Mother of God
In this wonderful homily for Mary, Mother of God, Year C, Father Hanly shows us how to learn from Mary what it means to be a true disciple, not just in name, but in fact and in practice.
Readings for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, Year C
- 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
It’s very fitting that we should, as part of our Christmas celebration, have a special day to honour Mary, our Mother.
You notice that the gospel is really a gospel of Christmas, and it’s very simple. It takes place after the shepherds have heard from the angel that, tonight in Bethlehem, there has been born to you a child, and you will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. And this is good news, and great news, for the Messiah has been given to you.
It’s amazing when you think of it, if you stop to think of it, this happening – the birth of the Messiah, the birth of the Christos, the Holy One of God, the birth of the Son of God Himself – takes place in such humble surroundings.
And, of course, that is to teach us that anything worthwhile in life is worthwhile because we can accept it with humble hearts and grateful hearts and hearts filled with thanksgiving to a lovely God who so loved the world that He gives us His only Son, that we might put our faith in him and attain eternal life.
The shepherds, the angels, the humble carpenter, the teenage mother and a baby in a trough for cattle has become the centre piece of most people’s understanding of what is the best and the most wonderful thing of life itself.
For it is all there: the helpless child crying out, the teenage mother who lifts him up to herself, suckles him at her breast, feeds him, comforts him, wipes his tears.
And all this while she herself is overwhelmed by the knowledge that the child she holds to herself is the One who has created herself. For the child is the child of God and is God Himself.
And then we begin to understand that all life is blessed, all life is holy and the only time you can fully realise it is when we accept ourselves for what we are – the child within us, the one who needs help from others, who needs love from others, who needs care from others.
The one that kind of in another way struts about the stage pretending that we’re important or that we have very important things to do or that we have to do this and that and achieve this and that, is all destroyed by the simple scene at Christmas. For all they found was a carpenter, a mother and a child in a manger.
Mary, I think, has been a part of every Catholic’s life ever since we were old enough to learn how to pray. In fact, after the Our Father, my father would teach us all the Hail Mary. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” And then Elizabeth, “And blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” — and the fruit of your womb is the Messiah, the One who saves the world.
It must have been overwhelming for the little family. And you would think, because of it, that God would rain all kinds of wonderful gifts upon them, give them an easy road — and they didn’t even have a place to lay the child because there was no room for them in Bethlehem.
And Joseph dreams the dream, and he must take his wife into a foreign country with the child, into a land where they could not speak the language, did not know the customs, and hiding from a king who was supposed to be a king of Israel, a king who had set out to destroy this child and destroy all the sweet little innocent children under two years old in Bethlehem and in the surrounding area.
And then when the angel came to Joseph again and said, “Take the child back but do not go back to Bethlehem”, because another son of Herod was there, just as cruel and just as ruthless, and so they went to Nazareth, and the child grew.
Mary we know as the Mother of God. That is her title and that is what she is.
But she has to become something else. She has to become a disciple.
She is given the gift of the maternity, of conceiving and bearing the Messiah, but she has to learn how to become a disciple, just as every one of us has to learn not just to receive the child with great joy, but we must learn how to become a disciple.
And her lesson is very hard. Remember last Sunday’s Gospel, they took the child Jesus, now eleven or twelve years old, into the temple of Jerusalem and he was lost for three days to them.
And when they found him, Mary said to the child quite in anger, “What have you done to us? We have been searching for you for three days. And your father and I have had great pain and sorrow.”
And Jesus looked at her and said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? I must be doing my Father’s business.”
And there’s the first lesson: a disciple puts God first, not family first, not mother, not father. Jesus himself puts his Father first. And that is the basic rule. If you are going to become a disciple, as Jesus calls us to be disciples, you must learn to put God first, and everyone else must stand in line.
The next time, they go to Cana. They go to Cana and now Jesus is all grown up and he’s about ready to move into his public life.
