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Terrance KleinDecember 31, 2017
Botticelli c. 1480 Madonna of the BookBotticelli c. 1480 Madonna of the Book

Christmas is a not a disposable feast. Though, admittedly, if Christmas is no more than a holiday, it’s already on the curb and cast out of mind. But Christmas is a mystery of our faith, which means that its significance can never be fully fathomed by us. That’s why we celebrate the feast, for eight days, each year. The mystery grows deeper as we grow wiser.

This feast of Mary entered the orbit of Christmas very early in the church’s life. Like so much of our Marian piety, it came about through conflict over the identity of Christ, not Mary. The heretic priest Arius had denied the divinity of Christ. Quoting constantly from the scriptures, his followers considered Christ to be superhuman, far above us, yet equally far below God. In 431, at the Council of Ephesus, the church gave Mary the title “Mother of God” or Theotokos (God-bearer, in the Greek) to affirm that Jesus, from the first moment of his human existence, even in the womb of the Virgin, was truly God and truly man. Hence the maternal title for Mary.

God entered the world not to return it to its origin but rather to recreate it, to lift the world into divine life.

This New Year’s feast does more than prolong the celebration of Christmas. It mines more depth from the mystery. If Christ came only to justify us before God, then Christ could have appeared among us as a grown man, ready to die. But the Word is made flesh, the word grows in wisdom and grace among us, because Christ comes to sanctify us, to raise fallen humanity into the heights of his own divinity. The western church calls this our sanctification. The eastern, our divinization. Both far outpace mere justification.

An emphasis upon justification over sanctification entered the church’s history as a way to ease sore consciences, never sure if they had done enough to merit salvation. It rightly proclaimed, “Remember, the work is first of all Christ’s.” Yet, five centuries later, perhaps it’s time to ask if justification hasn’t been whittled down to a shallow smugness about ourselves, expressed something like this: “While I may not be perfect, I’m perfectly acceptable for heaven.” Salvation becomes one more thing that we considered to be owed to us.

But Christmas is not a disposable feast! We don’t posit this mystery as nothing more than a preliminary to the passion. God entered the world not to return it to its origin but rather to recreate it, to lift the world into divine life.

We celebrate the Virgin Mary because in her, the mystery of Christmas saturates creation.

This is why the perpetual virginity of Mary and her Immaculate Conception matter so much to the church. It’s not a question of creating, in our imaginations, a receptacle worthy of Christ. Nothing on earth is worthy of Christ, and Mary would not have been found worthy, without the grace of Christ.

No, we celebrate the Virgin Mary because in her, the mystery of Christmas saturates creation. The God-child brings divinity to earth, and, in the Virgin, one small portion of the created world, is lifted entirely, without shadow or stain of sin, into God’s own life.

If you come at the mystery of Christmas from our side, you start in sin, and sin will slant your understanding. Then, Mary is a virgin because women are inherently impure. Once the savior is born, she can lay aside virginity. She and her purity are no longer needed. But to deny the perpetual virginity of Mary is to objectify her, to make her a disposable instrument. Sadly, we continue to see the very same attitude towards women today. They exist for men, for the purposes of men; they are disposable.

If you come at the mystery of Christmas from heaven, as Christ did, you will do so much more than justify the world, to end its alienation from God. You will give it a share in the life you yourself had with the Father. What was created with a natural destiny is recreated with a supernatural one. Nothing save sin itself can diminish this gift. And in the Virgin, in one human being, nothing did. By the prevenient grace of Christ she never knew sin. In the sustaining grace of Christ she remains the ever-fruitful Virgin, the new Eve for those who are born, not of the flesh but of the Spirit. Her feast opens the New Year because her flesh and her faith—she is not passive; she acts—help to form a new creation.

Christmas is not a disposable feast. It doesn’t just set the stage for the passion. That night in a Bethlehem manger, a new creation came to birth. A new Adam and a new Eve once again stood in unity of purpose with ox and ass.

Mary is not disposable. She doesn’t preserve her Son from the taint of woman, so often identified with the stain of sin. Christ is the champion. He preserves himself from sin by destroying sin. As a woman, Mary alone is the perfect fruit of his new creation, sprung from this sacred, ever-green seed of heaven, which was planted in the dead of winter.

