I remember having one of my most challenging discussions with a group of “recently minted” Catholic Christians (Neophytes who had just been received into the Church at Easter) about Mary’s life and role. I was discussing the Immaculate Conception and the Birth of Our Lady and it’s importance for us as Catholics. One of the women said, as I recall: “It seems a little odd to me that we celebrate Mary’s life as it matters little beyond her Son’s life. We would never want to tell anyone else that their lives mattered little outside the context of someone else…why do we do that or say that for Mary?”
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but something to the effect of “this isn’t just anybody else” or “this is why we call her the Mother of God” but I am quite sure it wasn’t an adequate answer and the woman probably politely accepted what I said so as not to be antagonistic and derail me. She likely will never read this blog, may have even long forgotten me, but I have not forgotten her because I know she deserved an answer far better than I was equipped to give her. I have thought about her observation many times because it challenged me to think, and thus to have deepened my own faith in the process – why do we celebrate Mary’s life as almost not her own? Her life’s purpose and everything we celebrate seems to leave her without her own personal identity. What I offer you here today is not a theological or intellectual treatise, but my own thoughts which have led me to honour and respect Our Blessed Mother all the more.
Mary is a model of all things virtuous for us. We honour her life above the saints and other holy lives – because it was as close to perfection as any human being can get. We don’t see her life, her sanctity, her vocational response, her commitment to virtue and her faith as something unattainable, but as something attainable. If and when we think of Mary, we are wrong if we think of a life that isn’t something each one of us can and should aspire to be. We also would be off if we thought of Mary as not being her own person; as we all are free-thinking people who spend our lives aspiring, living, loving, giving and being deeply committed to our relationship with God and other people. Mary is every one of those things. Mary’s beautiful life was dedicated to faith and trust in God every step of the way. Mary’s life was one lived in the world and of this earthly world but lived with a meaning and purpose meant for Heaven. Much of her identity might be inseparable from God, but the Blessed Trinity and most remarkably the Son of God who was also her Son. So too is that the life we should all aspire to; as Christians we should hope and desire that people identify Christ in us, and less ourselves – this doesn’t mean people don’t see what makes us uniquely ourselves, but we should hope they see what makes us like Christ in every way.
We celebrate Mary’s holiness today. To celebrate her holiness means to also recognize that she made choices that brought her closer and closer to God and to others throughout her life. We see that clearly in what we Catholic Christians celebrate about her (tradition) and what we now can read and reflect upon about her (Scripture). We celebrate as well, her ongoing response by faith throughout her life to what God was calling her to do (her vocation). Her actions had consequences, just as her inaction also would have – just as our response to our vocation has consequences either way. She is a model for us in so many ways; but it’s Mary’s primary and secondary vocation we celebrate today on this beautiful day we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lady. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and until the hour of our death!