#53 LOVING MOTHERHOOD

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“…Mother behold your son, son behold your mother.” (Jn 19:26,27)

Introduction

Motherhood is a difficult idea to grapple with. This is because mothers are by nature and definition relational. They are considered mothers only in their relationship with their children. Nature keeps mother and child so close as to be almost indistinct as individuals through the first nine or so months of life. Their bodies are made for each other. During pregnancy, they share the same food, blood and oxygen. After birth, nature places the child at the mother’s breast for nourishment. The newborn’s eyes can see only far enough to make eye contact with the mother. The newborn’s ears can clearly hear the beating of the mother’s heart and the high tones of the female voice. Nature has even made a woman’s skin smoother than her husband’s, the better to nestle with the sensitive skin of a baby. The mother, body and soul, points beyond herself, to her child. Yet as close as nature keeps us to our mothers, they remain mysterious to their children. In the words of G.K. Chesterton “A thing can sometimes be too close to be seen.”

In His Majesty’s Service

As the Mother of God, Mary is the mother par excellence. So, as all mothers are elusive, she will be more so. As all mothers give of themselves, she will give even more. As all mothers point beyond themselves, Mary will to a much greater degree. A true mother, Mary considers none of her glories her own. After all, she points out, she is only doing God’s bidding: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Even when she recognizes her superior gifts, she recognizes that they are gifts: “All generations shall call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). For her part Mary’s own soul “magnifies” not herself but “the Lord” (Lk 1:46). Since Mary always deflects attention away from herself, we must look to the One she points us to in order to understand her better.

From the Top

To understand the Mother of God, we must begin with God. All Marian devotion must begin with solid theology and a firm faith based on the Creed. All that Mary does, and all that she is, flows from her relationship with God and her cooperation with His divine plan. She is His mother. She is His spouse. She is His daughter. She is His handmaid. This is the truth as shocking as it may sound.

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus reveals the name of God. He commands His disciples to baptise “in the name” of the Blessed Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Notice that Jesus speaks of these as a single name. A person’s name is equivalent to their identity. God’s name reveals who God is from all eternity. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Fatherhood and sonship are not earthly familial roles attributed to God. Rather, the earthly roles of father and son are living metaphors for something divine and eternal. God Himself is a communion of persons. Saint John Paul II expressed this well: “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family which is love.” From eternity, God alone possesses the essential attributes of a family, and the Trinity alone possesses them in their perfection. Earthly households have these attributes but imperfectly.

Down to Earth

God’s transcendence does not leave creation completely without a clue. Creation tells us something about its creator the same way a work of art reveals something of the character of the artist. So we can learn more about God by observing what He does. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that, “God’s work reveals who He is in Himself; the mystery of His inmost being enlightens our understanding of all His works” (#236). As we pointed out in an earlier post, God reveals Himself in the pages of the New Testament (NT) but He also left “traces…in His revelation throughout the Old Testament (OT)” (CCC #237). Saint Augustine tells us that the New Testament is concealed in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. All of history was the world’s preparation for the moment when the Word was made flesh, when God became a human child in the womb of a young virgin from Nazareth.

When we read the Scriptures, we must do so on two levels at once. We read it in a literal sense  and also in a spiritual sense as we seek what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us through the words

Read Between the Lines

When we read through Scripture, we see God revealing Himself and His will to us. The Scripture is given “for our salvation” (Dei Verbum, #11). When we read the Scriptures, we must do so on two levels at once. We read it in a literal sense  and also in a spiritual sense as we seek what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us through the words (CCC #115-19). This is the way Jesus read the scriptures. He referred to Jonah (Mt 12:39), Solomon (Mt 12:42), the temple (Jn 2:19) and the bronze serpent (Jn 3:14) as “signs that prefigured Him. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus instructed his disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the scriptures” (Lk 24:27). After this spiritual reading of the OT, we are told that the disciples’ hearts burned within them. Why did this happen? It is because God had properly laid the blocks of persons and institutions in history in such a way that they would best prepare us for the coming of Christ and the glories of His kingdom.

