The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Feast ~ September 8
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
THIS IS A MOSAIC FROM THE GREAT CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA in Trastevere in Rome. It is part of a marvelous cycle of mosaics by Pietro Cavallini, called The Life of the Virgin. Here we see Saint Anne resting after she has given birth to her new daughter. Women-friends bring her room service, while others prepare the bath for the new baby. One pours water and the other tests the temperature of the bath water. It's so wonderfully human. A lovely decorated curtain is slightly open as women are coming and going. But we might also see in this, that the veil between heaven and earth is being pulled back, as God brings to birth the one whose womb will be heaven on earth for God's presence among us in Jesus Christ.
God is taking care of everything. The Mother of Jesus the Savior is born. Heaven opens to us wider than ever. In Mary's birth there is a new beginning with God. And this heavenly opening is over me too! In accepting the Mother, who offers the world the Divine Son, there is a new beginning of goodness for me. It is as if I am coming out of darkness into light, after perhaps a very long and deep sleep. The priest-poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, likens Mary to the air we breathe. She is an atmosphere of love surrounding Jesus - of humility, fidelity and a pure heart.
The nous is the eye of the soul, our inner man; inner woman. It is the purest part of the soul, its highest attention. Some people speculate that the nous is infused in us at conception. Others say we receive it at birth. Seemingly small matter perhaps, but it is the source of our awaking to God; our remembering God. Mary is born, and at once she is awake to God's desires, designs, purposes and love. And I am born too! I sing with Mary the words of the Prophet Isaiah: With delight I rejoice in the Lord, (Isaiah 58:14)
The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats wrote:
Things fall apart; the centre will not hold,Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhereThe ceremony of innocence is drowned;The best lack all conviction, while the worstare full of passionate intensity.
But God's response to our trauma is not to abandon us in a fit of angry regret. Rather, God comes to be with us in humility. First there is Mary, the little girl full of grace and then most perfectly, her Son, Jesus. Perhaps things appear at times to be so dark that this heavenly visitation seems not to be enough. But that's why it's called faith. However slowly, God knows what he's doing and is working out his intentions and purposes.
For the Feast of Mary's Nativity the Church reads the record of the ancestry of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew. (Matthew 1:1-17) It is a long list of names: patriarchs and prophets, kings and warriors, saints and sinners. It is a mysterious list of names which draws to a close with Jacob being the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. Father Mark wrote about this: "The long list is transformed by the birth of Mary. The ancestors of Christ standing on tiptoe to see the joy that comes to them from afar. With the birth of Mary they begin to rejoice ahead of time."
Lesley Parrott is the mother of Alison, an eleven year old girl who was abducted off a train, brutalized and found dead two days later. The mother knew that if the details of the girl's death were made known there would be a great public outcry for the murderer to be executed. Instead she made it known that she didn't believe in capital punishment before her daughter's death and that the murder did not change her thinking. She said, "We're here to make the good parts of the world come true." I consider Mary's birth and my own, contemplating how I might live, so to help the good parts of the world come true.
The sin of Adam and Eve (the world's disease or original sin) isn't disobedience or even pride, but power. The serpent convinced the woman to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree by saying to her, "No! You will not die! God knows in fact that the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods." (Genesis 3:5) But in the birth of Mary, we are always beginning again: beginning again in humility, in littleness, in vulnerability. From her crib, she teaches us who we are: God's children, crying out from the inner place of our hunger, anxiety and need.
And in the power-quest, intimacy with God was lost. We were expelled and banished from the garden. The devil is a spoiler. But it seems that God knew all along that we would not be able to hold up our end and that we would find ourselves far away, lost in the distant place of shame. And so God always had in mind that in love he would come to search for what had been lost to him. And this searching-call for us started in the cries of the Infant Mary.
Babies make wonderful sounds. The sounds of the Infant Mary mean happiness for the world - God's voice in Jesus is near. We will hear Jesus cry at Bethlehem. He'll speak his first words at Nazareth and read the scriptures in the synagogue. In the Jerusalem temple he'll ask questions of the teachers. In Galilee and Judea he'll teach us. In the Upper Room and the Garden of Gethsemane we'll hear him pray. From the Cross at Calvary he'll say, "Father forgive them," (Luke 23:34) and on the Easter-morning beach he'll ask Peter, "Do you love me?" (John 21:17). The cries and sounds of the newborn Mary announce all of this!
If the enormity of your sins troubles you,
if the foulness of your conscience confounds you,
if the dread of judgment appalls you,
if you begin to slip into the depths of sadness
into the pit of despair,
think of Mary.
In danger, in difficulty, or in doubt,
call on Mary.
Let her not be away from your mouth
or from your heart.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Babies are unifiers as people instinctively gather around to enjoy them. The child's weakness calls us out of ourselves, beyond our status, prestige, divisions, hierarchy, titles and elitism. All of this is seen as useless and falls away in the baby's presence. At the birth of the Infant Mary all of heaven watches as she plays. The eyes of God take delight in her. My eyes too! I imagine myself at her crib - standing around and alongside all the people with whom there is pain and troubling divisions.
Glory be to the Father...