January 1, 2000, HOMILY- Galatians 4: 4-7


WHEN THE FULLNESS OF TIMES CAME GOD SENT HIS SON, BORN OF A WOMAN. Today, as we begin a new year and a new millennium, it is most fitting that we reaffirm our belief that Mary of Nazareth is truly the Mother of God. As the woman of whom Jesus, the Son of the living God, was born in the flesh she stands at the beginning of the first millennium, and all the times that will follow it. That the Son of God, fully equal to his Father by nature as is every son in relation to his father, is at the same time the son of Mary is at once the foundation and the central mystery of our faith. All other issues raised by the Gospels present no obstacles or even serious difficulties to faith once we accept this basic fact as revealed truth. That Mary gave birth to Jesus and yet remains a virgin poses insuperable difficulties to many who can only consider such a belief to be a mythic expression of a human aspiration after an impossible ideal or an unreal fantasy. But to those of us who believe that the child she conceived is the Word of the eternal God through whom "were made all things" (John 1:3) such a miraculous conception involves no contradiction. If God created our human race and designed its structures and func tioning why can he not, when He chooses, make an exception to the natural process when He deems the occasion warrants it? And if there is any instance when such an exceptional manner of conception is warranted it surely is the incarnation of the very Son of God.

Today's feast of Mary, the Mother of God, presupposes the Incarnation in the full sense of that dogma. Only because Jesus is truly God, equal to the Father in all manners pertaining to the di vinity, can Mary be honored as the Mother of God. This title is an ancient one and so is the feast that commemorates it. In fact it is the earliest liturgical feast established in honor of Mary. Rightly so, for all her other privileges and titles are rooted in the mystery of her divine mother hood. While there are several Greek words used to signify this mystery, the most important by far is Theotokos, God-bearer. This term is not found in the Bible. That it is a legitimate construct however, is evident from the fact that it simply makes a single word of St. Luke's phrase "mother of the Lord" (1:43).

Theotokos is used of Mary already in the two hundreds. It was widely employed by the Church fathers a century later. We find, for example, Gregory of Nazianzen declaring that "if anybody does not accept holy Mary as Theotokos, he is without the Godhead (Epistle 101, cited in Theotokos by M. O'Carroll, 257-8)." St. Cyril insisted on its proper interpretation when objec tions were made to its use by Nestorius. He saw that it was accepted at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. and given the formal approval of the universal Church. Ever since it has found a large popularity in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. It is surely the most frequently used of her titles for we Catholics employ it every time we say the Hail Mary: "Holy Mary, Mother of God,[ that is, Theotokos] pray for us sinners..." Theotokos

What does it mean in terms of Mary's experience and her role in the concrete that she is truly the Mother of God? The Scriptures do not provide any extensive description of her inner life nor do they give more than hints as to her role in the Church. What they do say, however, points in a direction that we can follow fruitfully as many saints have done. That she was perplexed and fearful at the thought of being mother to the Messiah is stated explicitly by St. Luke. He also stresses that she pondered over the events surrounding our Lord's birth in her heart. Later, at the Presentation, she kept in her heart all the things prophesied concerning Jesus by Simeon. That she did so with a certain abiding sorrow is suggested by the words that same prophet addressed to her. "A sword of sorrow will pierce your heart." To be the worthy mother of God is indeed the greatest of privileges, but it is paid for at the cost of a profound and abiding sorrow at the awareness that her son is "set for the rising and the fall of many." There is every reason to main tain that Mary kept this sadness to herself; nothing suggests she ever let it interfere with her duti ful and loving bearing toward her son, her husband and others. She lived with it in her heart. It tinged all her dealings with her son as she cared for his upbringing day by day. In the end, this prophecy was realized when she became aware of the hostility of the leaders of her people to wards her son and followed his last days closely even to Calvary. Standing at the cross with St. John she suffered in her affections the abandonment and pain her son endured in the flesh. Her role in the Church was given to her there: she was to be the mother of the beloved disciple, that is, mother of every true believer. She received that commission in sorrow and suffering of heart.

The other aspect of Mary's being the mother of God that accompanied her from the time of the Annunciation was the keen realization that her child was the Son of the eternal Father in a unique way. That she conceived of the Holy Spirit and thus became the mother of God meant that she had a singular relation with her son, first of all. But in and through him she stood in a direct and immediate relation with the Father and the Holy Spirit. She was the first human person to live a Trinitarian spirituality. She knew God as Father to her child; she had experienced the overshadowing of the Spirit as she conceived him, and she was absorbed with his presence within her as the living, incarnate son of God. We can only vaguely bring before our imagination what awe and sense of mystery and reverence she felt at the deeper levels of her spirit as she dealt with this son of hers in the ordinary situations that mark family life. Hers was the most integrated of all spiritual lives, fully embodying in daily living the implications of be longing wholly to God, Father, Son and Spirit. Thus she was in a manner separated in her heart from all and at the same time united with all. Separated from all that is merely of this world yet united with all for she belonged wholly to God. In this she is model for all monks, indeed, for all true followers of her Son. The Eucharist

In a mysterious, sacramental manner we are taken up into that same mystery here at the Eucharist where the Son of God and of Mary comes to each of us in communion to unite us with the Father in the Spirit. Receiving him with faith and the desire to belong to him, we share in some measure the same grace that Mary knew. May we prove worthy of so high a favor by lives of fidelity day by day throughout this New Year and all the days of our life.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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