Sep 7, 2011

September 8th: Happy Birthday!

The birth of Mary - Giotto

Mt. 1: 18-23

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
"Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means "God is with us."

Do you really enjoy spending time with your family? Do you look forward to seeing your brothers, sisters, grandparents or parents if still living, aunts and uncles? Do you feel that sometimes a little bit of family goes a long way? The answer to these questions will certainly vary according to our life experience. I cherish time with my family and although we are very different in some ways, when we get together we find a deeper sense of belonging that I think is both a natural bond and a spiritual one. However, I know that is not always true for some.

The operative word these days has become “dysfuntional.” But, when you really think about it, we are all dysfunctional. It’s called Original sin and no matter how much we try no family will ever be perfect. So, it just all depends on how willing we are to tolerate differences, to forgive the occasional hurts and misunderstandings, but over all of this we must put on love, as St. Paul tells us. In all things, charity.

Today’s Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary presents us with both a base in scripture and in tradition. We know very little if anything about the parents of Mary only that she certainly had a human mother (Anne) and a human father (Joachim). Mary was not miraculously conceived in the womb of her mother Anne. She was conceived through natural means. However, by a singular grace given to her alone, she was conceived without the “stain” of Original sin. Mary did not suffer a flawed human nature with our tendency to sin. Our Church has taught for many centuries that Mary was in perfect relationship with God throughout her earthly life in order that she would be ready to receive the son of God as his human mother. Since the 5th century, in Jerusalem by tradition where Mary was born, this feast has been celebrated.

Mysterious? Yes, of course but her life was not without human trials and difficulties. The stuff of life, the questions, problems, challenges that we all face, Mary faced them too. Our Gospel for today reveals the struggle that Joseph had with Mary and her pregnancy. “Do not be afraid,” the angel said to Joseph, “to take Mary as your wife . . .” Mary was not a woman who struck fear in Joseph but it was the circumstances around Mary that Joseph found confusing and mysterious. We can only imagine how Mary must have felt when she sensed Joseph’s hesitation.

But, this Feast today of Mary’s birth, coming nine months after December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, can be an inspiration for us to see how God used human beings to carry out his mission of our salvation. Is September 8th the actual day on which Mary was born?  We don't know and in the end does it really matter? Our Liturgical calendar marks the mysteries of our faith not the actual date of historical events. Our faith calls us to see the hand of God at work in human history.

So, we hopefully all love and appreciate the members of our human family. But we are also members of a larger family, a family which destines us for eternity. Our baptism and the new life in Christ we all share as a result of that sacrament of birth, makes us members of the family of Jesus.

And that family of the Body of Christ the Church is dysfunctional in its own way. Certainly, in recent years we have seen some very serious dysfunction and sin and have been brought to our knees for healing and reconciliation.

But, Mary’s birth can offer us hope that her child is the one and only one who can lead us out of sin, into life. She is here with us as a spiritual Mother, welcoming us into her family and leading us to know and see her son as our hope.

Hail Mary
Mother of the Lord
your birth is a gift to the world
and a hope for the sinner
in all our dysfunction.
May we become more like the courageous Joseph
who trusted that the Lord’s will
would be fulfilled.