On the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
How can Mary be the Mother of God?
Mary is the Mother of Jesus, this we know. In fact this is easy to accept and requires little faith. However Mary the Mother God, that is a truth that many find hard to digest. This is understandable, because our human reasoning tells us: ‘how can a created human being be the mother of an Uncreated God?’ It all lies in our understanding of who Jesus is.
So who is Jesus? The Word Incarnate, the eternally Begotten Son of the Father, “the way, the truth and the life”, the Saviour of the World, the Water of Everlasting Life, the Beloved and Redeemer, this is true. Yet how else can we answer this question of who Jesus is? He is both God and Man, possessing an Uncreated divine nature and a created human nature; He is not half God and half man, but fully God and fully man. Yet Jesus is not two persons, He is one Person. As the fifth century Athanasian Creed puts it:
“He is perfect God; and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father in His divinity but he is inferior to the Father in His humanity. Although He is God and man, He is not two but one Christ. And He is one, not because His divinity was changed into flesh, but because His humanity was assumed into God. He is one, not at all because of a mingling of substances, but because He is one person.”
This understanding of Jesus –as being both God and Man- is an essential Christian doctrine. So what are the implications of this truth? It means that Mary who is the Mother of Jesus -who is God- must therefore be the Mother of God. This is not because Mary created God for this is impossible, since God is pre-existent and is the uncaused and self-efficient origin of all things. Rather, what this title ‘Mother of God’ refers to, is the sublime mystery of how God who is Love Itself, became flesh in the womb of Mary, and dwelt amongst us. As we read in the Gospel of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (1:1, 14a, 18).
So it is that one cannot refuse to refer to Mary as the Mother of God, without rejecting the Divinity of Christ also. If we hide from this sublime truth –that Mary is the Mother of God- than we are affronting the Divinity of Jesus, and concerning this our Lord says: “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Lk 9:26).
Entering into this Mystery as Children of God
This truth – that Mary is the Mother of God- is a dogma[i] of our Catholic faith. Yet often we think of dogma either in a legalistic way –as something that merely must be believed through intellectual ascent; or we tend to think of dogma in a static way, as if dogma or doctrine were a set of lofty truths written on the celestial chalk board. Yet dogma is so much more than this, for as the Eastern Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky would say in a roundabout way: mysticism is dogma par excellence.[ii]
This means that the dogma of Mary as the Mother God, is not merely an abstract intellectual principle which we are called to believe; but a living and eternal reality, a glorious mystery, in which we are called to enter into as children of God. As children that wade out into the deep of the ocean, into depths deeper than where they can still stand. For “when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5). For just as we are all brides in Christ, so too are we adoptive sons in Christ; sons of the Father, and sons of Mary the Mother of God. And this adoption is given to us by the Holy Spirit, for as St. Paul writes: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir” (Gal 4:6-7). And as heirs of God what is our inheritance? An inheritance we can use now through faith in accordance to the measure of our hope and our trust. It is the inheritance of Eternal Life, of every virtue and power, of every good thing; of Joy, Goodness, Peace and everlasting love that never fails; for God Himself is our inheritance.
So it is that we should not cower in servile fear, as if God were a harsh judge who seeks to strike us for every fault. For God is a gentle Father, a passionate Son, and a romantic Spirit. God is a loving Parent, an affectionate Brother, and a consoling Friend. And God is, in the words used by Augustine in the film ‘Restless Heart’: “more brother than any brother, more friend than any friend, more lover than any lover.” For indeed “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love” (2 Tim 1:7) so that by dwelling in Mary’s womb, we may dwell in Christ, “in whom we have boldness and confidence” (Eph 3:12a) to love God and to draw near to Him as chicks that draw near to their mother, under the cosy refuge of her wings. For the Word manifested in speech the desire of our Triune God when He said: “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Mt 23:37b). “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:17).
