Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary

[Scripture Readings: Micah 5:1-4; Mt. 1:18-23 ]

A young girl said to her mother, “When I grow up I want to join the FBI.1 Her mother tried to imagine her bespectacled little girl climbing a training at Quantico, VA, but the image didn’t fit. She said to her daughter, “Is that cool?” Folding her arms in satisfaction she replied, “Yeah, it’s going to be great.” Her mother reflected, “I hope it is. I hope her life turns out according to her dreams.” Why didn’t she try to redirect the desires of her delicate daughter to something more in line with her abilities,? Because it’s those with passion who reach higher and overcome hardships. Dampening a child’s passion discourages them while supporting enthusiasm makes dreams come true.

How many children with their hearts set on Plan A are redirected to some more practical Plan B? A man had two sons who inherited their mother’s concert-quality musical ability.  Instead he told them to choose technology. “That’s where the money is; not in music.” Already, at the tender ages of 11 and 12, he was squelching their passion  for what they loved in life.

We don’t know much about Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary. Were they aware that the little girl to whom they gave birth was any different from the other kids in their neighborhood? Did they know she was graced from the first moment of her conception with a purity of heart and a passion for God that was unheard of since the beginning of humankind? An early tradition tells us that Mary’s parents presented her to God in the Temple at the young age of 3. That’s a pretty good indication Mary’s passion for God was met with tender encouragement. The world deals out reality checks of its own. Her parents were there to help her overcome the world.  But who could have ever prepared Mary for God’s plan to become the Mother of God around the age of 14? It seemed inconceivable! 

Mary’s enthusiasm, her passion for God from the day of her birth, prepared her to risk everything for Plan A, even her reputation and her relationship with Joseph. She totally embraced her vocation: “Be it done to me according to your word.” There’s nothing to indicate that her parents ever tried to disillusion her, or tell her that virgins don’t bear children. I think Joachim and Anne were among the first to know the mystery of God that was being unfolded in Mary’s womb. What joy must have been theirs when Mary, still a virgin, bore their Grandson, and placed him in their arms, Jesus, the Messiah, the very Son of God.

God continues to call the young to embrace priestly and religious vocations, his Plan A for them. I can’t tell you how many vocation stories I’ve heard that begin in early grade school. Kids with a passion for God like that of St. Therese of Lisieux. Some were encouraged to follow their dream.  Many were not. They were told to redirect their lives to Plan B, C, or D. What a loss!  Because a religious vocation is a great grace not only for the one receiving it, but also for the whole family, and indeed for the whole world.

In the life of St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, there’s a story about the saint saying over and over, “Oh, how fortunate she is, how fortunate she is!” Asked who he was talking about and what he meant, Vianney replied, “How fortunate that mother is. She has a daughter who is entering religious life. Oh, how fortunate she is.”  The saint was less pleased, however, when a young woman came to him who was more intent on talking than doing. She was all talk, talk, talk. Finally, he said to her, with a sweet smile that took the sting out of his words, “My child, in which month of the year to you talk the  least? Confused, she shrugged her shoulders.  He said, “I think it must be February, because it is a couple days shorter than the other months.2 Passion can’t be all talk. Real passion moves swiftly to decision and action. 

Mary was a girl wrapped  in silence, pondering the mysteries of God, embracing God’s plan for her existence. Oh, how fortunate we are! We have a sister and mother in the order of grace, who gave herself passionately to the heart of God from the day of her birth without reserve, without regret, without recall. 

Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary

[Scripture Readings: Micah 5:1-4; Mt. 1:18-23]

Fr. StephenWho was greater? About two-thousand and twenty years ago, in the seventh year of the reign of Octavian as Caesar Augustus, ten years after the suicides of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, in the eighteenth year of the reign of Herod the Great, King of the Jews, during the years when the Pharisees Hillel and Shammai ruled the Sanhedrin, in the last year of the life of Virgil, the Roman poet, a child was born to Joachim and Anne. And the child’s name was, Mary. But she was never called “Mary” because she was Jewish, and in Hebrew her name was Miriam.

A child was born to Joachim and Anne, and they named her Miriam, Joachim and Annethe same name given to the sister of Moses, a name that means rebellion-very fitting for the sister of Moses because she grew bitter and rebelled against his authority. Not very fitting for Mary, who said to the angel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” There are two other meanings that are more fitting. The first is from the word maram, meaning a wish [Arabic], the wished for child. The second is from the word mer [Egyptian], meaning love, or the beloved. Mary, Miriam, is the wished for child of Joachim and Anne. She is the beloved of God. Who was the greater: Moses, Joachim, Anne, or Miriam?

