Homilies,  Sanctoral

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, 1 January 2021

One of the most significant lessons that I have learnt in life is about the necessity and power of paradox in our lives. Spiritual experience attends to sets of opposites; it does not seek to resolve them. In the paradoxes and the intersections of our life we are, as one writer puts it, we are “stretched out amid the opposites in [our] life, between hanging on and letting go, between involvement and surrender, between deep engagement and gentle detachment.  This is [our] crucifixion and [our] joy. It is [our] crucible in all its insecurity and beauty, fragility and possibility.”[1]  

Our Christian spiritual framework lives and breathes irreducible sets of tensions – humanity and divinity, fear and love, darkness and light, death and life.  The Spirit looks for the place of blindness in order to bring vision; it seeks out the place of deafness to shout out a new message; it seeks out that place of paralysis to offer new movement.  If we want to find the God of Jesus Christ, we must go to that place of darkness awaiting light; we go to that place of emptiness awaiting fullness; we go to that place of death awaiting life.  We enter the absences of our lives occasioned by the disruption of the COVID pandemic and find the presence of new perspectives on life. We come to the endings in our life, and we look for the new beginnings, as I am during these final days at Holy Name.

As the New Year begins, we celebrate a very particular paradox: the virgin motherhood of Mary.  Mary is both virgin and mother.  This is an extraordinary contradiction.  It is at the very heart of our Catholic faith.  It is an indispensable paradox for us:  two things in apparent contradiction, Mary is both a virgin and she is a mother.  One does not negate or replace the other – she is both virgin and mother. From a biblical understanding it is precisely the reality of such a paradox that holds a great truth for us. Just as in the Incarnation, and in the person of Jesus, we encounter the paradox of humanity and divinity, not one at the expense of the other, but both co-existing, so too in Mary herself we see the mystery of a paradox.  Precisely as the virgin mother Mary is presented to us as in encapsulating what lies at the very heart of the biblical understanding of our experience of God.  She is both barren and fruitful at one and the same time; she is both empty and full at one and the same time; she is both lifeless and life-giving at one and the same time.

And yet further, this very paradox which we celebrate, indispensably in Mary, precisely as the Virgin Mother, also teaches us by what means the life of God is birthed in each of us spiritually, as it was in her physically.  The Spirit of God is conceived in us as it was in Mary in that place deep within us where the mystery of paradox is most alive – that place where our hurt and our hope touch each other. Our own emptiness becomes the place of new possibility; our own confusion becomes the place of new meaning; our own endings become the place of new beginnings.  The most unmistakable experience in the life of the Spirit which holds Mary’s virginity and motherhood in unity is that our possibilities don’t replace our emptiness, our meanings don’t follow our confusion, our new beginnings don’t leave behind our endings.  Rather, in a most remarkable way one is found in the other.  Mary herself remains barren.  She is empty, lifeless.  And at one and the same time she is fruitful, fecund and life-giving. She is so by virtue of her surrender to the Spirit of God who overshadows her, as it overshadows us, so that we might glimpse that it is to the earthen vessels of our own limitations that is given a treasure more precious than gold.  

What might this mean but that we seek to be present to one another in our struggle, confusion and searching even in the midst of our own vulnerability, inadequacy, and stuttering.  It is the ordinary that is pregnant with the extraordinary.  We touch the Perfect in the imperfect; we hold the sacred in the profane; we reach out to the limitless in the limited; we glimpse infinity in finitude.  The incarnate God comes to us in no other way.  For this reason, we can start a new year, shrouded as it is with all the uncertainty of the implications of the pandemic, in no way better way than celebrating the virgin motherhood of Mary.  

In all that we will experience in this new year may we keep coming back to ponder more deeply and to learn more fully the truth of the essential paradox at the very heart of our faith.  For life this year will generate in us, as it did for Mary, in the very midst of our paradoxes if we attend to them with her same fidelity and constancy.  Our future lies in the intersections our journeys afford us.

[1] Author and source unknown.

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