Readings: Numbers 6: 22-27 Galatians 4: 4-7 Luke 2: 16-21

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Bruce Snowden
5 years 9 months ago

Excellent! Illuminating! "Honey from the Comb," as St. Bernard might say! The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God, Mother of the Church, humankinds "Solitary Boast" in and through Jesus her Son and our Redeemer-Brother. Yes, non-disposable, women rightfully "ordained" by God to share and emulate by nature the spiritual and material DNA of the Theotokos, the highest endowment in the Church ennobling the People of God, a natural gift in Christ through Eden, to the Daughters of Eve shared supernaturally through Grace with the Sons of Adam. All of this and much more through the indisposability of Christmas cuddling straw! Thank you Fr. Klein, Happy New Year!

5 years 9 months ago

Excellent reflection on Mary and Christmas. Thank you! Happy New Year, Fr. Klein.

Richard Bell
5 years 9 months ago

Yes, the fully human mother of the fully human Son of God is not disposable. Fr. Klein is right about that. Indeed, he remarks much more that is true of Mary, that fully human mother. But, Fr. Klein is not right -- not obviously right -- about the perpetual virginity of Mary. (The Bible tells us that Mary conceived Jesus, the Son of God, when a virgin, but the Bible nowhere tells us that Mary, the wife of Joseph, remained a virgin, and, indeed, the Bible tells us that Jesus had brothers.) Here is Fr. Klein's only argument for the dubious attribute of perpetual virginity: "[T]o deny the perpetual virginity of Mary is to objectify her, to make her a disposable instrument." Think about this argument. Does it strike you as a blatant non sequitur? I deny the perpetual virginity of Sarah, mother of Isaac; have I made her a disposable instrument? Have I even suggested that she exists "for men, for the purposes of men"? I deny the perpetual virginity of Abraham; have I suggested that he exists for women, for the purposes of women? Fr. Klein's argument seems like a blatant non sequitur to me. Please, help me see it otherwise!

5 years 9 months ago

I would like to join the discussion sending my book MARY THE UNWED MOTHER OF GOD (Xulon Press, June, 2017) to whoever asks me for it at gpgpalacios@gmail.com. It complements Fr. Klein's article. May 2018 bring us Peace and Love, AMDG, Gonzalo T. Palacios, PhD, author.

Joris Heise
5 years 9 months ago

I thought you might find my daily blog for January 1 of some value to supplement your own. (The "translation" is my own--an understanding rather than a translation.)

Good News for the Day, January 1, 2018
Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
The shepherds ran right over to Bethlehem quickly, they found Mary, Joseph and the baby who was lying in a manger. When they saw this, they shared what they had been told about this boy. Everybody who heard it were surprised at what had been told them by the shepherds. (Mary kept remembering everything, reflecting in her heart.) Afterwards, the shepherds went back out, thanking and praising God for everything they had heard and seen—how it was just as it had been told to them. When eight days had passed, and it was time for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the messenger even before he was conceived. (Luke 2)

In our culture, a new year begins today. We recall the past and look to a fresh start. Let us look at Mary.
For several thousand years, this singular woman, Mary, has been revered for her role in the life and times of Jesus, her son. Statues, poems, doctrines, sermons, near-adoration, churches—have all drawn our attention to her. But familiarity does breed contempt, as we are told.
She looked forward—her life stretched ahead of her like a New Year. She believed in God, our Father’s, world. She believed with hope in a future that included pain.
Her moments with Jesus in the Gospels suggest not hostility, but —something akin to respectful confrontation—faith in a challenge or problem—she deals with them in ways that keep insisting not on human relationships, but on faith, on change, on growth, or resolutions that trust God. Read her conversation with Gabriel the Messenger of Jesus’s conception, her conversation with Jesus at Cana—or when she comes with family to “bring” him home, or at the foot of the Cross.
The Good News for you and me—that her faith in a good outcome justifies the respectful acceptance of the challenge. She lives a faith that sees that power lies in trust and love for others.
The New Year can be your great change, discovery and growth in faith—the finding of boundless life and peace that her kind of faith creates.

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