We begin the New Year with a great solemnity in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast honors Mary with one of her most ancient and greatest titles, Theotokos, “Mother of God” or “God bearer.” We have prayed to Mary using this familiar title for many centuries, but when this feast occurs, we must confront the question once again: How can God have a mother?
At first it seems like an obvious error to call anyone God’s mother. God is eternal; he has no beginning. By definition, he does not come from anyone else, so of course he does not have a mother. However, the Incarnation introduced an amazing change: “When the designated time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman…” The “designated time” for the Child to be born was Christmas morning. So now an entirely new revelation about God must be taken into account. The identity of this Child determines how we can address his mother. If Jesus is God, then God does indeed have a Mother, Mary of Nazareth. Some Christians are still uncomfortable with calling Mary “Mother of God,” but the only way they can avoid it is either to deny that Jesus is God – which is a heresy – or deny that Jesus has a mother – which is an absurdity. Jesus is God, the Word of the Father, and Mary is his mother; therefore, Mary is truly Mother of God.
There is a story told by an old friend of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI about his early years, when he was still seminarian Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger was not attracted to the style of theology that tended to define God with abstract concepts. Hearing God described as the summum bonum [the highest good], he would not disagree, but he would point out that this term does nothing to invite us into a relationship with God. One day when he encountered one more description of God as a philosophical abstraction, Ratzinger remarked to his seminary friend, “An abstraction doesn’t need a mother.” An abstract idea does not need a mother; the eternal God does not need a mother. But the baby Jesus does need a mother, just as all babies do. Jesus Christ has a mother in the same way each of us has a mother.
In the first reading and the psalm we find a beautiful poetic expression which the Lord gave to the Israelites to describe what it means to be blessed: “May the Lord let his face shine upon you.” When we can see a person’s face, we can meet him and get to know him; and when his face “shines” it communicates joy, peace and love. If this is true when we see the human face of our loved ones, it must be all the more true when we see the “face of the Lord”! When we die, we hope to see the Lord face to face – the “beatific vision.” But how can his face shine on us here on earth? When Jesus is born, a new way to see the face of God entered the world. This Baby in the arms of Mary reveals God with a human face. The birth of Jesus shows how far God is willing to go in order to enter into relationship with us.
Often when we look into the face of a child, we can see similarities to the child’s parents. This is certainly true of Jesus. When we look into his face, we see both a true image of his Father in heaven and a striking similarity to his Mother on earth. However, Jesus’ face is not the only face that reveals our Father and our Mother to us. All who are children of God and children of Mary reveal on their faces the features of their spiritual parents. St. Paul tells us that Jesus’ entry into the human family was “so that we might receive our status as adopted sons.” When God sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, we became sons. Because of our union with Jesus, we too can call God “Abba, Father.” And we can call Mary our Mother. As we grow in our relationship with God, our faces begin to shine with his light.
This “shining” is not a physical quality. It is love, which emanates from the heart and shines on the face. This is why it is more important to take care of our hearts than our faces. Mary’s constant discipline – which she teaches to us – is to “treasure all these things and reflect on them in her heart.” When we practice Mary’s style of prayer, “pondering in the heart” each day, we give fitting honor to our Mother, and join her in adoring and praising her divine Son. We also learn to recognize his light on the face of others. What a beautiful way to begin the New Year!
What does it mean to me that I am an adopted child of the Father? In what ways have I experienced the love of God? In what ways have I experienced Mary as my mother?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 12, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.