Mary Opens a Window

(Homily for Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B)

Bottom line: When we face offenses and unkind words, it's easy to start brooding. The devil tells us to throw in the towel. But Jesus shows a different way. And when a door closes, sometimes Mary opens a window.

The great Catholic televangelist Bishop Fulton Sheen (now declared Venerable) used to tell this humorous story: One day the Lord says to St. Peter, "How are all these people getting into heaven?"

"Don't blame me," St. Peter says, "Every time I close a door, your Mother opens a window!" (smile)

I don't know about you, but if it comes down to that, I won't be too proud to climb through a window. And I would be grateful to the Virgin Mary for opening it.

Today's Gospel refers to Mary. The people of Nazareth knew Jesus as the "Son of Mary." But the Gospel also raises a question. It refers to Jesus' "brothers and sisters." Are they physical children of Mary or is someone else their mother? The Gospel doesn't give a clear answer. A good place to start is this book I am holding: The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here is what the Catechism says:

"Against this doctrine (of Mary ever Virgin) the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus." The Catechism admits that a debate exists, but it goes on to say, "The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary."

So why does the Church believe that these passage do not refer to physical children of Mary? Well, there are other Scripture passages we need to take into account. Again I quote the Catechism, "In fact James and Joseph, 'brothers of Jesus,' are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls 'the other Mary.' (Mt 13:55 & 17:56)"

There's a lot a person could say based on the Bible, but here's the bottom line: "They (the 'brothers and sisters') are close relations of Jesus according to an Old Testament expression."

If someone tells you that Mary was not "ever Virgin," I encourage you start from the Catechism. Paragraph 500 - it's easy to remember! It will give you a number of Biblical verses including Matthew's reference to "the other Mary" who is mother of James and Joseph. The Catechism also cites early Christian writers: When they speak about Mary, they take for granted her perpetual virginity - just a simple, plain fact. It is for me - and I hope it is for you.

More important than the debate about Mary's perpetual virginity is what the Catechism says in the following paragraph: "Jesus is Mary's only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men." (#501) The beloved disciple represents all Christians when he hears the words, "Behold, your mother!"

We get a glimpse of Mary's spiritual motherhood in today's Gospel. It happens in the context of a controversy not about her, but about Jesus. I am now going to speak about that controversy and then we can ask how Mary fits into it.

The Gospel says, "They took offense at him." And they did what people do when they "take offense." They tried to put Jesus down.

I don't know about you, but I have had people "take offense" at me. In my case, I have to assume at least some blame on my part. I am not innocent like Jesus, but like him I sometimes I experience a "put down." I imagine you also have had heard unkind words. They may have been said sweetly, but they contained a barb. What should we do? How should we respond? Jesus shows the way:

The first thing that Jesus does is acknowledge it. Jesus is so deep in Scripture that he is able to put the attack into a biblical context. Okay, these people are taking offense at me. They are making some cutting remarks. But look what the prophets suffered. Why should I expect anything different?

For sure, this pained Jesus, but he also thought about how the name-calling affected the ones doing it. It cut them off from grace and healing. So Jesus reached out to the people he could and then sought others that needed him.

In my years as a priest, I have seen many people give up the apostolate because they suffered some humiliation. Somebody says a word that hurts them; they start brooding and the devil is right there telling them to throw in the towel. That is not Jesus' way. He keeps going.

Jesus suffered rejection not only from his townspeople in general, but also from his own extended family. But he eventually came back to them. It is significant that after Peter, the man who became bishop of Jerusalem was "James, the brother of the Lord."

James, remember, is the son of the "other Mary." We don't know exactly who she is - perhaps a sister-in-law of Mary so that James is Jesus' first cousin. The Hebrew and Aramaic languages do not make a sharp distinction between brother and cousin.* They become part of a big extended family. And like every family, they have fallings-out, but also (thanks be to God) reconciliation - coming back together.

And can we not imagine Mary having some role in that reconciliation? A beautiful woman of faith, she surely worked in the background: praying, talking with the individuals, helping them see the other person's point of view. When someone shuts a door, Mary quietly opens a window.

To sum up: When we face offenses and unkind words, it's easy to start brooding. The devil tells us to throw in the towel. But Jesus shows a different way: Acknowledge the hurt, then turn to the Bible and to prayer. Think about the other person - and that people may need you. As Jesus had a mission, so do you. And when someone closes a door, know that you have a heavenly advocate: Mary opens a window. Amen.

************

*Spanish has something similar in referring to a cousin as "primo hermano."

Spanish Version

From Archives (14th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Building on Strength Week 1: Scripture as Word of God
2012: Mary Opens a Window (about "brothers & sisters" of Jesus)
2009: Some Requests
2006: How Jesus Handled a Put Down
2003: Insults and Persecution
2000: Separation of Church & State?
1997: "The Conscience of our State"

Spanish Version

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