Updated: May 13, 2019
Growing up as a kid in the 1990s, before Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, my family often watched movies together on Saturday nights. We’d come home from church that evening and cook some popcorn on the stove and watch a movie we had rented from the video store. Sometimes, if we didn’t have a tape to watch, I can remember my father hooking up our videocamera to the television. We would watch old videos of our family, recorded when my brother, sister, and myself were much, much younger. I always cherished watching those videos, seeing the faces and hearing the voices of younger versions of my family. Today, I know I’d especially love seeing the faces and hearing the voices of family and friends who had since passed away.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, those videos helped me have a very strong sense of myself and my history. I knew that, if times got tough, to remember that for my parents and for other members of our family, they too have faced challenges and overcome adversity. If they could do it, I thought to myself, then so could I.
I learned that on my life’s journey, I was never alone. As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Hebrews, I was—as we all are—“surrounded by such as great cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1) As members of the church catholic, we hold and believe in that fellowship of the departed who pray for us and aid us with their continual prayers (p. 504, BCP). First among all the saints is the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose story we read about today in the familiar text of the Gospel according to St. Luke.
Today, instead of hearing the Christmas story or a story immediately about Jesus, we hear instead from his mother’s side. Holy Mother Church decided it fitting to hear and meditate on the words and faith of St. Elizabeth who recognizes the beauty and importance of Our Lady’s blessedness. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” Elizabeth proclaims (Luke 1:42). “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). Elizabeth notes what it took the Church until 431 at the Council of Ephesus to conclude: that Mary is the great God-bearer, the Theotokos. This title—God-bearer—is as much a reflection of Jesus as it is Mary. For unless Mary truly conceived and bore our Savior, complete with his human and divine nature, then our words and practices here are for naught. But, for us today, what Mary bore physically, we are asked to bear spiritually. We are asked to be God-bearers in our world today. We are asked to be images and ambassadors of Christ. And how can we bear God in our hearts?
When we choose others over ourselves, we imitate Him who gave His body over to be crucified for us. That is one way.
When we choose to give some of our time, talent, and whatever treasure we have to a church or a good organization, we return to God what has been generously given to us. That is another way.
When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist this evening, we obey His command given to the disciples on the night before Christ died for us. One more way.
But if the list of ways one can bear Christ in his own heart were somehow listed, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
As catholics, our history with honoring the Blessed Mother—in the rosaries we pray, in the Angeluses we say, in the Masses we attended and say in her honor—ultimately all of these are meant to lead us to Christ. In fact, if we use these tools of devotion wisely and with the help of a good priest, brother, or pastor, we cannot help but be drawn ever more closely to Jesus who bids us come to Him.
For Mary is the road. Jesus is our destination.
Mary is the letter, but Christ is the message.
The heart that burned for love of us first beat in the womb of she who said, “My souls magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46). Mary was the first of our race to experience the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—where the division between Heaven and Earth, Humanity and God—is shattered and broken down. The same Mass which our Book of Common Prayer Catechism states is “the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself” (BCP, p. 859).
All our devout customs and beliefs about the Virgin Mary proclaim a truth about her blessedness—that her glorification, her being full of grace and that which stemmed from it—is ours to obtain as well. Where Our Lady resides in heavenly splendor, we hope to one day reside. Despite our Lady’s low estate, God wished to dwell in her just as he wishes to dwell in us today.
We, as catholics give such high honor to Mary because of her humanity not despite it. As Eve and Adam, the first of our race, disobeyed God’s command, Mary obeys our God and, in doing so, assists in bringing about God’s will for all generations to come. It was St. Irenaeus, who said of Mary, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.”
Just as Mary could not by her own power bring forth the Incarnate Word, but only through her cooperation with God, we cannot, by our own power bring forth Christ in the world. It is only through inviting and responding to God’s endless and ever-present love that Christ begins dwelling in us.
Today, let imitate and incarnate Christ in our words and actions to others. Let us imitate the Christ, who St. Paul contemplated in his reflection on the Psalms, where it is said,
“See [Lord], I have come to do your will.” Let us respond to God’s invitation of love.
San Damiano Friary
San Francisco, CA
December 22, 2018
Epistle: Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel: Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at email@example.com.