Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? For those who made resolutions, how many of you made a resolution regarding your physical health? Each New Year, many of us resolve to get in shape, go to the gym or lose weight. We are used to making resolutions to improve our physical health. Perhaps this year we should consider making a resolution to improve our spiritual health. On this the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, I suggest that we resolve to improve the relationship we have with Mary.
Often people have difficulty with the idea that as followers of Jesus we are called to have a special relationship with Mary. Perhaps some of you have had to answer questions like this before, “why do Catholics worship Mary?”, “why pray to Mary when you can go directly to Jesus?” When it comes to Our Lady, people encounter difficulties in two areas:
- Catholic beliefs about Mary, such as the Immaculate Conception and Marian titles such as the one we celebrate today, Mary, Mother of God. Some people have difficulties calling Mary this.
- Catholic devotion to Our Lady. There are those who struggle to see why we should have a special relationship with Mary and why we would pray to her.
These are important concerns that are well-worth addressing. Many non-Catholic Christians and even some Catholics are a little uncomfortable with the way Catholics view Mary.
For this reason, it is important to remind ourselves and others that Mary has no other mission than to lead us closer to Jesus. At Christmas we are reminded of this every time we look at the Nativity scene. There we see Mary presenting her Son to the world. Mary gave birth to Jesus some 2000 ago, bringing Him into the world. As Catholics, we do not believe that her mission ended there, however. Still today, she has a critical role in bringing Jesus more and more into our hearts. There is a very simple test for us to know whether our devotion to Mary is good and true. If our devotion to Mary is a true one, then we will find that over time we are led to a deeper relationship with Jesus. Throughout history there have been many reported apparitions of Mary, such as in Fatima, Lourdes and Mexico City. At each of these approved apparition sites, Mary’s mission has always been to encourage people to better know and follow her Son Jesus. She is never the center of attention. She is not trying to be a replacement for Jesus. As Catholics we do not worship Our Lady. Mary’s mission has always been to leads us closer to Jesus.
More than this, when Catholics profess certain beliefs about Mary or give her particular titles in order to defend what we believe about Jesus. This is the case for the Marian title that we celebrate today, Mary, Mother of God. This title for Mary is very ancient. Try to imagine that the year is 431 and you are in Ephesus, which is in modern day Turkey. About 250 bishops have gathered to resolve a very important dispute that strikes to the core of belief about who Jesus is. The leader of one camp is Cyril of Alexandria. He is arguing that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man and that these two natures of Jesus are united in one person. In other words, the baby that Mary gave birth to is true God and true Man. Because of this, it is right and proper to call Mary by the title “Theotokos”, which means, “Mother of God”. Nestorius, on the other hand, does not feel that Mary can be given this title. Maybe she could be called “Mother of Christ” but not Mother of God. Though Nestorius would say that Jesus was true God and true Man, he would emphasize more the disunity between these two natures of Jesus, rather than the unity. In the end, the Bishops sided with Cyril. The Council of Ephesus in 431 declared solemnly that Mary was indeed Theotokos, Mother of God. Giving Mary this title is a clear way of saying that Jesus is at all times true God and true Man and that these two natures are united. Therefore, giving Mary the title of Mother of God is actually a way of defending what we believe about Jesus.
|"Am I not here, I who am your mother?" (Jolivaresb)|
On a personal level, Mary is one of the greatest gifts that Jesus gave to His followers because in Mary He has given us a Mother. Perhaps some of you have been to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The Basilica was built close to the site where Mary appeared to a poor indigenous man named Juan Diego in the year 1531. Above the main entrance to the Basilica is a very visible phrase, written in large letters for all to see: ¿No estoy aquí que soy tu Madre?, “Am I not here, I who am your Mother”. These words are part of a famous conversation that Our Lady had one day with Juan Diego. Mary had already appeared to Juan Diego and had made arrangements to meet him again. Before the meeting, however, his uncle, Juan Bernardino, fell ill. Juan Diego was anxious to care for his uncle, so he made the decision to skip his appointment with Mary avoided the spot where they were to meet. Not surprisingly, Mary found him anyway. When she caught up with him, she asked him why he was so worried. After all, she said “am I not here, I who am your Mother”. These words are put at the front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to remind each one of us that Mary is our mother. She is always near us. She always cares for us. We should feel confident going to her whenever we need help. When Jesus was giving us Mary to be our mother, He gave us the greatest of gifts.
Making resolutions at New Year’s is, I think, a good thing. It shows that we have hope for a better future and want to take steps to make this a reality. I can think of few resolutions that should give us as much hope as resolving to develop a deeper relationship with Mary this year. We can do this in different ways such as praying the rosary, reading a book about Mary or just remembering to ask Mary for help when we need it by saying something like, “Mary, mother of Jesus, be a mother to me now.” Close to 2000 years ago she gave birth to Jesus, true God and true Man. Today give her permission to allow Jesus to become more alive in your heart.