Bottom line: We owe a lot to Mary and we honor her because of her closeness to Jesus.
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent we change our focus from John the Baptist to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Sometimes people ask why we pay so much attention to Mary. The story is told about a man who asked, "I don't understand why you Catholics make such a big deal about Mary. I don't see much difference between her and my mom."
The Catholic thought and then said, "Well, I don't know about the difference between the two mothers. But let me tell you: There is a big difference between the two sons!"
As the story indicates, the reason we place so much emphasis on Mary is because of her son - Jesus. He is our savior. The name, "Jesus," means that God "saves his people from their sins." In today's Gospel we hear that Jesus is "Emmanuel," that is, "God is with us." Mary's great importance comes from the fact that she is mother of our savior, Jesus - God with us.
Mary carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. She nursed him and took care of him the way a mother does for a completely dependent infant. She guided him as a child and, later, as an adolescent. She is the mother of Jesus. We can correctly call her "Mother of God." Not that she existed before God, but that she gave birth to Jesus, who is God.
To help understand Mary's relationship to Jesus, I like to use this comparison: Jupiter - the largest planet in our solar system - has a moon called IO (EYE-oh). Being so far from the sun, the surface of IO is extremely cold. But IO surprised the scientists. They made the amazing discovery that IO also has the largest and hottest volcanoes in the entire solar system! How can that happen on small, cold moon? Well, the giant planet Jupiter causes "tides" in IO that produce enormous energy. Thus, the energy does not from IO itself, but because of its closeness to the Jupiter. In a similar way, Mary's greatness does not come from herself, but from her closeness to Jesus.
That closeness had a price. Just like Jupiter's gravity causes IO to bend and stretch, so Mary's closeness to Jesus brought great suffering. We see a glimpse in today's Gospel: the confusion that followed the virginal conception of Jesus. Her husband, Joseph, did eventually accept her back, but his initial rejection must have brought in terrible pain. It foreshadowed an even greater suffering that she would experience three decades later. She would hear Jesus say, "Who is my mother?" Jesus was not all sweetness and light. He called people to bend and stretch - even his mother...especially his mother. He was preparing her for the greatest suffering of all - what she would experience when she stood at the foot of the cross.
So, yes, we do honor Mary. We do pay particular attention to her. We do make a big deal about her. She was the closest to Jesus - and she suffered greatly with him.
One of the beautiful things today is that other Christians are paying more attention to Mary. Often enough, they show us the way. A Methodist minister named J. Neville Ward wrote Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy - a book that explains how all Christians can use the rosary for meditation. On a more popular level, the singer Johnny Cash did a nice Christmas song honoring Mary. I would like to conclude with the lyrics of that song (don't worry, I won't sing it). Here are the words:
Merry Christmas, Mary. Thank you for the child.
Thank you for Lord Jesus, thank you for the child.
Merry Christmas, Mary. Too often we forget
to thank you for the greatest Christmas present yet.*
We owe a lot to Mary and we honor her because of her closeness to Jesus. Amen.
*Here are more complete lyrics: Merry Christmas Mary thank you for the child Thank you for Lord Jesus thank you for the child Christmas time is here again peace on Earth good will to men The air is filled with joyful sounds merry wishing all around Giving and receiving gifts stopping by to thank all of our friends And we thank you Mary for helping give God's greatest gift to man Merry Christmas Mary thank you for the child Thank you for Lord Jesus thank you for the child Merry Christmas Mary too often we forget To thank you for your part in giving the greatest Christmas present yet Merry Christmas Mary
From Archives (Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Parish Picture Album
Washington state priest brings natural family planning to Peru's highlands Catholic News Agency article about the Mary Bloom Center by Benjamin Mann
Educan en regulación natural de la natalidad en sur andino del Perú Latin American Press (aciprensa) article on the Mary Bloom Center with video
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated November 2013)