know when the angel greeted her with the words, "Hail, favored one!" or as in other translations, "Hail, full of grace!" But to be "full of grace" is completely different from becoming the Mother of God. For to be conceived without sin did not need her knowledge and consent. But not so to be the Mother of God as she remained a free human person and God never forced His will on anyone. The choirs of angels must have reverberated with Alleluia's when Mary finally said her "yes". As did the shepherds, who after seeing "the infant lying in the manger" as the angel had told them, left "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen" (Lk. 2: 16-21).

Mary, because she is the Mother of Jesus, is thus also the Mother of God. This is our belief as Catholic Christians. Moreover, before His death, Jesus said to John: "Son, behold your mother." Through John, Jesus gave Mary to us as our mother, too. And she loves each one of us as only a mother could. Do we love her in return as only a child can love his mother by living up to the teachings and examples of her Son?

During the holy season of Christmas, I kept on thinking of how some Christians, who do not give the proper honor to Mary or even viciously attack her, could celebrate Christmas at all. For Christmas is about the birth of a Child - about an empty womb. Jesus' birth as a human person on Christmas day was made possible only because of Mary's "yes". So how could these people celebrate Christmas with Mary out of the picture?

In today's Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, let us pray for such people so that they will be enlightened by God and thus honor Mary as they should - as Mother of God and as our Mother. Let us also pray for all mothers so that they will be able to carry out their God-given responsibilities as best they can. Finally, let us pray that we will become more and more like our mother Mary so that in all things we may be able to say to God, "May it be done to me according to your word."