FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 21, 2008:
After one of the Masses last week, I was in the back of the church greeting people and I saw someone with an interested button on her jacket. It had an image of the Blessed Mother with the Baby Jesus and said, “You can say ‘Merry Christmas’ to me.” As you know, the politically correct crowd has gotten on the “Happy Holidays” bandwagon the last few years, some stores even instructing its employees that they cannot say, “Merry Christmas.” Perhaps the most bizarre statement I’ve seen is a combination of all religious holidays into one generic one with the greeting, “Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah.” Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up! Now, I don’t plan on entering that battle; I’m sure you can imagine where I stand. The holy day we celebrate is Christmas! It is about the birth of Christ. So, we shouldn’t shrink away from that, and people of other faiths or even no faith should respect that this is what we are celebrating, just as we respect that they celebrate Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanza or any other holy day.
In fact, instead of making our holy day generic, I think we should make it even more distinctly Catholic. A few years ago, I had a wonderful experience that spoke to this issue. Someone had shown me some handmade Christmas cards that our young people made to send to local military personnel from New Milford. 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, 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. Someone told him…But 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: “Lord, let it be 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 lowly 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. This prayer is so very different from what has been called the world’s most common prayer, the prayer in which we try to get God to do our will. The world’s most common prayer says, “My will be done,” whereas the world greatest prayer says, “Thy will be done.”
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.