CleopatraIn the secular history of her times she is of no significance. The story of Mary, queen of heaven and earth, finds no place next to the story of Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, who took her own life ten years earlier. Mary, the queen-mother of a Son whose empire endures forever and extends to the ends of the earth and the heavens beyond, goes unnoticed compared to her contemporary, Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, an empire that collapsed five centuries later. Who was greater: Cleopatra, Caesar Augustus, or Miriam?

Two great events took place in the year 20 BC. King Herod the Great announced his plans to renovate the Temple and double the size of the Temple Mount. But the Lord of the Temple had better plans. It was about this time Mary was born, whose womb and heart Yahweh prepared to become a living Temple. Part of Mary’s childhood years were spent in Jerusalem. As construction on the Temple was progressing, Mary also was growing up in its shadow. No one suspected that the little girl who stood awestruck by the magnificent stones of the Temple was herself God’s chosen dwelling place. Herod’s Temple was leveled by the Romans within seventy-five years of his death, but Mary was lifted up to heaven, body and soul, a living Temple unharmed by our nature’s fallen condition.

The TempleToday there is no sign of the Temple Herod renovated. But near the Temple Mount is the place where the home of Joachim, Anne and Mary is commemorated by the loveliest church in the city, the crusader’s church of St. Anne’s, built during the lifetime of St. Bernard. It stands near the healing waters of the pools of Bethsaida, and a short distance from Herod’s military fortress, the Antonian, named in honor of Mark Anthony. When King Herod rode past with his retinue of soldiers going to and from the Antonian, he took no notice of Miriam watching him by the wayside, but one day her child would strike such fear in his heart that he ordered the massacre of many children in Bethlehem. Who was greater: Herod, Mark Anthony, or Miriam?

Secular history did not record the birth of Mary. Nor did contemporary Jewish literature. Instead, it focused on the greatest Jewish sage of those times, the Pharisee, Hillel. He was about forty years old when Mary was born, and he lived another forty years. When asked to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel replied with a line from the Book of Tobit [4:15]: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor.” Then he added, “This is the entire Torah, all the rest is commentary.” Perhaps Mary heard the golden rule of Hillel and taught it to her Son. Jesus, in turn, taught it to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. Everyone knew Hillel and his teaching, hardly anyone knew Mary. Yet, ten years after Hillel’s death Mary taught us a more important golden rule at the wedding feast of Cana: She said, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus is our way to the heavenly Jerusalem. To follow him is the entire Sacred Scriptures. Who was greater: Tobit, Hillel, or Miriam?

The Handmaid of the Lord About the year Mary was born, the poet Virgil completed his epic poem, the Aeneid, on the founding of Rome. The poem and the city still endure. At Mary’s birth, however, Yahweh laid the foundations of a new city, a city of God, a bride shining with the glory of her divine spouse. When all the civilizations of terrestrial cities have been razed by fire and turned into dust, the new Jerusalem that began at Mary’s birth will go on shining forever. Who was greater: the founders of Rome, the poet Virgil, or Miriam, mother of the new Jerusalem?

When Christianity spread beyond the borders of Palestine the name Miriam was translated into the Latin, Maria. St. Bernard taught that the name Maria is derived from the Latin word for a sea, maris. “Maria,” he said, “is our star of the sea,” for just as the star guides sailors on the sea to the port of safety, so Mary guides Christians to her Son. Let us rejoice then, because Miriam, the beloved of God, Maria, the star of the sea, was born this day. Who is greater: St. Bernard, Miriam, or her Son? “Behold,” said Mary, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.

Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary

[Scripture Readings: Mic 5;1-4a; Matt 1:18-23 ]

Early this week I was sharing with a religious sister my phone conversation with her mother. The latter celebrated her eightieth birthday a few months ago. She was used to celebrate a simple day of thanksgiving for the gift of life by attending Mass. But this time, it was different. She was at Mass grateful to God for all the blessings God has given her, especially the nine children she had. Although her husband passed away early, she was able to rear her kids to school and see them settled happily in their lives. After the Mass, she was surprised to see two of her children behind her, and she was happy to see them as they greeted her, “Happy Birthday, Mama!” Then another one appeared and then another, and another, till all the nine were there at Mass too. What began as a simple day ended up as a memorable birthday! Her children, even those coming from overseas and faraway places, and grandchildren were all there to celebrate with her. In a sumptuous meal prepared by the girls, a culinary skill they learned from their mom, they recalled both the trying and happy days of growing up, the sacrifices of their mom with the encouragement and hard work of their dad, and now the joy of overcoming the difficulties thus preparing them better for life.