So what does this mean to be children of God? Will we ever fathom the marvellous dignity to which we are called? Should not our hearts rejoice at the liberating thought that we, as seemingly wicked and unlovable as we are, are in fact loved so much by a God? A God “who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live together with him” (1 Thes 5:10) as his brothers and sisters in the House of the Father.
Children of Mary
Yet as children of God we are also children of Mary. The Catechism, referencing Lumen Gentium, and in turn St. Augustine, speaks of this mystery:
She is 'clearly the mother of the members of Christ' . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head." (CCC 963).For just as the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, shared in our human nature by being born in the flesh by means of the Holy Spirit through the Virgin Mary; so we too in order to share in the Divine nature, must be spiritually born again by the Holy Spirit through the Virgin Mary –who is one in union with the Spirit as His Spouse. For “unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3), and this sight belongs to “the pure in heart, for they [the pure] shall see God” (Mt 5:8). And it is with each rebirthing in the Spirit -accomplished when we die to our own will through trusting surrender, and thereby let the Will of God rise anew in us- that we are ‘reborn’ or ‘recreated’ as it were, into purer and more perfect images in the likeness to the Son of God. This sanctifying work of transformation into new creations, is wrought by the Holy Spirit; in, with and through the Virgin Mary. For as the Mother of God She was entrusted to raise and nurture the Child Jesus; so too, as a consequence and continuation of this God-given role, Mary is the one (the Spirit in Her working through Her) who is responsible for our growth in sanctity, or rather, the growth of the life of Christ within us. For as Paul says: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20b).
Let us turn to the exquisite words of St. Louis Marie de Montfort on this matter:
“If Mary, the Tree of Life, is well cultivated in our soul by fidelity to this devotion [of consecration to Mary], she will in due time bring forth her fruit, which is none other than Jesus. I have seen many devout souls searching for Jesus in one way or another, and so often when they have worked hard throughout the night, all they can say is, “Despite our having worked all night, we have caught nothing.” (Lk 5:5). To them we can say, “You have worked hard and gained little: Jesus can only be recognised faintly in you.” But if we follow the immaculate path of Mary, living the devotion that I teach, we will always work in daylight, we will work in a holy place, and we will work but little. There is no darkness in Mary, not even the slightest shadow since there was never any sin in her. She is a holy place, a holy of holies, in which saints are formed and moulded…St Augustine speaking to our Blessed Lady says, “You are worthy to be called the mould of God.” Mary is a mould capable of forming people into the image of the God-man. Anyone who is cast into this divine mould is quickly shaped and moulded into Jesus and Jesus into him. At little cost and in a short time he will become Christ-like since he is cast into the very same mould that fashioned a God-man.”[iii]
How important is our Mother, the Mother of God! As the saying goes: ‘abandoning Mary is but one step from abandoning the Son.’ For our Lord says: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40); so how much more must these very words apply to our treatment of His Mother who is our Mother? For after all, has not our Lord through John the Beloved entrusted to each one of us His Mother to take into the home of our souls, so that we might love Her, and so that She might come to form us into new-Christs? For the Gospel recounts the following scene during Jesus' death on the Cross :
“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (Jn 19:26-27).
So let us take the Mother of God into our home - the home of our soul, and into our physical homes. Let us draw near to Her, for by drawing near to Her we shall “draw near to God and he will draw near to” us (Jas 4:8), much nearer than if we ever denied the Mother, for who can taste the Bread of Life without bearing the vessel in which it is contained? Who is She, the Mother of God? She whom the Eternal One turned to, for comfort and relief as a helpless babe. Who is She, the Mother of God? She is our Mother also, to whom we must turn to for comfort and relief, for Her consoling milk is the Milk of the Holy Spirit, and Her Womb is the House of God.
So "come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths." (Mic 4:2a). "‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem, built as a city which is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! 'May they prosper who love you!'" (Ps 122:1b-6). You the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God!
[iii] St. Louis Marie de Montfort, True Devotion, section 219.