It is always a blessing for us to celebrate a feast of Mary! Today’s commemoration of her birthday gives us another chance to draw close to her and to come to know her better. As we come to know her, we come to know God and ourselves better, because she is the perfect mirror in which we can see not only how God works in his creatures, but also how we his creatures can best respond to him.
In the reading from Romans, St. Paul tells us that everything begins with God’s initiative. This is clear in the life of Mary. She did not choose her part in God’s plan; God chose her first. Nine months before her birth, he created her immaculate, from the moment of her conception, preparing her to be the mother of Jesus. She did not have any choice in the matter. It was a completely unmerited gift of his love to her.
God works the same way in us all. Not that we are conceived free from sin as Mary was, but that God is the one who loves us and calls us into being. We do not choose our own birthday any more than Mary did. God gives us life in our mother’s womb, justifies us by transforming us in the image of his Son, and glorifies us by uniting us fully with him in the Body of Christ. We do not create ourselves, nor do we make ourselves members of his Body. He chooses us.
Mary’s greatness is in her response to God’s gift to her. We can see in the Psalm for today an echo of her great song of loving response to God, the Magnificat: “With delight I rejoice in the Lord. Though I trusted in your mercy, let my heart rejoice in your salvation. Let me sing of the LORD, ‘He has been good to me.’” Mary’s response to God was always gratitude. She has always given herself back to the Lord in return for his gift to her. The attitude of her heart is well expressed in a line from Psalm 116:12: “How can I repay the LORD for all the great good done for me?” Mary’s response was love for love, total gift of self for total gift of self.
When we contemplate a crucifix, we see that God has given us all that he has; he has not held back anything from us. He poured out his very life for us, suffering even death to reconcile us to himself. The only appropriate response is to give him all that we have in return, not holding back anything. What we have to give him is very little in comparison to what he gives us, but it is all that we have, and so, like the widow putting the two small coins in the temple treasury, we give it to God and he accepts it with joy (cf. Mk 12:41-44). This is what Mary did perfectly; this is what she teaches us to strive to do.
The Gospel Acclamation for the feast of Mary’s birthday says, “Blessed are you, holy Virgin Mary, deserving of all praise; from you rose the sun of justice, Christ our God.” This acclamation points to a profound truth. We often refer to Jesus as Son of God, which is certainly true. However, it is equally true to refer to him as Son of Mary. Jesus is true God and true man. This is the essence of the Incarnation – the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity truly took on human flesh and is now no longer “only” God – he is God/man. While this is a mystery far beyond our ability ever to fully understand, we can nevertheless affirm that God did not become incarnate without the willing participation of a human person, Mary. So it is most fitting that we honor her by celebrating her birth.
Our Theme for this week speaks of building up the Church, the Body of Christ, by our love. How much more plainly can we see this happening than in Mary’s loving response to God’s invitation to bear his Son? By her “yes” to God, she literally put flesh on his word. This is our call as well. God wants to live and act in the world in human flesh, in Christ’s Mystical Body, of which we are members. Our “yes” to God allows him to be present in the world through us.
We see in the Gospel that Joseph is also held up to us as an example of how to respond to God’s gift in love. When it seemed to him that Mary had broken her covenant with him, he chose to do the best he could to uphold God’s law and at the same time to act with love towards Mary. In all this, he remained open to God’s direction, always listening for his word, and when the angel gave him a new direction, he acted upon it without hesitation.
As we celebrate the joyful feast of Mary’s birthday, we ask the Lord to give us the grace to respond to his great love for us just as Mary and Joseph did, by returning to God love for love. This is the way that we can truly participate in building up his Body in the world.
Do I often marvel in the fact that God loves me and called me into being? Is my response to God’s gratitude like Mary’s, giving myself back to God in return for his gifts to me? Am I convinced that my “yes” to God allows him to be present in the world through me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.