The sister gladly listened to the sharing of her mom with me. She then elaborated how the birthday went through and on other meaningful phases in their family life. She said that when her dad was at his death bed, her mom assured him that their children would be properly reared and cared for. With her diligence, fidelity to her commitment to him, and the love for their children, the family remained God-fearing and felt truly blessed. In an article published by one daughter who is a journalist, she affirmed that her mom is indeed a super-mom. They owe much to her what they have and who they are.

Few of us, especially mothers, could reach beyond eighty, but to reach eighty with all the pressures of life is itself a miracle of God’s grace. And it is so for a divine purpose. From the loving parents, nine more gifts of God have become further instruments to share the love and goodness of God to others. In turn, the thanksgiving to God multiplies immensely.

Today we are celebrating the birthday of the Mother of us all. She is first of all, the mother of the Son of God who enabled us to become the children of his Mother too. At the moment of his dying on the cross, he entrusted us all to her and we became her sons and daughter too (John 19:26). What a great favor we have been given – for his mother is truly a loving one. She gave birth to Jesus into the world. She was pained at the mystery of his growing up according to a divine mission. Yet she accompanied him all the way through his ministry till his death. She never gave up on him, though everyone has abandoned him. Now that she is our mother, she never does less than what she has done to him. She is more than the mother of Jesus of Nazareth; she is the mother of God.

In broad calculation, we can say that today our Blessed Mother could have been 2,021 years old in her earthly life. Her children are already a great multitude, countless before men’s sight. Her mission could have ceased when the early apostles of Jesus have gone and she herself has gone up to heaven. But in truth, her mission continues – for us and because of us. In God’s plan, as revealed by her own Son, Mary our mother has been foretold to become the reversal of the fate of our earthly mother Eve. What happened to us at the fall of our first parents is by God’s initiative and promise reversed through Mary, the new Eve. For countless ages then, God has been at work in the world preparing for the advent of the age of salvation. It would happen in tangible and historical ways so that man could cooperate in freedom and true love to this gift of eternal life. By the chosen one’s yes to God’s plan in enrobing the divine word with human flesh, we are assured of the victory against the malicious works of the devil (Gen 3:15). With the immaculate conception of Mary, the seed of salvation has imperceptibly been sown in this visible world. Nine months later, her birth concretely marked the dawn of salvation for us all. Benedict XVI calls her soul as “the space from which God was able to gain access into humanity.” We have not been doomed forever to eternal damnation under the powers of the evil one. We are God’s, and through Jesus his Son, our Savior who was born of Mary, victory is ours too. We are the offspring of the new Eve, or Ave, whom the sacred writers of Genesis foretold. With Mary’s Son, we will and can strike at the head of the devilish serpent and crush it to death.

When we look around us or at our daily experiences, we wonder whether these prophetic words are for real and effective. We still feel fragile and subject to the assaults of the devil. Yet that was also what Mary experienced in her lifetime. But by her fidelity to God and Her Son, she made it. For us her children, she serves as our model on how to go through life. Despite the difficulties of life, or bearing its crosses, we can make it as we assume the traits of humility and obedient love to God. She assures us of her effective intercessions and lifelong accompaniment. In calling on her, we ask for her prayers at all times, especially at the crucial hour of our death. In our nightly song, we call on her who is “our life, our sweetness and our hope!” We believe that no matter how heavy our burdens, or dark is the passage, she is there to lead us through this valley of tears into the heavenly glory with her Son to the Father. We would like to greet our Mother, “Happy Birthday!” We are grateful to the Lord for her as we thank and love her so much. Her life passes on to us. Her birthday marks also the birth of inspired and hope-filled life for us.

Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary

[Scripture Readings: Micah 5:1-4a; Mt 1:18-23]

Who was greater? About two-thousand and twenty-seven years ago, in the seventh year of the reign of Octavian as Caesar Augustus, ten years after the suicides of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, in the eighteenth year of the reign of Herod the Great, King of the Jews, during the time when the Pharisees Hillel and Shammai ruled the Sanhedrin, in the last year of the life of Virgil, the Roman poet, a child was born to Joachim and Anne. And the child’s name was, Mary. But she was never called “Mary” because she was Jewish. In Hebrew her name was Miriam.

