Hail Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. AMEN!
Mother of God. For us Catholics – those words roll off our tongues so easily. . . We’ve heard them our whole lives – and have prayed them thousands of times in the Hail Mary. . .
In fact, we have heard them so many times that it’s easy to overlook just what a PROFOUND thing we are implying every time we say them. . .
Mary: Mother of God.
That title for Mary is commonplace for us ---but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, in the early days of the Church – they were tremendously controversial – and were argued about among learned people of all kinds.
Some of the controversy stemmed from the Church trying to understand Mary’s place in the story of salvation: what really was Mary’s role in God’s plan to redeem the world?
But most of the controversy sprung from the Church’s struggle to figure out who Jesus was. . .
We sometimes forget that the Church had to wrestle with these very BIG questions, and to do their best to clarify these questions that had basically been unanswered in those first few centuries of Christianity.
Who is Jesus? What does it mean to call him Son of God? Does that mean he is a man – or is he God – or is he both? What sort of a God is Jesus? And depending on what was said of Jesus – determined how the Church would talk about Mary.
These are the questions that eventually needed to be answered – that needed to be thought about, argued over, prayed over – and ultimate stated for the faithful in order to believe ---
a process we have come to believe was – and continues to be – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And so it was in 431 AD at the Church Council at Ephesus --- that the Church declared that it was entirely appropriate to refer to Mary as the Mother of God ------- for Jesus was indeed – BOTH the only begotten Son of God – and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate – made flesh—of the Virgin Mary, and became man – as we say in the Nicene Creed.
What the Church actually accepted as the title for Mary was the Greek word “Theotokos” which means “God-bearer.”
So they affirmed that Jesus is God – and that Mary did bear and give birth to Jesus – and so was the Mother of God. And for some, these things were a little unbelievable, a little hard to accept. These ideas were pretty controversial then. . . and for some, as Deacon Jim reminded us on the feast of the Immaculate Conception – they are still controversial. .
Sometimes it is hard for us to appreciate just how challenging and hard to wrap our minds around the teachings of Catholicism are.
We who are on the inside become so used to rattling off our beliefs in the Creed that we fail to realize how difficult these teachings can be for those on the outside.
Often times I wonder what I would think of Catholicism had I grown up in a different Christian tradition --- or what I would think of Christianity had a grown up in another faith tradition???
My guess is that it would all seem a little hard to accept. . . would I be open enough to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be led where God wanted me to be --- or would I resist and be unable to embrace that which God wanted me to embrace? Would I have chosen to be Catholic if not raised a Catholic? Honestly, I really don’t know. . .
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
I think it is important to see Mary NOT as someone who had all the answers or had everything completely figured out or knew precisely what God’s plan was for her ----- BUT rather as someone who simply stepped out in faith AND SAID YES: even though from the manger to the empty tomb she would wonder about these things. . .
The incredible things she was invited by the angel to accept were NOT obstacles to her faith, but rather were opportunities to deepen her faith and her trust and her hope in the God of her ancestors – and in a baby whose very existence she could not satisfactorily explain.
And so – fs we sometimes wonder about the teachings of the Church – good for us. We need to keep wondering. We need to keep asking questions. We need to keep appreciating just how incredible and unbelievable and sometimes how inexplicable these things are.
And then keep on reflecting on these things in our hearts – as did Mary – NOT in the hope of getting clear answers – but trusting that the search itself is evidence of faith – a deep kind of faith that is always looking for greater meaning and understanding and union with our God.
And while we’re at it --- let’s be respectful of and understanding of those who find the teachings of our faith hard to accept – whether that is a spouse, a child, a friend, or a stranger. And be respectful and understanding of those who believe in a faith tradition that is different from ours – because that is the faith in which they were raised.
Mary, MOTHER OF GOD. . .
May these words always fill us with awe for the incredible God we have and the unique role Mary played in God’s plan to save the world.
Hail Mary, mother of God, pray for sinners now – and at the hour of death. AMEN!
Moments in time...