Mother of Our Salvation
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God | Fr Nicholas Crowe looks at human motherhood and what the Incarnate Word received from his mother Mary.
Just one week ago we celebrated Christmas, the great feast of the Incarnation when God himself took human flesh and came to live among us as a baby boy. Now, one week later, our attention broadens to include his Mother Mary. It’s not that we are turning our attention away from Jesus. Instead, we are being asked to meditate on why it is important that Jesus should enter into our human world through a human mother and be welcomed into a human family.
The Scriptures tell us that Mary conceived her child Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Once Mary had given her consent to the message of the angel, the Holy Spirit descended upon her, granting her the power to receive the divinity of God’s Word, and likewise the power to bring this Word forth. The child born of Mary is therefore God, and so she who bore him is truly called the ‘Mother of God’. We can go further still: Mary bore God incarnate. Jesus did not bring down his body from heaven ready made. Neither did he simply pass through Mary like water through a pipe. Instead, he received flesh from Mary: through her flesh he shared our humanity. This is important: the child born of Mary is both fully human and fully divine. As such he was able to both heal humanity from its sins and to elevate us to a new dignity as adopted sons and daughters of God from the inside. In Jesus, God saved us as one of us: God came to share our human nature so that through his flesh and blood we might share his divine life, and he shared our human nature by entering into our human world through a human mother.
The key point here, it seems to me, is that God did not just use Mary’s body and her flesh as a convenient instrument through which to take human nature. God chose Mary out of love, gained her consent, and then loved her as a mother. This is appropriate and fitting if, as the Church teaches, Jesus -the Word made flesh – is indeed to be fully human. There is more to human life than biology alone. Like God, we are able to know and to love. Indeed, the fullness of human life is found in the knowledge and love of God which spills out into a love of neighbour. Yet this life of love has to be learned: we have to learn how to love in a human way, and our first school of love is our family which has at its core our relationship with our mother.
It has become commonplace to identify the sexual act as a moment when husband and wife mirror the unifying love of the Trinity and co-operate in the creative work as a child is conceived through their mutual self-giving. Yet it doesn’t take too much reflection to notice that if the child born of this union is to flourish, then the co-operation with God’s creative and recreative work cannot stop here. The child must still be delivered into the world, and even then the work is not done: the child that has been given life must be loved into fullness of life. To be a mother (and indeed to be a father) is to enter into an ongoing dynamic of co-operation with God so that over the years God might love the child through the love of his or her parents, and in the process the ongoing creative act of God that brought the child to life be brought to completion.
This sense that we need to be ‘loved into fullness of life’ is something that our society has become increasingly aware of over the last century as the extent to which our emotional, psychological, and even spiritual well-being is anchored in the love we received as children from our parents or guardians becomes better understood. It is the love of a mother and father for their child that calls or draws out from that child love in response to love, goodness in response to goodness, truth in response to truth.
Now in taking flesh from a human mother and entering into a human family as her son, Jesus too entered this same mother-child dynamic of love in which human love is learned and shared in a human way. This is very good news for us, for as we have said already, Jesus came to share our human nature so that through his sacred humanity we might share his divine nature. Now in baptism we become members of the Body of Christ, we share in Jesus’ sacred humanity, and because we are members of His Body we become members of His family through Him: through our union with Jesus we are able to say truthfully, like Jesus, that God is our Father, and by the same token we can truthfully declare that Mary is our mother.
All of us who are united to Christ, then, have two mothers: we have our earthly mother, and we have our mother in heaven, Mary. And as our relationship with our natural mother was, I hope, an immersion and education in what it means to love another human being, so in our relationship with our heavenly mother we have an immersion and an education in what it means to love God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Motherhood itself is a co-operation in God’s creative and recreative love – the love of our mothers gives us life and leads us to fullness of life. Mary, because she is Mother of God, is mother of our salvation: and her love leads us to her Son.