A child was born to Joachim and Anne, and they called her Miriam, the same name given to the sister of Moses, a name that means rebellion—very fitting for the sister of Moses who grew bitter and rebelled against his authority. Not very fitting for Mary, who said to the angel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” There are two other meanings that are more fitting. The first is from the Arabic word maram, meaning a wish—the wished for child. The second is from the Egyptian word mer, meaning love, or the beloved. Mary, Miriam, is the wished for child of Joachim and Anne. She is the beloved of God. Who was greater: Moses, Joachim, Anne, or Miriam?

In the secular history of her times she is of no significance. The story of Mary, queen of heaven and earth, finds no room next to the story of Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, who had taken her own life ten years earlier. Mary, the queen-mother of a Son whose empire endures forever and reaches to the ends of the earth and the universe beyond, goes unnoticed compared to her contemporary, Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, an empire that collapsed five centuries later. Who was greater: Cleopatra, Caesar Augustus, or Miriam?

Two great events took place in the year 20 BC. King Herod the Great announced his plans to renovate the Temple in Jerusalem and to double the size of the Temple Mount. But the true Lord of the Temple had plans for a greater event. It was at this time Mary was born, whose womb and heart Yahweh prepared to become a living Temple for his Son. Part of Mary’s childhood years were spent in Jerusalem. As construction of the Temple Mount was progressing, Mary also was growing up in its shadow. No one suspected that the little girl who stood awestruck gazing at the huge magnificent ashlar stones of the Temple Mount was herself God’s chosen dwelling place. About seventy-five years after Herod’s death the Temple would be leveled by the Roman army, but Mary, a living temple, was lifted up to heaven, body and soul, unharmed by human nature’s fallen condition.

Today nothing remains of King Herod the Great’s renovation except the great stones of the Temple Mount. But nearby is the place where the home of Joachim, Anne and Miriam is commemorated by the loveliest church in Jerusalem, the crusader’s church of St. Anne’s, built during the lifetime of St. Bernard. It stands near the healing waters of the pools of Bethsaida, and it is a short distance from Herod’s military fortress, the Antonian, named in honor of Mark Anthony. When King Herod rode by with his retinue of soldiers going to and from the Antonian, he took no notice of Miriam watching him by the wayside. But one day her child would strike such fear in his heart that he ordered the massacre of all boys in Bethlehem two years and younger. Who was greater: Herod, Mark Anthony, or Miriam?

Secular history did not record the birth of Mary. Nor did her contemporary Jewish literature. Instead, it focused on the greatest Jewish sage of those times, the Pharisee, Hillel. He was about forty years old when Mary was born, and he lived another forty years. When asked to teach the entire Law while standing on one foot, Hillel replied with a line from the Book of Tobit, ch. 4:15: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor.” Then he added, “This is the entire Torah, all the rest is commentary.” Mary learned the golden rule of Hillel and taught it to her Son. Jesus, in turn, taught it to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Everyone knew Hillel and his teachings, hardly anyone knew Mary. Yet, ten years after Hillel’s death Mary taught us another golden rule at the wedding feast of Cana. She said, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus is our way to the heavenly Jerusalem. To obey him is to fulfill the entire Sacred Scriptures. Who was greater: Tobit, Hillel, or Miriam?

About the year Mary was born, the poet Virgil completed his epic poem, The Aeneid, about the founding of Rome. The poem and the city still endure. At Mary’s birth, however, Yahweh laid the foundations of a new and better city, a city of God, a living bride shining with the glory of her divine spouse. When all the terrestrial cities of every civilization have been destroyed by fire and turned into dust, the heavenly Jerusalem that was revealed at Mary’s birth will go on shining forever. Who was greater: the founders of Rome, the poet Virgil, or Miriam, mother of the new Jerusalem?

When Christianity spread beyond the borders of Palestine the name Miriam was translated into Latin, Maria. St. Bernard taught that the name Maria comes from the Latin word for a sea, maris. “Maria,” he writes, “is our star of the sea,” for just as a star guides sailors on the sea to the port of safety, so Mary guides Christians to her Son. Let us rejoice because Miriam, the beloved of God, Maria, the star of the sea, was born today. Who is greater: St. Bernard, Miriam, or her Son, Jesus? “Behold,” said Mary, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.”