And there is a wedding at Cana. And Mary notices that the bride and groom are embarrassed because the wine is running out. And she says to Jesus, “They have no wine.”
And Jesus says to her, “What are we supposed to do? What is that to me and to you?”
And she knows that she’s about to learn the second lesson, for she goes immediately to the servants and says, “Whatever he tells you to do, do it.”
And Jesus comes and he tells the servants to take ordinary water and put it into the wine vessels and then bring that water to the head of the wedding.
And then when they do that, the head of the wedding says, “This wine is better than all the wine that we had so far.”
And what did Mary learn?
Mary learned a disciple must learn how to serve. A disciple must learn how to serve not his own needs, but the needs of the people that he reaches out.
A wedding is a joyous occasion. A wedding brings two courageous people giving themselves for their whole lives to each other, not taking back, no conditions. And Jesus understands this, and Jesus helps them to celebrate.
That is the second lesson.
And then the third lesson is even harder. Because while she’s approaching Jesus — who was crowded by many, by this time people are crowded around him — and she wants to see him and members of the crowd went up to Jesus and say, “Your mother is seeking you.”
Probably she wants to bring him home because she begins to understand that Jesus is not accepted in very important places of authority, and that already there is a plot to destroy him.
But Jesus says to those who came – he turns to all the people listening to him as he speaks to them the Word of God and he says to them — “Who is my mother? Who is my father? Who are my sisters? Who is my brother? Those that hear the Word of God with their heart and put it into practice. That is my mother, that is my father, that is my family.”
The words must have been very hard for Mary to hear that, but he asks her to do one more thing: the disciple must hear the Word of God and keep it. It’s not enough just to be baptised. It’s not enough to go through a few paces on a Sunday morning. You must hear the Word of God in your heart and put it into practice in your life.
And, of course, that road goes one way and she stays with him, giving her faith, keeping all these things in her heart, not doubting for a moment that she is to accept all that happens. And it leads to Calvary and it leads to the cross.
And then remember, on the cross, Jesus is reaching the very end of his suffering, of his self-sacrificing love, and he says …
Looking down he sees his mother and he sees his favourite disciple. That’s what John says. He doesn’t call him John – his disciple, the model for all disciples that would follow.
And he says to his mother, “Behold your son.”
And then he says to his disciple, “Behold your mother.”
And from that day on, John the Evangelist writes, John took her to himself and she became the Mother, the mother not just in a physical birth, but the mother of all the disciples that was to follow.
All down through the ages everyone will rightfully call themselves … the Mother of God is my mother, for Jesus, her Son, has given her to us as our mother.
And that is why we say of Mary, “Great is Mary,” because God has blessed her.
Great is Mary because God has conceived in her womb the Messiah, God Himself.
But she’s not great for that. She’s really great because she hears the Word of God and keeps it.
She reaches out to all those in need and in pain. She understands loneliness. She understands sorrow. She understands wonder and joy and happiness, and seeing what is achieved.
And what is achieved is how to learn to love, how to learn to care, how to go out of one’s way and accept the fact that we need each other like little children and babies in Bethlehem. We need each other’s love, we need each other’s care, but most of all, we must grow into lovers and carers. And this is what Mary even today who is with us, Mother Mary.
I’d like to end this now with another example of it which is very close by. Right next to us, if you haven’t noticed, they have redone the grotto in honour of our Lady of Lourdes, and there is little Bernadette.
Over a hundred years ago, Bernadette sees Mary in a grotto. She sees Mary and then she writes what she sees. And this is what she writes:
“The Lady looked at me,
The Lady smiled at me,
The Lady said to me,
‘My little child, come closer.’’”
That is what God is telling us.
Let us draw near to his mother, Mary.
Let us draw near and learn from her what it means to be a true disciple, not just in name, but in fact and in practice.
And that, of course, is not only the secret of Christmas, it’s the secret of life itself. For we are all called to one vocation and one vocation only, to be the disciples of Jesus, our Lord and our God.