Our Lady’s acceptance of the Word of God made it possible for Christ to be born. As we begin this first Mass of the New Year, let us ask God’s forgiveness for our sins, and make a New Year’s resolution to welcome God into our daily lives and to make the necessary sacrifices to follow him and to do his will.
One of the greatest pieces of biblical literature was written by Saint John, the author of the fourth Gospel, who also wrote three epistles and the Book of Revelation as well. To open his Gospel, Saint John wrote a towering prologue, which presents a sweeping theological setting for his Gospel. This prologue is so powerful that it was read after every Mass during the four hundred years from the Council of Trent to the Second Vatican Council:
In the beginning was the Word,
the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God,
and without him not one thing came into being;
not one thing had its being but through him.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him,
who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
who were born not of blood,
or of the will of the flesh
or the will of man,
but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
Not surprisingly, given human selfishness and our tendency to define reality according to our own perceptions and by our own terms, many people refuse to accept the idea that God became a human being. Even today there are those who simply can’t accept the testimony of Saint John and the Apostles, rejecting even the testimony of Saint Thomas, the doubting apostle, who put his hand into the risen Christ’s side and cried out: My Lord, and my God!
In the year 431, at the Council of Ephesus, the Church defined the dogma that Mary is the Mother of God. Theotokos. It was in Mary’s flesh that the expression of God, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, took on human flesh and became man.
Catholic teaching, belief and practice is what we call Incarnational, which is to say it is Sacramental. We are a church of bells and smells, incense and genuflections, processions and Stations of the Cross. When Catholics worship, we get physical about it: we stand, sit, kneel, genuflect, we run the beads of the rosary through our fingers, and we take part in processions. We smell incense, we chew the consecrated host, we taste and drink the Blood of Christ. We sprinkle ourselves with holy water, we light candles, we sing to organ music, we reverence statues and icons. As Catholics, we are a physical and sensory people when it comes to worshipping God. And there is a body, a human body, fixed to our crosses precisely for that reason. And the Word became flesh – and then died for us.
We come to church to receive the Sacraments of the Church, the actions of the Mystical Body of Christ, the signs of Christ’s presence in our world as He actively reaches out to touch and embrace us in His living body, which is the Catholic Church.
We receive these sacred signs, these Sacraments, at highly significant moments in our very human lives. When we were young, our parents brought us to the church to be Baptised. We receive our First Holy Communion when we reach the age of reason, and when we attain the ability to know that which is beyond the material and the physical. When we are old enough to know our own minds, we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation during our passage into young adulthood, and when we choose for ourselves to live as Christians. We receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we’re able to confront our pride, and our selfishness, and our power to hurt others. A man and woman are joined together in Matrimony, or a man ordained into Holy Orders, when we pass into a life of commitment to self-sacrificially serve and care for others, whom we do our best to love, and to whom we willingly devote our lives. And we receive the Sacrament of the Sick when we’re confronted with our own powerlessness over disease, suffering and death. And the Word became flesh – to live among us and love us for as long as we live.
In Our Lady’s response to God’s invitation to become the Mother of his eternal Son, in her monumentally important Yes to God, God’s expression of Himself, God’s Word, became human flesh. For all eternity, God united Himself to us; He participates fully now, and always will for all eternity, in our human condition. Being subject to the constraints of being human, He gives us the freedom of the children of God.
Saint Paul teaches us that God has subjected creation so that we might live in the hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
And so it was that on the night before He died, the Son of God got down on His knees, washed the feet of His disciples, looked them in the eye, and declared to them: I no longer call you slaves, instead I call you friends.
Mary is the Mother of God, because divinity has fallen in love with humanity. In becoming human, the Son of God lost none of His divinity. And in returning to God He lost none of His humanity. He has done this in order that His divinity might mingle with our humanity, and that we might transcend our mortal and sinful human nature, and become part of the divine life for which God originally intended us, when He created us in the first place.
Sinful Eve’s no was replaced by Holy Mary’s yes. God chose to become one of us. His Word became flesh and lives among us.
This whole stupendous and epic movement came to be part of our human history by Mary’s fiat, by her yes. Mary is the Mother of God, and God is one with us. For which we give her honour and glory through all ages, world without end. Amen.