Type, Type, Typology

What Jesus did with the personages and events he pointed out to the disciples is what we call “types”. A type is a real person, place, thing or event in the OT that foreshadows something greater in the NT. The study of Christ’s foreshadowing in the OT is what we call “typology”. Typology unveils more than the person of Christ; it also tells us about heaven, the Church, the Apostles, the Eucharist, the places of Jesus’ birth and death and the person of Jesus’ mother.

From the first Christians we learn that the Jerusalem temple foreshadowed the heavenly dwelling of the saints in glory (2 Cor 5:1-2; Rev 12:9-22); Israel prefigures the Church (Gal 6:16); the twelve OT patriarchs prefigure the twelve New Covenant Apostles (Lk 22:30); and that the ark of the covenant was a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Rev 11:19; 12:1-6, 13-17). There are other types implicitly discussed in the NT. Many are implicit and obvious. Marian types, for instance, abound in the OT. She is prefigured in Eve, the mother of all the living; in Sarah, the wife of Abraham who conceived a child miraculously; in the queen mother of Israel’s monarch who interceded with the king on behalf of the people of the land; and in many other places in other ways. So just as the events and the persons of the OT find their fulfilment in Jesus, so too other persons associated with salvation history point to Mary His mother.

From Old to New Covenant

God fulfilled His mission of saving humanity in Christ. He established a new covenant to replace the old one He made with Israel. A covenant is a sacred kinship bond based on a solemn oath that brings someone into a family relationship with another person or tribe. God made a series of covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. They all failed because these men were unfaithful and sinful. Scriptures lead us to believe that only God keeps His covenant promises (Deut 7:9; Neh 1:5). How then could humanity fulfil their end of a covenant in a way that would last forever? This would require a man to be sinless and as constant as God. God became man in Jesus Christ, and He established the covenant by which we become part of his family: the family of God.

The new covenant in Christ’s blood (Lk 22:20) is more than mere fellowship with God. “God in His deepest mystery is a family.” God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and Christians are drawn up into the life of that family. In baptism, we are identified with Christ and baptised in the Trinitarian name of God; we take on His family name, and thus become sons and daughters in the Son. We are taken up into the very life of the Trinity, where we may live in love forever.

St Alphonsus Liguori tells us that “By reconciling us with God Jesus made Himself the Father of souls in the law of grace”. And if Jesus is Father of souls, Mary is their mother, “For she, by giving us Jesus, gave us true life. And by offering the life of her Son on Mount Calvary for our salvation, she brought us forth to the life of grace.

Behold Your Mother

God’s covenant family is perfect, lacking nothing. The Church looks to God as Father, Jesus as Brother and heaven as home. What’s missing here? In truth, nothing. But every family needs a mother; only Christ could choose His own, and He chose Mary providentially for His entire covenantal family. Now everything He has He shares with us. His divine life is ours; His home is our home; His father is our Father; His brothers are our brothers; and His mother is our mother too. This is why as He hung on the cross, he looked down and saw His mother and the disciple he loved (who represents all his faithful followers) standing there. Then he gave us His parting gift, “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:26,27). St Alphonsus Liguori tells us that “By reconciling us with God Jesus made Himself the Father of souls in the law of grace”. And if Jesus is Father of souls, Mary is their mother, “For she, by giving us Jesus, gave us true life. And by offering the life of her Son on Mount Calvary for our salvation, she brought us forth to the life of grace.” The familial ties that binds Jesus and Mary made them co-sufferer in the Passion. St Augustine tells us, “The cross and nails of the Son were also those of His Mother; with Christ crucified the Mother was also crucified.” This makes sense when we reflect on the words of St Paul when he says, “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him (Rom 8:16,17 New American Bible). Mary was the first to experience the pain of being united with Christ. Our incorporation into God’s household means that we share his glory only after we have experienced His passion. Jesus provides us with a model in His Mother when he says, “Behold your Mother”.

