Saturday, December 17, 2011

Have a Mary Christmas!

Three sons lived far from home and weren’t able to get home for Christmas. Instead, they arranged for their elderly mother to receive some special gifts. The first built a big house for his mother. The second sent her a brand new Mercedes Benz. But the third son smiled and said, “I’ve got them both beat. Mom is such a holy woman, she loves reading the Bible. But, now, her eyesight is so bad she can’t read it anymore. I sent her a remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took the monks 12 years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. Mom just has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it.” Soon after Christmas, the mother sent out her letter of thanks: “Dear Milton,” she wrote one son, “The house you built is too big. I live in only one room, but I have to keep the whole house clean!” “Dear Gerald,” she wrote the second, “I am too old to travel. I stay at home most of the time, so I rarely use the Mercedes.” “My Dearest Donald,” she wrote to her third son, “You have the good sense to know what your Mother likes. The chicken was delicious!”

Anyone who’s read a newspaper or watched a news broadcast knows that the annual Christmas Wars are upon us. Lots of commentary on whether or not to say “Merry Christmas” or what kind of tree stands in a town square. Even the comedians get in on this with their combination of all religious holidays into one generic greeting, “Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah.” Try and say that 10 times fast. Now, I generally don’t enter this battle mostly because I don’t look to politicians, secular settings or department stores to help me live my spiritual life – I look to the Church, of course, I’m going to wish people a Merry Christmas.

Not only that, but for me, I want our celebration to be not generic, but even more distinctly Catholic. A few years ago, someone had shown me some handmade Christmas cards that young people in my parish had made to send to military personnel overseas. One of the cards, made by a first grader read, “Have a ‘Mary’ Christmas.” Notice the difference, I didn’t say “Merry” m-e-r-r-y, but “Mary,” m-a-r-y. Now, I think this was actually just a spelling error, but the more I think of that card, especially with today’s Gospel passage, I thought, this is a good Catholic greeting for this season. Never mind the generic “Happy Holidays,” how about the extremely Catholic “Mary Christmas.”

Reflecting on today’s Gospel, we realize this season is really about Mary perhaps as much as it is about Jesus. First and foremost, Mary is the only woman in all of human history to be given the unique distinction - the almost incomprehensible distinction - of being the Mother of God. And by wishing a Mary Christmas we are being reminded that we are called to be just like Mary in the way that we welcome the Christ child into our lives and into our world.

Some children were preparing a Christmas play. Little Cynthia was assigned the part of Mary, but she wanted to change parts with her friend, who was playing an angel. When asked why, she said, “Because it is easier to be an angel than to be the Mother of Christ.” The little girl is certainly right. To be the mother of Christ is no small matter. Yet difficult as it sounds, that is exactly what we are all called to be. In fact, we could say that even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, his real desire is to be born not once in a limited place and time, but to be born over and over again in the hearts of all believers.

“Mother of Christ” is a title we usually reserve for Mary. But Mary is mother of Christ in two senses. She is mother of Christ in the physical sense. She carried Jesus in her womb and gave birth to him. This is an unrepeatable event and an honor that no other human being could share with her. But she is also mother of Christ in a spiritual sense; and in this spiritual sense the role of being mother of Christ is available to all Christians. We all can and should become mothers of Christ. The idea of Christians called to be mothers of Christ is very common among Christian mystics. The mystic, Meister Eckhart, said that God made the human soul to bear the divine Son, and that when this birth happens it gives God greater pleasure than the creation of heaven and earth.

What is this spiritual motherhood of Christ and how does it happen? Well, in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear, “While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

This passage shows us that Jesus expects His followers to be not only His brothers and sisters but His mothers as well, and the way to be the mother of Jesus is by doing the will of God. Spiritual motherhood of Christ is attained by saying “yes” to God, even when God appears to demand from us what is humanly impossible, like asking Mary to be a virgin mother. To become mothers of Christ we need to make the prayer of Mary our own prayer: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

This prayer of Mary has been known as the world’s greatest prayer. It is the prayer that brought God down from heaven to dwell in the soul and body of a young woman. It is the prayer that brought about the greatest event in human history, God becoming human in Jesus. It is a prayer that changed forever the course of human history some 2,000 years ago. It is the prayer that can change forever the course of our own personal history today and everyday if only we say it, pray it and mean it.

Yes, little Cynthia was right. It is not easy to be the mother of Christ. But in today’s Gospel Mary shows us how. It is in hearing God’s word and saying yes to God even when His will seems to go against all our plans for the future. As Christmas draws so very near, Mary reminds us that the best Christmas, in fact the only true Christmas, is when Christ is born not in the little town of Bethlehem so long ago, but in the very depths of our hearts today and every day.

May God give you peace and may you all have a very Mary Christmas.

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