#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.

 

#51 HONOUR MARY

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WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HONOUR THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY?

“From now on all generation will call me blessed.” (Lk 1:48)

Introduction

Throughout the centuries, the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, has certainly been a source of much discussion and controversy. I believe, however, that the failure to recognize her importance in salvation history is due, in great part, to misunderstanding and failure on the part of many to search the Scriptures and focus on some very important, inspired words as, for example, those recorded in Luke’s gospel (Lk 1:46-55). It is here that we find the “Magnificat” as spoken by Mary on the occasion of her visit to Elizabeth, her cousin. Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist, who became the forerunner or precursor of Jesus Christ Himself.

Charges or accusations have been levelled against Catholics for thinking or believing that Mary is some kind of goddess because of all the devotion or attention they direct to her. Mention is often made of all the shrines, the novenas, the Rosary and the apparitions involving the Virgin Mary. In fact, to put it even more clearly, Catholics are often accused of paying more attention to Mary than they do to Christ, her Son. The truth is that Catholic devotion to Mary, as do all the saints, points to Christ.

Communion with the Saints

An article of the Catholic faith that buttresses this point is the article in the Apostles’ Creed that says, “We believe in the Communion of Saints”. This article affirms our faith in the resurrection of Christ and the truth that all the faithful who have done the will of God while on earth are united to Him in heaven (cf. 1Jn 3:2). We also believe that since God is life and light, in Him the saints are alive and see what God sees. Psalm 36:9 tells us “in you is the source of life, by your light we see the light” (NJB). The same article also affirms that we share a special connection with them. So it is wrong to say that those in heaven are unconcerned about what happens on earth. The numerous apparitions of Mary, Angels and some of the saints to people on earth are evidences to the contrary. The saints are aware of our plights on earth. And since they know and see in their union with God, they are able to pray for us and bring heavenly messages to us. This also means that our honour of the Saints is not out of place because whatever honour we show them, we invariably show to God. We will explain this in details shortly. It is worthy of note that it is in the Scriptures that the first Christians honoured Mary as the “Mother of our Lord”.

 The Magnificat

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

 48 for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;

 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

 50 And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.

 51 He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,

 52 he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;

 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.

 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.” (Luke 1:46-55 RSV)

When we carefully study the beautiful prayer that we call the “Magnificat”, Mary’s Canitcle, we find many answers to those who object to honouring Mary. In the very first verse Mary says her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Saviour. If Mary considers God her Saviour, that means she understood that she had to be saved, and in no way did she ever imply that she was equal to God or did not need His help.

As one continues to read, we hear her saying that “He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His Name”. She gives all the credit to God. Others who have not understood the role of Mary through the years would do well to read the closing lines of the Magnificat where she says that “henceforth, from now on all generations will call me blessed”. That is why Catholics call her the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the current generation, we understand that it is fitting that we look upon her as special because God Himself considers her special. To be selected from all women to bring the Son of God into the world certainly is a great honour.

Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that (s)he who loves God loves all that God loves. The honour we give to Mary reflects our love for God.

Mother Of God

The Church’s position on devotion to Mary is based on Scripture and on the fact that God chose her to be the mother of His Son. That, incidentally, is the answer to the problem or difficulty that some people have with Catholics calling Mary the Mother of God. Mary is not the mother of the Triune God. She is the mother of Jesus who is true God and true Man. Since Jesus is both human and divine, we ask; “who was His mother”? The answer is obvious. Hence, the title “Mother of God”. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth called Mary, “the Mother of my Lord” (Lk 1:43). Interestingly, Saint Paul tells us that no one can say that Jesus is Lord unless by the power of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:3). In the same way, only the Spirit could have revealed to Elizabeth that Mary is the Mother of the Lord (Lord, “Adonai” in Hebrew is another word for “God”).

Work of Art

Picture yourself in an art gallery. When you praise a work of art as the best in a gallery filled with paintings, and the artist is standing right there. The artist is not going to be offended or jealous. Rather, he will be delighted because in praising the painting, you are actually praising him. This is simply because that painting is his creation, the result of long, hard work. We honour and love our parents or our neighbours; no one frowns at this. In doing so we are not taking anything away from God, rather, in honouring them we honour God because they are His creatures. The Prophet Isaiah uses this analogy when he says that, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands” (Isa 64:7 New American Bible). Paul says it in even clearer terms, “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life” (Eph 2:10 New Jerusalem Bible). In the same way, when we honour Mary, we are honouring God her Creator.

To Whom Honour is Due

To honour someone is to show great respect or esteem for their person. Honour is due in different degree to different people. This is true whether we are talking about God, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, our parents or neighbours. The honour due only to God is what we call Latria in Latin. This is translated in English as “worship” or “adoration”. The honour due to the saints and people we admire, revere and respect is called Dulia in Latin. But we know that among God’s creatures none comes close to the one who gave birth to Jesus Christ who is true God and true man. The Blessed Virgin Mary herself. To her is reserved a special kind of honour that is neither latria nor dulia. The honour we show to Mary is called Hyper-dulia. The honour we show to her does not detract from the worship we offer to God. In loving her, as God’s child, we are loving God Himself (cf. Lk 9:48).

It’s all Love

You cannot claim to love of God and choose to disrespect your neighbour (1Jn 4:11). They go together just like the head and tail of a coin. The love of God and love of neighbour is the greatest of all the commandments (cf. Lk 10:27). Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that the reason for this is that he who loves God loves all that God loves. The honour we give to Mary reflects our love for God. Conversely, the disrespect we show to Mary shows our disrespect for God who first honoured her through the greeting of the angel Gabriel (Lk 1:28). The disrespect is even more grevious since Mary is the Mother of God. (We shall highlight the implications of this in the next article.)

