Mary has always had a special place in the hearts of all Catholics. We have prayed for her intercession and her guidance even before the Church began – remember the wedding feast she spoke to Jesus about the needs of the wedding couple. We have given her over 120 titles, some of which are devotional, some of which are based on apparitions, others which are dogmatic. The feast of today is one of the four dogmatic titles we have given to Mary – Mother of God. Yet it is a title that scandalized some in the early church. The story behind this name began when a priest, in the presence of Nestorius the Patriarch of Constantinople, in a sermon referred to Mary as the Mother of God. The Patriarch, after the sermon ended, went to the pulpit make sure that everyone understood that we should not call Mary the Mother of God. He contended that Mary did not give birth to his divinity but to his humanity; so she could only be the Mother of Christ, not the mother of God.
The Patriarch’s pronouncement on the subject sparked a firestorm throughout the entire Christian world. Cyril the Patriarch of Alexandria recognized Nestorius comments were more than a problem with Marian theology, He saw it as a more complex issue involving the incarnation itself. For to deny Mary the title of Mother of God was to deny that God became fully human and that theology meant that Jesus was shielded from the evil sinful nature of all of us.
Cyril demanded an ecumenical council to settle that controversy and in 431 the Council of Ephesus met and proclaimed Mary as the Mother of God. That pronouncement emphatically states that God truly became man. It clearly states that God united with humanity and everything done by the son of Mary would be an act of God and of man. So it is proper to say that God was born on Christmas day and that God died on Good Friday. It is also proper to say that man utilizing the power given to him by God raised Lazarus from the dead and man commanded the wind and the waves to still.
The decision of the Ephesus Council has been our belief since the appearance of Christ on the earth. The council only affirmed what was accepted belief then and now. We believe and accept Mary as the Mother of God without any of the controversy that surrounded the new church. But perhaps it is because we accept the theology without much thought that we fail in responding to all that Mary can be for us in our spiritual lives. One aspect of what Mary should be for us is a model of faith.
Yet her faith or trust in God was constantly challenged. At the moment of her engagement to Joseph her life was following a normal predictable path. Then an angel tells her she is to become pregnant. Still unmarried and pregnant she would be subject to the law of stoning. Yet she without fully understanding how she would become pregnant or how she would even survive she said yes to God’s plan. But she still had to tell Joseph and the truth of her pregnancy and that meant he could now reject her. Something he planned to do but a revelation in a dream prevented him from rejecting her.
She had to travel a hard journey to Bethlehem in her third trimester; she had to endure the birth of her son in a stable, with its unclean conditions and without any assistance from friends or relatives. She watched as angels sang in praise of God and watched as kings laid gifts before him and shepherds came to adore him. Shortly after his birth she listened to the words of Simeon who acclaim his as the Messiah, and then had to flee with Joseph to Egypt as Herod went on his rampage to kill all infants. She watched as the boy grew and questioned those in the temple with a wisdom not seen before or since. She pondered all things in her heart and trusted in God up to the day of his crucifixion and Mary still trusted in God’s plan.
We hold Mary up for good reason but we should not hold her at a distance to be admired but hold her up as a model for our own journey with Christ. There will be hardships in our lives just as there was in hers but it should never shake our faith in God or our belief or trust in God’s ability to work “within the hardship” to fill us with hope. There will be things we just do not understand but we like Mary should trust in God’s plan for our restoration. There will be times when it seems that God has abandoned us and we are challenged to not lost hope as they did on Calvary but like Mary we watch and wait and trust in God.
Mary is honored this day so close to Christmas because she said yes. Mary’s yes goes to the very heart of all of all Christian belief that God became one of us, and from that moment of Mary’s yes God can never be separated from us by anything we do. We can separate ourselves from God but he will never forsake us nor abandon us. Just as Mary embraced Christ and became one with him, so we too become one with Christ if we say yes to accepting this gift from God – Come Lord Jesus, Come and be born in our hearts.