The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (B)
1 January 06
The beginning of the New Year is, for many people, a time that is ripe for making resolutions about how these people will commit themselves to improving their lives.
Most of these New Year’s resolutions have to do with health and diet. In fact, fitness centers love when New Year’s Day arrives because it’s the time of year when fitness centers see their largest increases in membership. Some resolutions have to do with financial status. At the previous year’s end, some people make adjustments to the family budget resolving to commit themselves to cut back on non-necessities that take a healthy chunk out of disposable income and leave little cash available to meet other, unforeseen and sometimes more pressing needs. Other New Year’s resolutions have to do with relationships. Some people contemplate the quality of their lives during the past year and, where they believe the quality could be improved, resolve to commit themselves to overcome the barriers to improved relationships.
Sadly, as the New Year unfolds, most people don’t stick with their New Year’s resolutions!
Why not, you may be wondering?
One reason is that, when confronted with the harsh reality concerning what these resolutions require personally, many people convince themselves that they don’t have the strength of will or enough personal discipline to follow through on their resolutions. So, before long, these people stop visiting the fitness centers, overspend their budgets, or decide to “let sleeping dogs lie.”
Another reason many people don’t stick with their New Year’s resolutions is due to complacency. After all, being complacent is bliss! Isn’t it more comfortable sticking to the status quo than it is to engage fully in self-change, even necessary self-change? Who of us really wants to get out of bed early on a cold morning and traipse over to a fitness center to work out before the sun even rises? Doesn’t spending an extra hour in a warm bed make much better sense? Who of us really wants to give up all of those conveniences, you know, those little things we know we don’t really need but which make our lives so much more pleasant? Doesn’t “splurging” a little “here and there” on a little of “this do-dad and that do-jiggy” make much more sense than always having to say “No” to oneself? And, when confronted with having to straighten out a relationship by apologizing and amending our ways, who among us is really enjoys sucking up pride and eating humble pie? Isn’t it much easier just to avoid opening old wounds?
Personal cost and complacency are two pretty powerful reasons that explain why many people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions for very long.
But, there’s yet a third reason. It falls under the category “Lack of Commitment.” People who fit into this category ought just to be honest and name themselves “Mr. (or Mrs.) Great Idea...But No Follow Through.”
While many of us may enjoy toying with the idea of improving our overall health, financial condition, or relationships—each of which is a very good idea—the fact is that, as the days, weeks, and months of the New Year quickly pass us by, our Regis Philbin’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” absolutely final decision is that these things really aren’t really worth the effort we now realize each really requires. So, come early March, the same thing happens this New Year that happened the last New Year and the previous New Year as well and was the case in most New Years past. Almost all of us become complacent because we’re really not all that committed to our resolutions!
“Be it done unto me according to your word,” Mary resolved to the angel, Gabriel, when he announced that God would conceive His only begotten Son in Mary. It was a resolution that changed not only Mary’s life but that of all human history as well, ushering in not a New Year but a new chapter in all of salvation history.
It’s easy to downplay the commitment that Mary’s resolution required of her, in much the same way we downplay the commitment we make when making our New Year’s resolutions. Moreover, maybe we downplay Mary’s commitment so that we don’t have to commit ourselves to our own resolutions.
First, Mary would have to hope and trust that her husband, Joseph, wouldn’t divorce her and that her family members wouldn’t disown Mary as well. Facing the likelihood that she would be divorced and disowned required a considerable commitment on Mary’s part if she was going to fulfill her resolution. And so, trusting wholly in God, Mary unveiled the plain truth to Joseph and to her family members. “Mary is pregnant. Given human nature, I can understand that,” they might think. But, when Mary would say, “By God’s will…conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit”...that would be incomprehensible! Can you imagine any fiancé or family member buying that explanation?
Second, following his birth, Mary would have to follow through on raising God’s only begotten Son.
Now, let’s face some facts. Most mothers find it difficult enough just to raise normal and healthy sons. Many other mothers find themselves terrified of making a mistake in raising their sons! If you don’t believe me, just ask Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura.
Where, then, was Mary to turn if she was to avoid making a “really big mistake” in raising God’s only begotten Son? Who wrote the manual with those instructions? Who possessed the requisite knowledge and experience to provide Mary advice about what she should do? Well, there was nobody. So, to fulfill her resolution to be the Mother of God required commitment, namely, Mary had to trust that God would reveal to her what Mary needed to do if she was to raise the Son of God successfully. That’s it. End of story. A commitment to trust God, no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.
