Sunday, January 1, 2012

Names…

Mary Mother of God 2012:

    What's in a name? All you parents out there know the burden of naming your children. You want to make sure you pick a good name because it will stay with your child for all time. Names were quite important in the ancient world as well. Names and titles were great ways to pass along deep truths. Today we complete the octave of Christmas by venerating Mary, the mother of Jesus, under her title of the Mother of God, Theotokos in Greek. And, in the old calendar this day was celebrated as the holy name of Jesus, since on at his circumcision he received his name. I think both of these names can teach us something important.

    Of all the teachings of the Church, Marian doctrines are often misunderstood. It is easy to recognize that Mary is important in the Catholic Church. Whenever you walk into most Catholic churches you will see statues of Mary, pictures of Mary, perhaps the Church is even dedicated to Mary, there are great Marian shrines throughout the world. We teach some pretty amazing things about Mary: she is the ever-virgin Mother of God, conceived without sin, who was assumed into heaven. Non-Catholics are often confused and even scandalized by the attention we pay to this virgin of Nazareth. And it is certainly true that Marian devotion can go to extremes, but this does not mean that we should cast out devotion altogether. This is why I think the title of Mother of God can be quite helpful for us.

    The first thing it implies is a relationship: mother. A woman is a mother to a child. The child in this case, of course, is Christ. So if we venerate Mary as the Mother of God, this veneration will always lead us to her child. If we venerate Mary by herself, we go astray: Mary always points to Jesus. And who is Jesus? Mother of God reminds us of our belief in the son of God: this child of Nazareth is no ordinary child, he is God made manifest. Mother of God is a title that teaches us the truth about who Jesus is. Mary is his mother, this could not be if he were not fully human, but she is the Mother of God, which teaches us that Jesus is fully divine. So, if we renew our devotion to Mary under the title of the Mother of God, she will lead us to her divine son, who is fully God and fully human.

    Today we hear that the Mother of God took Jesus to the temple where he was circumcised and receives his name. Jesus is united with us in that he went through a human childhood. His name also tells us something important about his unity with humanity. The name Jesus, Yeshua, means "Yahweh Saves." This baby in the manger is on a rescue mission. His very name implies this fact. Every time we invoke the name of Jesus it gives us a powerful reminder that God saves us. This can be quite helpful when we are in trouble. In our times of need there is perhaps nothing better we can do than simply call on the name of Jesus: God saves, God saves, Jesus, Jesus.

    I don't think we often stop to ponder the two names we venerate today. But, if we were to do so I think it would strengthen our faith. When we remember that Mary is the Mother of God it reminds us that Jesus took from Mary our human nature. He has a human mother, just as we do. Yet, she is the Mother of God; Jesus is the son of God. In his humanity, we are all united to Christ, but in his divinity he unites us to God. Just by invoking the title Mother of God we are reminded of this great mystery. And, why did Jesus come to make this marvelous unity: Yeshua, God saves. God so desired to save the world that he sent his Son into the world, who took the name "God Saves" so that we might remember God's love for all time.

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