A House is not a Home

A family is incomplete without a loving mother. Scott Hahn says that the breakaway Christian churches that diminish Mary’s role inevitably end up feeling like a bachelor’s apartment: masculine to a fault; orderly but not homely; functional and productive – but with little sense of beauty and poetry. Yet all of scriptures, all the types, all creation and our deepest human needs tell us that no family should be that way – and certainly not the covenant family of God. The apostles knew this, and that is why they were gathered along with Mary in Jerusalem at Pentecost. The early generations of Christians knew that. That is why they painted her image in their catacombs and dedicated their churches to her. A true mother, she is usually portrayed pointing to her Son but looking out toward the viewers, her other children. She cared for her Son even as He has commended us to her care and she lovingly draws us together to Him.

 

#30 ONE BAD TURN

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Dear Doctimus Prime,

This story came to me a few minutes ago and I thought to share it with you:

Lk 2:22 “When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.”

We had all gathered at the ground. There were more people than we expected. There were men with hands folded in grief and disappointment. There were disconsolate mothers in the dust and women picking them up and muttering words of consolation. There were also spectators who came out of curiosity; it is almost custom to see these different groups together at the execution of armed robbers. The soldiers were delaying and the crowd grew restless, the air was suffocating and people were pushing and shoving. As I wipe the sweat off my brow cooking from the heat of the sun, a sight in the distance came into focus. It was Eddie our friend from secondary, there were others too from our class. It was as though he heard my heart’s call and turned in my direction. I soon pushed my way towards him and we hugged each other; the others soon join in and we became a team consoling each other….After the execution, we joined the crowd of hanging head in silent procession.

“He said he wanted to be a priest,” Eddie said in an almost dreamy way.

“Who?”, I said, not sure what he was talking about.

“Mark wanted to be a priest.”

“Why did he change his mind?”

“His parents thought he wanted to waste his life. It was out of frustration that he took to drinking and smoking and hanging with the guys in the neighbourhood. That was probably where joined this group.”

I could hear the disgust in Eddie’s voice. Imagine what one wrong parental advice can do. I shook my head as we went along, heaving a sigh of regret. A brilliant young man had to fall to flying bullets because he was reacting to his parents’ decision.

You owe your children the duty to educate and guide them. Even Jesus’ parents didn’t take this for granted. A child’s formation is the task of the whole community and not just the parents. A child’s formation must be rounded; human, social, intellectual and spiritual. Human formation means that the child realizes that they have gifts and a purpose in life which only they can fulfill. Social formation should help them see treat other persons with dignity and respect, not as tools to be used. Intellectual formation helps them acquire useful information in their areas of interest to help develop society. A child’s training should involve a sound understanding of their faith and of what is good and evil. You are to guide them in their choice of vocation and not impose one on them. Do your best to instill a healthy mix of faith, reason, motivation, discipline and self-worth; there is good chance they will be all you want them to be. Character formation begins when you internalize the values you want your child to embody. You can only give something that you already possess. Your children will only grow to be half of what you want them to be and twice of what you are; be careful.

Prayer: Lord, give me wisdom to educate and bless everyone you have placed in my care and show love to everyone I meet today.

Here are the Scripture readings for the day: Mal 3:1-4; Ps 24:7-10; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40

BLOGATRON

#18 To All People of Good Will

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Dear Doctimus Prime,
If I had the opportunity to address a congregation on Christmas day, here is what I would probably say:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Lk2:6-7
These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: “You will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:31). This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours – the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step into history, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things. We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes” allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of her preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn.

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In some way, we are waiting for God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. We can become so preoccupied with ourselves that we leave no space and no time for others – for our neighbour, for the poor, for God.
The Christmas season speaks for itself. It’s no cleverly invented myth, neither is it un-reason-able. Christ took on human flesh and became ONE OF US. The joy which attends it is enough to turn gloom into grace, despair into hope and war into peace. The message of the season is timely. The message we should focus on is that of FAMILY. God in Jesus Christ has come to join the human family. He has come to mend all that is broken in our hearts, in our homes and in our society. Many homes today are only houses where people come to sleep at night and leave as soon as day breaks. Parents have become so busy that they barely know their children. Children are left with no one but their peers, television and the internet as their guardians and teachers of what is right and wrong. Christ has come to teach us that children are vulnerable and they need all the attention, understanding and care they can get. The fatherly protection of Joseph and the tender care of Mary are vivid examples of how parents are to guide their children. Will Christ find shelter in your homes?

