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March 11March 11
Blessed by the Lord are you, O daughter: for through you we have received the fruit of life. (Traditional Marian Antiphon)
Today, Sept. 8, is the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Devotion to Mary, the Mother of God and our mother, is a distinctive feature of our Catholic way of life. She is our guiding star, the one who leads us to her son, Jesus.
In the biblical account of creation, found in the Book of Genesis, human beings are given the power of “naming” all God’s creatures. To name something is to know it, define it and therefore enter into some kind of relationship with it. Of course, human naming is never comprehensive, exhaustive or definitive.
We name things precisely in order to get to know them better, and even the wisest among us would freely admit that we can never fully understand anything that we have named. Why? Because only the Creator can fully understand his creation.
When Mary’s parents named their daughter Mary (Maryam in Aramaic), they had no idea that she would become a woman venerated by “all generations,” including Christians and Muslims throughout the ages (Lk 1:48).
The root meaning of the name Mary offers many different associations from a variety of ancient cultures. Some of these include bitter, rebellious and wished-for child.
Knowing that her parents, traditionally identified as SS. Joachim and Anne, were devout Jews who had waited patiently to conceive a child, we can assume that they named her Mary because she was their “wished-for child.”
Certainly, nothing in our knowledge of her suggests bitterness or a rebellious spirit. On the contrary, the woman that we read about in the New Testament is the model for every loving, trusting and patient person. Even when she is repeatedly faced with great injustice and sorrow, she trusts in God’s providence.
Mary lived in a tumultuous time of human history. Religious freedom was threatened. The poor, the sick, and people who for various reasons found themselves on the margins of society were routinely persecuted, abused or neglected. A devout Jew like her parents, Mary was surrounded by the hypocrisy, intolerance and self-aggrandizement of the political and religious leaders of her time who failed to help their people see the truth.
What was Mary’s response? Faithful acceptance of God’s will, dedication to her family, and service to others. Although the world around her was in chaos, Mary remained steadfast.
Only God knows the whole truth about the material and spiritual world and everything in it. Our participation in the mystery of creation is a gift that allows us to know people, places and things in limited ways—and to grow in our understanding through the study of science, mathematics and the liberal arts. But the more we know about anything, the closer we get to the mystery that transcends our human knowledge and experience. That’s why true wisdom is knowing that we do not know anything as God knows it.
We venerate Mary as the Seat of Wisdom because through her guidance, we are invited, and challenged, to seek the truth about God and the universe he created. Every one of us, including Mary, was born with an insatiable desire to discover and embrace the mystery we call God. We are free to ignore this invitation/challenge, but it remains integral to who we are as human persons.
Or, like Mary, we can open ourselves to the Word of God and we can choose to embrace all aspects of reality—both the spiritual and the material. In the end, Mary is the shining star that helps us in times of confusion or doubt. She helps us to better understand the will of God and, by her example, she shows us how to say “Yes.”
Like Mary, we find ourselves living in tumultuous times. That’s why we turn to our Mother to comfort and support us and to show us the way to her son, Jesus. The closer we come to Mary, the more we can open our minds and hearts to the mystery that has been revealed to us by her divine Son. And the more we imitate Mary, the more we discover who we are called to be.
We reverence the name of Mary, especially as we celebrate her birth, because she is our guiding star. Let’s look to her when we are lost or lonely. Let’s follow her example and trust in the providence of God.