Third, think about all of the things that teenager sons say to their mothers that just plain don’t make any sense whatsoever. Wary moms suddenly feel a burst of energy rising from the pit of their stomachs and moving into their right forearms as the desire to smack their sons silly for saying those nonsensical things almost comes to fruition!
Just the other day, for example, we heard about an American-born teenage son of Iraqi immigrant parents who lives in California. A high school football player who aspires to be a journalist, the teenager used his savings to pay for a trip to Iraq because he wanted to learn first-hand about and to report the toll the war was taking on the Iraqi people. Forget the fact that young fellow couldn’t speak a word of Arabic or that he disobeyed his parents really big time by not telling them what he was doing or where he was going. He didn’t travel just across town or to Las Vegas! He traveled overseas to a war zone! What’s a mother to do?
Mary’s son once got lost once, too, well sort of “lost,” when he stayed behind in Jerusalem teaching the rabbis and learned scholars of the Law in the Temple instead of coming along with his parents as they headed back to Nazareth after taking part in the census in capital city of Jerusalem. When they finally found their son and Mary asked Jesus why he did this, Jesus responded by asking Mary, “Didn’t you know I had to be about my father’s business?” as if that was explanation enough. It took real commitment to keep that energy stirring in the pit of Mary’s stomach from moving into her right forearm as the desire to smack Jesus silly for saying that nonsense. Her commitment was to trust that Jesus—the only begotten Son of God—was indeed doing his Father’s will and not, shall we say, dishing out a plate of bovine excrement for his mother to eat.
Then, there’s the Way of the Cross.
With the help of her husband, Joseph, it appears that Mary got it right in raising her son who, by the way, really was the Son of God. Evidently, Jesus matured into a deeply religious man and was a pretty smart one, too, one the Jewish people very much respected because they called him “Rabbi,” meaning, “Teacher.” The real rabbis and the scholars of the Law, however, didn’t particularly like what Jesus taught in the Temple on the Sabbath, especially as it concerned the primacy of fulfilling the spirit of the law. The people stirred things up a bit with their comments that Jesus taught with “authority” and not like those others do. Jesus’ popularity with the Jewish people eventually infuriated the rabbis and scholars of the Law because their power base in the Jewish community had deep roots in that the people viewed them as the experts in interpreting the letter of the law. So, the rabbis and scholars of the law conspired with the High Priest. In their minds, at least, there was no other way to deal with Jesus. He had to be put to death.
For those who have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the Passion was an awful and terrifying experience and not just for Jesus but also for his mother, Mary. Watching on from the sidelines, Mary was helpless; nothing she could do would stop the inevitable from unfolding. It started with the scourging, then carrying the Cross up to Mount Golgotha, and finally, being crucified. Walking beside her son all along the Way of the Cross and standing at the foot of his Cross as Jesus breathed his last took commitment not only to her son but also commitment to God who entrusted His only begotten Son to Mary. How could all of this have been part of the “package deal”?
St. Luke tells us in today’s gospel that Mary “treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.” While they may have made no sense at the time, Mary remained committed to God and to doing God’s will come what may. Through it all, Mary stuck with her resolution to be the Mother of God. She allowed herself and her life to be changed. At each step along the very long way of fulfilling her resolution, Mary possessed the strength of character to keep with it, despite the fear she experienced as the challenges, tests, and the death of her son confronted Mary. Furthermore, Mary wasn’t complacent as things in her life constantly changed during those years when her son matured in grace and wisdom before God and humanity. What seemed like a good idea—to say “Yes” to God’s invitation to be the Mother of God’s only begotten Son—Mary determined the effort would be worth it and she committed herself to it. She didn’t back down, back out, or regret her decision when things didn’t work out as perhaps she had hoped. No, her commitment was entirely uncomplicated: “Be it done unto me according to your word.” Mary’s “I do” really meant “I do.” There was no with caveat appended to her fiat, “as long as I am happy.”
In the end, most of our New Year’s resolutions are entirely meaningless because they are basically selfish, having to do with ourselves rather than God. Whether we keep those resolutions or don’t keep them won’t make any difference at all in terms either of this world or of God’s eternity. But, when we resolve to love God and to do God’s will, that will make a difference…in fact, it will all the difference both in this world and in God’s eternity. “I do” really means “I do.”
Let us not forget, however, that before jumping in headfirst and making a resolution by which our lives will make all the difference in the world and in God’s eternity as well, we’d best ponder the real life and what Mary’s resolution of her to actually be the Mother of God. In Mary, we will discover the inner, spiritual resources we will need—that is, if we are going to remain committed—when challenges, tests, and even death look us square in the eye.
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