#28 MARY: THE ESSENCE OF WOMANHOOD

Dear Doctimus Prime,

I wrote a fairly lengthy reflection this morning and wanted it to be for those who have the patience to read. So here it goes:

Mary

Lk 1:38 “I am the handmaid off the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me.”

Reflection: Although Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Church wants us to reflect on the Lady whose consent made it possible. From the Gospel reading we can identify some traits that reveal Mary’s personality and these should guide you too.

FULL OF GRACE: Mary was filled with God’s grace because God favoured her and also because she disposed herself to receive it. Are you open to receive God’s grace and to be His channel of grace or are you more concerned about being acceptable to others?

HUMILITY: By acknowledging that she is God’s handmaid, she chose to do God’s will and not hers. Mary’s awareness of her place as God’s handmaid tells us that she is aware of her relationship with God. Is relationship with God something important to you? When she says “let your will be done”, she considers God’s plan to be bigger than hers. Do you make your plans bigger than that which God makes for you or do you trust him to plan for you?

SELFLESS: She always thinks of others first. She valued humanity’s salvation over her need to secure her marriage or virginal purity. She chose to become the means by which God’s promise to assure the perpetual reign of David’s line is fulfilled (2Sam 7:16). We see a similar gesture at the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus performs his first miracle at her request (cf. Jn 2:3).

VIRGIN AND MOTHER: Virginity and Motherhood co-existed in Mary because God means to show us that humans are the only ones God created for themselves. Humans are also created to give the gift of themselves in marriage. Are you doing all in your power to develop all your gift, intellectual, moral, human, social and spiritual, so that you can bless the world with the gift of yourself? Mary gave herself to God and God gave the gift of himself through her; this without disdain to her virginity. You should enjoy your virginity by discovering the gift which you are before giving yourself to another person.

Prayer: God dispose my heart to love you and my soul to receive you. Make me a gift to the world.

Today’s Readings: 2Sam 7:1-5,8—11,16; Ps 89:2-5,27,29; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38

Yours,

BLOGATRON

#2 History, Sex and Stuff

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Dear Doctimus Prime,
I stumbled into a man I met two weeks ago here in the parish. He came to see the parish priest. Mr John. The voice was unmistakeable. His stature as imposing at the very first time we met. He had his back to me as I walked into the living room. He was speaking to Father Mark. I walked up to both of them and greeted. He was excited and gave me a hug. Father Mark teased him to stop calling me his “Brother” since we are not from the same state. He laughed and asked me if I know what ECS meant. “ECS”? No. “East Central State,” Father Mark blurted. “Yes”, John added, we are all one. Mark now recounted how his younger sister didn’t know what ECN stood for. I didn’t either. ECN is Electric Corporation of Nigeria. It was replaced by NEPA which has been replaced by PHCN. “Back when we used to have power,” Father Mark continued with an expression of loss written all over him. “A bulb could last up to a year.” “Two years,” John added almost immediately. He wasn’t so young if he remembers that much. You know how people like to romanticize about the past. I am obviously born into a new generation. I am sure I will have my own story to tell. But it is always helpful to know what has gone before and what is currently the situation of things. Only with these pieces of information can you better articulate your course of future actions. History, I think, will vindicate us if we learn from the past and refrain from ignorance.
I wasn’t just going to tell you about history Prime. I wanted to tell you that I have a new schedule that is making it increasingly difficult for me to write. I have to wake up early and be at mass. I return at a quarter past eight and barely have time to take breakfast and get myself ready for office. With the number of people who stop by each day, I don’t see myself constructing a single statement without hearing a knock on the door. But I will always try to scribble something for you as soon as time affords me the luxury.
We have a young priest visiting and I am enjoying his company. He said something very interesting about human relationship this morning that struck me. He said that most relationships, especially between guys and girls, are supposed to take the shape of a pyramid. At the base should be communication and mutual understanding, leading up to friendship. At the top, as a sort of culmination point, is SEX. The latter should serve as a “CAP-STONE” for a thriving relationship. In present day this pyramid has been inverted. This leaves sex at the base and couples try to work upwards. When they start having sex, they don’t know each other. And when they get to find out the other’s shortcomings, the base is already shaking since it is standing on a tip.
Something else which bothers me is the whole sex craze. It has always been a concern. But I don’t think that young people are doing themselves any good by opting for sex before marriage. This is compounded by the strange demands guys and girls make of each other. A guy once told me that he won’t like to marry a virgin. That it would be a whole lot of stress trying to deflower her. Another lady friend painted a rather funny picture. She would like her man to be a “pro” in bed before they meet. To my young man, I want to believe he was exaggerating the “stress” he complained about. The hymen, I later read, is a thin tissue covering the vaginal opening, leaving a space for menstrual flow when this takes place. It is not torn out but stretched when a lady has vaginal intercourse. So the insertion of the penis does not more than stretch this tissue creating more space in the vagina eventually. Only a dunce would consider this a “stress” especially if he really doesn’t know anything about a woman’s body than just having sex with her (“dunce”, dem tink say dem be don but dem neva done!). It should ordinarily be the joy of every man to know that he is his wife’s first and only love. This should also be the case with the woman. Does anyone need to go far to find out the reason we still have a lot of fail and short-lived marriages in a time when people boast about having great sex?
A boy asked me about his problem with masturbation. I told him a few things I will like to share with you. But that will be next time. I really have to go now. I am already late for my next appointment.
Yours
BLOGATRON.