The opening Mass for the SMA National Novena in honour of Our Lady was celebrated by the SMA Provincial Leader, Fr Michael McCabe at 7.30pm in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Blackrock Road on Friday, 16 May 2014. Fr McCabe preached the following homily on the theme: Mary, Mother of God.
The film director, Stephen Spielberg, was once asked why the main character in his popular science fiction film, ET, was so ugly. He replied that he wanted to make a creature that only a mother could love. This tells us a lot about mothers. They are seen as the embodiment of that total and unconditional love that is God’s way of being. Mary was the most famous mother that ever lived, the mother of the incarnate Son of God. While a lot has been said and written about the privileges associated with that august role [“All generations shall call me blessed”] – I wish to draw your attention to the human aspects of her role as Mother. There is a modern hymn, ‘The Baker woman’, which reminds us of Mary’s motherly love for her Son. Mary, in the words of this hymn, gave her Son “the fire of her love, the salt of her tears and the warmth of her heart.”
Mary was probably in her mid-teens when she received God’s invitation, through the angel Gabriel, to become the mother of His Son. She bore him “in her womb with love beyond all telling”, as one of the Advent prefaces puts it; she gave birth to him in a stable. Then in the family home in Nazareth, she nursed him, taught him how to walk and talk, to read and write. With the help of her husband, Joseph, she reared him from infancy to manhood. Jesus lived with her for 30 years or so, in other words, for most of his life. We are told by St Luke that during the time he was with his mother and St Joseph, Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature and favour before God and people”. When the time came for her Son to leave home, she gave him away. She was with him when he died. She lived out the remainder of her days with the apostle, John. Now she is again living with her Son in heaven, where she reigns in glory as Queen of the saints.
Mary is the mother of Jesus but she is our mother too. When he was dying on the Cross, Jesus gave Mary to the Church. It is no surprise that she was with the Apostles of Jesus when the Church was born on Pentecost day. She continues to mother our growth in Christ. As the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it in his lovely poem comparing the Mary to the air we breathe. “She mothers each new grace that does now reach our race”. Mary’s work is not finished. She continues, as Hopkins reminds us, to let God’s glory shine through our humanity, “God’s glory which would go // Through her and from her flow // Off, and no way but so.”
Mary’s ‘Yes’ to God
Mary’s role as Mother began the first moment she said yes to God. Let us reflect on that ‘yes’ for a moment. The scene of the Annunciation (Luke 1: 26-38) captures that glorious moment in history when Mary is invited by God to become the mother of his Son and thus play a unique and indispensable role in our salvation. Mary’s unreserved “yes” to the role God has chosen for her was of decisive importance in bringing God’s plan for our salvation to its fulfilment. In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council underlined the importance of Mary’s yes to God. It said:
The Virgin Mary, when the angel brought the news, welcomed the Word of God in her heart, and in her body brought life into the world…. Embracing God’s saving will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son.
In one of his famous homilies on the Annunciation scene, St Bernard imagines the whole world waiting on Mary’s “yes” to the angel. He imagines himself present at the scene and addresses Mary directly in these words:
The angel is waiting for your answer. It is time for him to return to God who sent him. We, too, are waiting, O Lady, for the word of pity… If you consent, straightaway shall we be freed; by one little word of yours shall we all be made alive. Answer, O virgin, answer the angel speedily; rather, through the angel, answer your Lord. Speak the word; and receive the Word; offer what is yours, and conceive what is of God; give what is temporal, and embrace what is eternal. Why delay? Why tremble? Believe, speak, and receive! Let your humility put on boldness, and your modesty be clothed with trust. Open, O blessed Virgin, your heart to faith; open your lips to speak; open your bosom to your Maker. Behold! The desired of all nations is outside, knocking at your door…. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.
Mary’s “yes” to God was probably the greatest act of faith a human being has ever made. Mary did not hesitate, though she asked for clarification about how the angel’s message was to come about. Once, she was assured that it was by God’s Spirit that she would become the mother of the Messiah, she responded with the total gift of herself: “Be it done unto me according to your word.”
Let us take note especially of these final words of Mary: “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”
This is the perfect response of obedience to God’s Word. It stands in contrast to the disobedience of the first Eve and constitutes Mary as the new Eve, the mother of all those who will be born again through Christ. Mary anticipates the response of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when, after expressing his human fear and desire to escape the suffering and death he foresaw, he went on to say “Let your will be done, not mine” (Luke 22: 43). Mary is the one “who hears the Word of God and keeps it.” She is the one in whom the seed of God’s work fell on good ground and produced 100%.
At the beginning of this Novena to Our Lady, let us entrust ourselves to Mary’s motherly love as we struggle to say ‘yes’ to God’s Word in the circumstances of our own lives, so that Christ may live in our hearts and transform our lives.