Saturday, May 3, 2008

Homily for the May Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Note: After Mass today, a parishoner expressed the desire to read the homily over again.
A Homily for the May Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Preached before Members of the Society of Mary
St Matthias’, Bellwoods, Toronto
Saturday, 3 May, 2008

Once again, we welcome members of the Society of Mary and our own parishioners who have come together to make this month of May a festival in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God. In praising her we fulfil her own inspired words, Behold, from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed, but the gospel for today perhaps shows us a deeper reason for our praise and devotion, for in that most sensitive and moving scene of all the Passion narratives the dying Lord hands his mother over to the care of his beloved disciple, and gives that disciple into her care. We who are his disciples in our own day find here our ground and warrant for thinking of her as Mother of Christians and Mother of the Church. Now let us pause to listen to a little more of her inspired song:

For behold, from henceforth, all generations will call me blessed;
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, and Holy is his Name.
AT the very moment that the Lady Mary declares that she will be called blessed, she points away from herself to the God who has blessed her. Here we see the faith and the humility that make her a model for us as disciples of Christ. Here is also a fact that is often missed in the rejection or even ridicule that is offered to devotion to our Lady, and is even missed by those who so desire to call her blessed their honour becomes extravagant. But as to that, I am content to say with John Pearson, that great Anglican bishop and theologian of the seventeenth century: "We cannot bear too reverend a regard unto the Mother of our Lord, so long as we give her not that worship which is due unto the Lord Himself." The vital fact we must not miss is that every doctrine that is taught about the Blessed Virgin Mary are doctrines about the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. As she points not to herself but to her Son, our doctrines point to the saving work of God in Christ.
Now there are many points in proclaiming the doctrine of Christ where we must speak of his Mother; more than we have time for at this Mass. But let us consider only the most central doctrine of her Virginity, that Mary conceived by a miraculous act of God. We might —and ultimately do — believe this because it is revealed in Scripture, but we may not stop there: God requires us to love him not only with our hearts but with all our minds, and it is a sin to park your brain at the Church door. We must ask of any doctrine whether it is fitting and reasonable. Now all the reasons theologians give why the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is reasonable tie it to the whole of the Gospel. For example, of all the reasons Aquinas for believing that Mary was a virgin in conceiving the first is the rather simple point that “since Christ is the true and natural Son of God, it was not fitting that He should have another father than God: lest the dignity belonging to God be transferred to another.” Now what this means is that we believe first that Christ is the Son of God and second that he was conceived and born of a Virgin. The order of understanding may be put like this. We know Christ is the Son of God because he was raised from the dead. It should be an obvious fact that, had he not been raised, no one would have been interested in finding out about his birth. Thus we believe in the Virgin Birth because we believe in the Resurrection.
A little later Aquinas argues that we believe in the Virgin Birth because of the purpose of the Incarnation, which was
that human beings might be born again as sons of God, "not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:13), that is. of the power of God. Christ’s very conception was to appear as an exemplar of this fact. Whence Augustine says (De Sanct. Virg.): "It behoved that our Head, by a notable miracle, should be born, after the flesh, of a virgin, that He might thereby signify that His members would be born, after the Spirit, of a virgin Church."
Now that is a paragraph I could spend all day pondering. So I will conclude that the importance of believing in Mary’s Virginity is that it is part of God’s promise to us of a new birth. As the Word Incarnate, the new Adam, Christ links the old humanity with a new creation, wherefore it was fitting that it come about in this way, that he be born of a Virgin Mother.
Time will not permit me to go on to discuss in any detail the title Mother of God, something that makes some Christians nervous because they think it means she is the Mother of the Godhead or herself divine. If it meant that it would be a horrid error, and I can imagine Mary herself scolding as any good mother can scold if we were to proclaim such nonsense! For the Church declares her to be Θεοτόκος, Bearer of God, Mother of God, to vindicate the doctrine that the child of Mary is no other Person than God the Word. The doctrine was defined to avoid the error that there were two persons in Christ, and that Mary is mother only of the man, so that at most she can be called Χριστοτόκος, the "Christ-bearer". The complete Gospel faith is that the Son of God took on all of human life for our salvation. Thus this word Θεοτόκος is necessary to preserve the essential and fundamental teaching of the Gospel.
We truly honour the Lady Mary – and if an Archangel of God said to her “Hail, O favoured one, the Lord is with you” we can do no less — but in every thing we imitate her in pointing to her Son. Remember how she spoke of him at the wedding of Cana, when she said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” In the same way all our honour of, and all our doctrines about, Mary point to her Son, our Risen and Glorified Lord and Saviour,
To whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, we give glory and praise now and forever, joining our voices with the Glorious and Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary, Θεοτόκος, the Mother of God. Amen.


Felicity Pickup said...


William Craig said...

I am grateful for such a positive comment. In fact I am grateful to know tis is being read!