Updated: 6 days ago
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Today, we again honor the Blessed Virgin Mary; today under the title, the Mother of God. This title has been attributed to Mary for nearly two thousand years, and it does have certain biblical roots. I’ll mention one.
You may remember that scene from the gospel according to Luke. After Mary had conceived Jesus, she visited her cousin, Elizabeth, who at the time was pregnant with him who would eventually be known as John the Baptist. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, she was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit inspired her to cry out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?”
…The Mother of my Lord… In the original text of this passage, which was ancient Greek, the word used here for Lord is, “Kyrios,” which you may recognize, since we use the invocative form of that word at the start of every Mass: “Kyrie, eleison, Criste eleison, Kyrie, eleison”… Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy. Kyrios was the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, Adon, which means, “Lord”. Adonai means, “my Lord”. That’s how the Hebrews referred to God.
The ancient Hebrews rarely (or never) uttered the name of God out loud. Long ago when Moses had asked God for his name, God said, “I Am”. In Hebrew, that’s written with the letters, Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey, which are written in English as Y-H-W-H; the consonants in the name, YaHWeH. The four Hebrew letters could be written in sacred scripture, but when pronounced aloud, out of reverence for God, a person would simply say, Adon or Adonai—my Lord. When Elizabeth asked Mary, “How is it that the Mother of my Lord should come to me,” her meaning was, “How is it that the Mother of my God should come to me?”
Now, a very long time ago, around the 5th century, the archbishop of Constantinople whose name was, Nestorius, objected to that title: Mother of God. Nestorius argued that Sacred Scripture speaks about the life, suffering, and death of Christ, not God. And so, in his mind, it was more accurate to call Mary the “Mother of Christ”, rather than the “Mother of God”.
But Saint Cyril, who was the Archbishop of Alexandria, disagreed with him. Cyril argued that God can’t be separated from anything he did or said in his earthly life. Jesus’ Godliness can’t be separated from his humanity in any way, shape, or form. There’s no dichotomy between the two. They’re united seamlessly in Jesus. Contrary to other philosophical speculations at the time, God did not divinize an existing human being into becoming his Son; nor did God simply appear to be human without actually being human. No.
God, while remaining God, actually did become human, and there is no separation or confusion between Jesus’ human and divine natures. God was conceived as a human being. God was born. God aged, as had requirements as other human beings do. God suffered on the Cross. God died on the Cross—truly.
And Mary is the mother of that God. Mary is not the mother of a nature, neither human nor divine. She is the mother of a Person: Jesus. Like all human infants and children, Jesus had to be initiated and raised in his humanity. The first sounds Jesus distinguished with his human ears were observed and learned from Mary’s lips and voice. The first face he recognized with his human eyes was the face of his mother. Unable to crawl or walk as an infant, he had to watch and discover the world from the arms of Mary, who carried him from placed to place. He learned language from his mother. He learned the faith that he himself created as God Mary and Joseph.
God did not merely pretend to be human. He was and is human—even now. He is human in the fullest sense. In his resurrected body, he already foreshadows the existence which is our destiny and inheritance.
And so, the Council of Ephesus in the 5th Century, guided by the Holy Spirit, sided with Saint Cyril, and affirmed that Mary is very appropriately invoked as, the “Mother of God”. This title, which refers to Mary, is a reminder to us that God truly did become part of human history by entering into it and acting in it as a human being. His life is the central event in world history. Today, we celebrate the 2023rd year of our Lord: 2023 A.D. (Anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi—In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ).
I want to end with a quote from the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, perhaps one of his most famous lines: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.
That’s what it means to be Christian: to have encountered Jesus Christ, the event where God chose to become human, even so far as to be conceived and to be born; to have encountered the Person, Jesus Christ, and to allow that friendship to open up the world to you and to me, and to guide us in the way of peace. May God bless you.
La Inmaculada del Escorial, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. c. 1660 – 1665. Oil on canvas. Museo del Prado. [PUBLIC DOMAIN]