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More than ever before, your home is to be a place where Christ is known and loved. You should pray and study the Bible as a family, or at least ask each other what you learnt in Church. You should welcome people and where possible, help to reduce their suffering with financial, moral and spiritual support. If Christ finds a home in your family, his grace, blessings and favour shall never depart.

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Pope Saint Gregory the Great (540-604) has this to say to you:
“The angels consider man as their equal because they adore God made man, sitting at the right hand of the Father. Let us, therefore, beloved brethren, beware of every sin… Let us lead such good lives that they may correspond with our dignity. Avoid, therefore, impurity and lust, even every sinful thought. Let not wickedness soil the purity of your souls; let not the poison of envy and hatred penetrate your hearts. Keep your souls free from pride, covetousness and anger, and especially from the desire of tasting the sinful pleasures of this world. Remember that you have been called the children of the Most High (Ps 82:6). Defend in yourselves the glory of God by avoiding sin, for God was made man in order to honour us and make us partakers of His eternal glory.”
May Christ newly born find a home in your families and may His glory never depart from you, Amen.
Yours,
BLOGATRON

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#3 Love Says it All

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Dear Doctimus Prime,
I am not the kind to give in to anger easily but I am angry. I am not angry because of something that done to me. I am mad at so-called “Christians”. Some of them claim to know the bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ. But their lives are a stack contradiction to all they say. I recently asked a friend where he lives here in Lagos and he gave me his address. I went on to ask if there are other Church members on his street. He mentioned that there was at least one person he knows. They both belong to the same society but he is not sure where exactly he lives. I pointed out that it was not right. He should at least try to identify with this brother of his. He mentioned that he never knew he should to know where he lives. Maybe my anger is misdirected. But I know that the early Christians were known for how much they loved each other. Today, we don’t even want to know what happens outside our gates. If I am fine, the world is alright.
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It is sad because these same Christians who consider it optional to show concern or reach out to their fellows, will yell and belly ache over the insensitivity of others. I have seen Catholics leave their societies or the Church as a whole because the group he/she belongs to has failed to show them any sense of concern. It is almost a common phenomenon to find persons who are more interested in what they can receive from a person or a group. Dem wan take but dem no fit give.
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Prime, the truth is that we don’t love each other. We don’t even know that we should. Jesus himself identified Love as the distinguishing feature of the Christian in John 13:34,35:


“Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciple…”

Just so that it sinks, St Paul calls the Church the “Household of God”. And a household has members who are mostly related by blood. We should be a FAMILY. It implies that just as we look out for our family members, we should look out for our fellow Christians. What usually happens is that we pass each other on the street without even looking.One of the reasons we offer each other a sign of peace at Mass is so that I see the person next to me as my brother or sister.
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We are not competing against each other. It is not enough to be seen as HOLY. BE HOLY. Holiness is not a rule to be followed. It is a life to be lived. If you sow seeds of holiness, you will reap fruits in the spirit, fruits of the Spirit. St Paul gives some of them as Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control. Self-control is something I really need to reflect on and see if I am defaulting. There is often the tendency for me to believe that temptations are stronger than I can handle. But 1Cor 10:13 assures me that God will not let me be tempted beyond my strength. And if I am tempted, I shall receive the requisite grace sufficient to overcome. A lot of what I need to do in order to be who I was created to be is in my own hands. I have to be the BEST.
PS:
I DIDN’T FORGET WHAT I WANTED TO SAY TO YOU ABOUT MASTURBATION. I AM ONLY TRYING TO PUT MY THOUGHTS TOGETHER.I WILL LET YOU IN ON IT AS SOON AS I AM SETTLED.
Yours,
BLOGATRON.