“Behold Your Mother”
In this beautiful homily for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, Year B, Father Hanly reminds us Mary was not only the mother of God, Jesus, but she was our mother as well.
First Reading: Numbers 6:22-27
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
The official title for today’s Mass is “The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.” It means that the little fifteen-year-old girl from Bethlehem, hearing this said of her many, many, many centuries later, would probably not even recognise herself, because they are deliberately showing the greatness of Mary, the solemnity of Mary, and they call her the mother of God.
And all these things are true, but she was not only the mother of God, Jesus, but she was our mother as well. And so I think it’s very important that we remember Mary as Mary really is, and not just all the wonderful things down through the ages that were said of her that might distance us a little bit from her.
Mary’s title, Mother of God, is Theotokos. It is a title that took four hundred years for the learned theologians to come down and agree that this was the best title, and what it means is mother of God: tokos is “mother,” and theo is “of God.”
But, oddly enough, Mary did not enter into the great debate in Ephesus in the year 431 that proclaimed Mary as the mother of God. It was really a battle of theologians between whether or not they would recognise the fact that Jesus was not only divine, but had, through Mary, become a human being. And because he became a human being, he had to have a human mother. And that’s why the title is Mary, the Mother of God.
And what kind of a mother was she?
I can’t imagine. Can you imagine what it would be like to be given the responsibility for this tender little child, this weeping little boy, in terrible times, when you’re poor and not even out of your teens, and to be responsible for him?
We have all the pictures of St Joseph that are painted. He always looks terribly worried. And well he might, for before long he was off into Egypt, in a strange land, raising a very, very special kind of child, and taking care of a woman who he loved dearly, and yet he really didn’t know the first thing about being a husband, or a father, or a step-father.
Mother of God means mother of Jesus. And, of course, when Jesus is on the cross, he says to his disciple John, he says, “This is your mother,” meaning Mary, “take care of her.”
But more than that, he is saying to all of us, on the cross before he died, he turned to his disciple and he said, “Behold, your mother.” Not just your mother, but you and the apostles and the people who will come and believe.
She is indeed your mother. She is not something strange from outer space. She is not something that gave birth and then disappeared. She is your mother and you must treat her like your mother, for she is indeed your mother, because Jesus himself is the son and he says, you are my brothers and, just as she is mine, she belongs to me as a mother, so too all of you who believe in Jesus and love Jesus and care for Jesus become brothers and sisters because of Mary.
The wonderful thing about Mary is she’s just like us.
Some people will say and try to make of her almost like a goddess. We don’t need goddesses. We’ve got goddesses all over the place: movie stars, and wise men, and people who are proclaimed to be better than everyone. And we worship them, sometimes, maybe too quickly.
But Mary always remains a mother, just a mother. There is no worship words, or worship sayings, or picking her up and putting her far away from us, because Jesus says, “She’s my mother, and you are my brothers and sisters, and together you must listen to her.”
And she is called the first disciple of her son. It’s very important to know her as you would your own mother. It’s that intimacy that’s very, very special. And it’s very down-to-earth. She became the mother of Jesus so that Jesus, God Himself, could experience what it was not to be high in the heavens, but an ordinary human being stumbling through life just like everybody else does, feeling the pain of it, the glory of it, the good times, the bad times, the mistakes, the failures.
And she is the one who made this possible for her son, and for all of us to understand.
The Incarnation didn’t bring us up to heaven, it brought God down to earth. So when we speak of God and pray, we must not put him up in some never-never land, far away up in the sky, waiting to save us at the end of time. He walks with us, he talks with us, he is one with us. He said to his disciples, “I will never leave you,” and that meant here and now and in this world, not the next world.
Some people accuse us of, kind of… It used to be said of the Irish, I’m Irish I can say it, but the saying was that the Irish feel that wonderful things begin after we may die and you’re supposed to ignore the whole world as being a terrible place full of misery and of suffering and all of this sort of thing, but, don’t worry, when you die you will all go to heaven, so your happy life begins in heaven.
God didn’t mean that. He came down to make you happy. He did.
And if you’re not happy, it’s not your fault maybe, but you’d better start thinking that maybe I’ve got some of this wrong.
“Blessed are the poor” means blessed are those who know their need for each other, know their need for God, know their need.
And in knowing your need for love, you will learn how to love and how to live with the people around you and see them the way God sees them, the way Jesus saw them.
And to know that what man is is God-like only in one way: we must serve, because that’s all God does. God does not do anything in his world but serve us. Everything in God… His love is to serve us. His caring is to serve us. He looks for the lonely. He looks for the people who feel that they are all alone and abandoned. He serves.
And so this is the great aspect of God. He’s a giver and not a taker. He’s a lover and not a hater. He is one full of the present, understands its pains and difficulties, but never is into the sad, deep sadness of many, many of us who feel that this is a dark and dismal world, and pray that we will go to heaven and experience something else.
Today, the mother of God is a mother, and she says to us, like a mother, all those little things: be kind to people, be nice to people, forgive people. She says all the things that Jesus, as her son, would tell us, because he learned them from his mother and from his step-father.
Because he was all man, not just pretending to be a man. And so he’d look upon Mary as a mother, someone who would correct us when we do wrong, but urge us on when we’re in need or trouble, someone who we can always count on, who always shows up.
Woody Allen has this expression, he says… They asked him, “What’s the secret of life?” And he goes through this idea that he’s going to come out with something gigantic. And he says, “The secret of life: 87% of life is showing up, you just show up.” Think of that, that’s very true.
Mary always shows up. She’s always there with Jesus, not with important occasions or anything like that.
And we come to love her. And we do. Of all the women in the world, I think, the one who is loved the deepest and the most, and the kindest, and on every level, is the little girl from Bethlehem who grew up and who will be with us all days.
I have a poem. I’ve been trying to look for a place to read this poem. And I remember the first time I heard it. I wasn’t just a little boy, but the poem is written by a young woman* in 1927. And it’s really a poem written to Our Lady and I’m going to read it for you.
You might have heard this before, because Bishop Fulton Sheen, during the Fifties, used to have a radio program and, every time he finished for the evening, his little talk, he would read this poem. Yeah, so it got to be rather famous in and around New York City and places like that.
But the poem is a lovely poem about Our Lady.
Now, here’s the scene: it’s in the language of a little boy, a little boy talking to a mother, and it’s quite touching.
“To Our Lady” is the name of the poem.
One preface before this, now, you have to become little children to appreciate it. Jesus says that. He says until you become like little children, you’ll never know what life is all about. So kind of go into yourself and, like little girls and little boys, listen to the words of this little child as he talks to the Blessed Mother.
Lovely Lady dressed in blue —
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
Tell me what to say!
Did you lift Him up, sometimes,
Gently on your knee?
Did you sing to Him the way
Mother does to me?
Did you hold His hand at night?
Did you ever try
Telling stories of the world?
O! And did He cry?
Do you really think He cares
If I tell Him things —
Little things that happen? And
Do the Angels’ wings
Make a noise? And can He hear
Me if I speak low?
Does He understand me now?
Tell me — for you know.
Lovely Lady dressed in blue —
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
And you know the way.
*Mary Dixon Thayer