Eight days ago, we celebrated the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Messiah and King. Here we are, eight days from Christmas, and perhaps this morning has a little Christmas morning feel to it: we hear again the Christmas carols, there are the fine decorations, and—if you stayed up late last night—there may be that same early-morning feel as though we had stayed up late wrapping last minute gifts or enjoying family on Christmas Eve.
On this eighth day, we receive another gift—the greatest gift, second only to Jesus Himself—and that gift is His Mother, Mary.
In order to see how great a treasured gift Mary is, we need to take a quick detour….
Jesus, while He was personally present and walking the face of the Earth, gathered a people to Himself and chose among them His Apostles. Upon them, He built His Church, commanding them with His last words to “go out and baptize”—baptism being the way in which a person would become a member of the Church. St. Paul, one of those who would be baptized, talked about this Church being Jesus’ body, such that not only are we all members of the same body, but that when the Church is persecuted, so too is Jesus. St. Paul knew this from personal experience when Jesus asked him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Act 9:4). In time, the Church would be known as Jesus Christ’s Mystical body—for where the Church is, so is Jesus.
Pope St. Leo the Great takes up this theme in his Christmas homily (which you can find from yesterday’s Office of Readings). Pope St. Leo writes that “the birth of Christ is the origin of the Christian people; and the birthday of the head is also the birthday of the body.” In the manger at Christmas, therefore, we see not only Jesus, but we see the Church and her members, born by the gift of Baptism. In other words, at our baptism where we are radically configured to Christ, we enter into the Nativity scene in a very real and radical way: we too are in the manger!
It is from this perspective that we can look up—and who do we see above us? We see St. Joseph, our father, and the Blessed Virgin Mary who, here, is called not only the Mother of God, but also the Mother of the Church. As she lifts up Jesus in her motherly arms and brings Him close to her heart, she also brings us. Yes, she reaches into our very lives and picks us up with tenderly care, self-sacrificial devotion, with motherly peace and joy!
You know that I teach RCIA…. When I reveal the beautiful treasure of Mary, it always happens that our inquirers come to me and say, “I never knew how important Mary was! I never knew how much she loves us!” Again and again, after I introduce them to Mary, they come to me and say, “Father, it is like one of the biggest parts of the faith has been missing all of my life—and I am only now discovering her! She is what has been missing!” This surprises them, of course, because they may have encountered a culture unfamiliar or even hostile to our Blessed Mother. But when they really meet her, the change is profound.
For us cradle Catholics—pun intended—it is easy to overlook how much a treasure Mary is in our life. We can rattle off Hail Mary’s and even entire Rosaries without so much as a thought to who the person is. For my part, it was not until the winter retreat prior to my diaconate ordination that I asked a very basic but very important question: “Mary, who are you?” I asked this not as an arm-chair theologian, but person-to-person: Mary, who are you?
There is much I can now say about who Mary is, but let me give you one insight. It came, actually, through my god-daughter, Regina. I call Regina my Little Queen—and at all of six, she is. Regina’s parents and I are good friends and we traditionally have a family dinner on New Year’s Eve. A few years ago, during one of these dinners—a feast of meat and peas and other delightful foods—Regina decided that she was going to engage me in conversation. She was about two. From her high chair, she looked at me and said, “Peas meat too.” I didn’t understand (for I was not very fluent in Baby). “Peas meat too” she said again.
“Oh! She wants more peas,” I thought. So I gave her some peas.
She was not satisfied by this. “Peas meat too” she said again, but with a little more emotion.
I started to think harder. Peas? … Meat. Ah! She wants more meat! Ok, here comes more meat for you, my Little Queen!
No. No meat. “Peas meat too!” Regina pleaded, now with furled brow and a new color of red on her face.
I clearly did not understand, so I looked to her mom. “What is Regina saying?”
“Oh, this is her new game,” said Regina’s mom. “You have sat down at the table and she is saying ‘Pleased to meet you.’”
Pleased to meet you! Haha, pleased to meet you, too, Regina.
* * *
When Jesus Christ was born, He could not speak. But who could? His Mother. I must remember this often because, every so often it happens in my spiritual life that I do not seem to understand Jesus. Sometimes I do not know what He wants. Or our spiritual life becomes dry and difficult. Or we are looking to take our relationship with Jesus to the next step and we don’t know how.
It is here that we must—yes, must—turn to His Blessed Mother. And I say “must” because it is Jesus Himself who has given Himself to Mary in a very particular way that no one else was so privileged to experience: He gave Himself to Mary in the intimacy of her bearing Him for nine months in the womb; He gave Himself to her in the “silent years” of the quiet and mystical home in Nazareth; He gave Himself to her so profoundly that when His crucifixion was foretold at His presentation in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:22-40), it was Mary’s “crucifixion” that was also foretold as well. Jesus ties Himself to His Mother so radically, that when a lance pierces His heart, it pierces hers too. It seems to make sense that if we want to get to know Jesus better, it would be good to know the one to whom He so often gave Himself.
And this is not only a "reasonable" reality-- it is also actuality:the Church cannot be separated from Christ, so when Jesus gives Himself to His Mother, He is also giving the Church (who is united to Him) to her. We see this very explicitly when, Jesus says to us, “Behold your mother.”
Why does He do this?
Because at the very heart of His love is His love for His Mother. Loving Him means loving her.
This is surprising, and yet, not. After all, if you are going to love me, Father Gerber, I would want you to love my mom.
And, wonderfully enough, when you love my mom, you get a greater insight into who I am. I mean, if you want the real scoop on who I am, if you want to understand me better, simply drive to South County and spend an afternoon with my mom. Then you will see.
So too, then, when we want to go deeper in our relationship with Jesus, we will oftentimes need to turn to His mom—who is now our mom too. “Mary,” we may say, “I do not understand God’s will for me!” Or, “Mary, Jesus seems silent in my life right now…” Converse with her and she will lead you to a deeper understanding and love of Jesus-- just as Regina's mom led me to a greater understanding of Regina. This makes total sense: for if God is love, understanding Him requires approaching Him not simply as an isolated Being, but as One who is wrapped in relationships and love-- the greatest of which is with His Mother.
Perhaps, then, this is where we begin our New Year’s Resolution: do you have a relationship with Jesus’ Mother, Mary? If you don’t know the Hail Mary or the Rosary, it is time to learn these prayers. If you know these prayers, but simply rattle them off without actually taking a moment to actually talk to Mary, then it is time to start treating Mary as a real person—as a real Mother—the best of Mothers!
For, see! There she is above you! She is reaching into the manger of your life right now, seeking to pick you up and draw you close to her heart—the heart that is so united to her Son, Jesus! Let her pick you up with her motherly love and peaceful affection.
Yes, at Christmas we received the gift of Jesus our Savior. Today, on this the eighth day, we receive the gift of His Mother. Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church—and our Mother. Mary, pleased to meet you.