Many years ago, I befriended a woman with whom I had nothing in common. In fact, we were far apart in many ways. She was one of the “cool people” that a self-professed nerd like me might never get to know. However, academic circumstances brought us together, and we became good friends. What struck me the most about her, when we first became more closely acquainted, was how “human” she turned out to be. From my original point of view, this woman seemed to have it all; she appeared completely self-confident and self-possessed, she was remarkably beautiful, and she maintained an aura of perfection that seemed unattainable to us mere mortals.
Over time we got to know one another, and a real friendship began to develop. This woman began to reveal just how challenging things were for her. First of all, she was not perfect, although I found that hard to believe. At that age, I believed that we were all socially divided into some “have/have not scheme” when it came to perfection. To that end, I was solidly “have not” material, but she appeared to be at the top of the perfection pyramid! Having this image thrust upon her brought forth tremendous expectations from others, expectations that she could never feel good about meeting. Whether it was from her parents, from our teachers, or from our peers, she struggled to keep the surface shiny and to keep everything moving. Inside, she was the same insecure mess that I was. What a revelation!
Our friendship was an oddity, but it did carry on for some time. Although we eventually grew apart, her friendship remains in my heart as a reminder that things are not always what they seem.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Talk about images of perfection, no woman has more of them floating around than our Blessed Mother! Blond haired and blue-eyed, always clad in a startling shade of blue that does not seem to exist in nature, Mary is perfect. That part is true – she is. However, we put so many images on her, how do we really come to know and celebrate Mary in ways that clearly show her place in our lives? Somehow I believe that if we start – and stop – with perfect, we loose the deeper meaning. Remember, things are not always what they seem.
Mary has such a remarkable place in salvation history. First of all, she is the very first believer! From the moment of the Annunciation, and with her eternal “yes,” she changes the course of history by this consent. This is a kind of perfection that we rarely consider when we think about perfection, the perfection of saying yes, with a complete commitment from a deep well of spirit.
Today we heard the Aaronic blessing in the Book of Numbers proclaiming God’s loving care for God’s people. The Lord is looking upon us all, looking upon us kindly and wanting to give us peace and bountiful blessings. The arc of that peace takes us from the beginning of time, to the time of Mary’s agreement. It was she who agreed to deliver us that peace, in the life of the child that she was about to bear. Talk about things not always being what they seem!
In Mary’s day, no one would have thought she was perfect. In fact, quite the opposite; she was in a compromised condition, both socially and religiously, as far from perfect as could be. Mary had to know the risks, yet she still said yes, and the Lord blessed us richly as a result. This reminder that things are not always what they seem, is also a message of great hope.
Continuing with that message of hope, St. Paul, in the letter to the Galatians, reminds us “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” Not only has God done this great thing for us, but God has chosen to do so in a very particular way, “God sent his son, born of a woman.” Mary was no accidental surrogate mother, but a clear choice. That choice of Mary also was her chance to make a choice, and she chose yes. Now God has come to us in human form, in the most astounding expression of love that we will ever know. No longer are we slaves, we are told, but we are children, heirs of God, through Christ.
Today Mary may seem to us the very image of perfection. We should understand that kind of perfection in a way that pushes us past superficial imagery, and into the depth of understanding of what her role in our lives is meant to be. Unlike any cool image of perfection, Mary reflects the true perfection of God’s love in the world. Perfection is not always what it seems, is it?
What we hear about in today’s Gospel from Luke expresses something else about perfection, something much deeper. This is the dissonance of perfection against a backdrop of social stigma and shoddy surroundings. Mary and Joseph, with the child Jesus, are in the same spot as all the animals. This is as far from the “ritual perfection” expected at that time. Things may look one way, but they are another.
This is a kind of perfection amidst the gritty reality of life, as Mary, Joseph and Jesus find themselves in the only spot that they can settle into, a spot that no one else will take. “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart,” says Luke. That is a very different kind of perfection than perfect skin, blond hair, as well as a certain shade of blue for Mary’s clothing or her eyes. Mary was not at all like my seemingly perfect friend from 20 years ago. My friend “seemed” perfect… Our mother Mary, Mary the Mother of God is perfect.
What we find in Mary, and the message that she brings us is this; God longs for us. Over time, God was interacting with God’s people, on a journey towards peace, reconciliation and salvation. From the Aaronic blessing, to countless other stories in Scripture, we find God drawing closer and closer. Then God surprises us by going a whole other direction, the direction of his Son and our savior, Jesus who is Christ! With this direction, which is brought to us through Mary, the Mother of God, we are offered the greatest gift of all.
This perfect life is the perfection of God born to a woman, bringing us God’s kindness and God’s peace, bringing us salvation and new life, bringing us into God’s family as never before. We were always God’s children, but it was through Mary, who bore Jesus, who makes this perfection come to us in such a profound way. And in this way we remember that things are not always what they seem.
Filed under: Christmas, Homilists for the Homeless, Hungry and You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, Mary Mother of God Tagged: | Christmas, Homilists for the Homeless, Hungry and You Fed Me Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, Mary mother of God