Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, . . . .”
We might very well be wondering why, on this Feast of our Lady and Mother, we hear the Scriptures that we do. The Apostle’s Epistle to the Church at Philippi emphasizes our Lord’s kenosis, which means, the emptying of Himself, which is another way of saying, His holy condescension. Our Lord Jesus, then,
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but [Who nonetheless] made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a bondservant, and was made in the likeness of men. And [if that were not enough] being found in the fashion of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death – even the death of the Cross.
Clearly, as we heard last Sunday in the reading from St. Paul’s Romans, out of the greatest love humanly comprehensible, our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ voluntarily chose “not [to] please Himself,” but instead took upon Himself all the reproaches sinners could heap upon God (Rm. 15:3). In other words, He condescended, He lowered Himself, for the love of God His Father and for us all. The Apostle says that the Son of God became a slave “for us men and for our salvation” and became obedient, even to the point of dying voluntarily (Nicene Creed). In another apostolic writing, it is said of Jesus that,
in the days of His flesh, . . . He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him Who was able to save Him from death, . . . [T]hough He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered (Hb. 5:7-8).
And, again, the holy Evangelist, Luke, notes in his Gospel a distinct characteristic of the Child, Jesus, that returning with His Mother and their guardian, Joseph the Betrothed, to the town of Nazareth following His three day adventure in the Temple at Jerusalem where He sat at the feet of the teachers, both listening to them and asking questions, Jesus “was subject [obedient] to them, . . . .” (Lk. 2:51). Thus, learning obedience, that is, actually becoming obedient (though He is God), even to the death of the Cross, “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the Name which is above every name, . . . .”
Turning once more to St. Luke, we hear of another Mary – not the Theotokos – who is lauded by our Lord for having chosen “’the one thing needed, that good part, which will not be taken away from her’” (Lk. 10:38-42; 11:27-28). This Mary is presented as a counter-balance to her sister, Martha, whose frenzy and anxiety drives her to distraction. Her concerns to play the hostess and tend to the needs of her guests, though admirable, have nonetheless fragmented her so, that she is incapable of the one thing that is needed, that is, Jesus Christ Who is the Bread of Heaven come down to the home of Mary and Martha (Jn. 6:22-69).
This Gospel pericope is capped off with the dominical word, that is, a word from our Lord, to a woman who sang the praises of His own Mother whose womb had borne Him at whose breasts Jesus once nursed. “More than that,” says Jesus, “’blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it!’” Some of our Protestant brethren hear in these words spoken by Jesus that He is taking a swipe at His Mother and they are used to justify the Protestant depreciation, if not outright, dismissal of our “most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos, and Ever-Virgin Mary.” But, really, He’s not doing that at all. He’s actually saying, “Yes, indeed, blessed is My Mother’s womb that bore Me and her breasts that nursed Me. But, moreso, is she who heard the Word of God and obeyed it!”
In her death, as in her life, Mary of Nazareth, the most holy and blessed Virgin Mother of God incarnate, who is “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim,” remains par excellence the disciple of her Son and Lord and the quintessential icon of discipleship to be imitated by us who are her sons and daughters through the grace of her beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord! We find her quietly present in the Sacred Scriptures as well as Holy Tradition. She is far from boisterous, not at all seeking the limelight as the Mother of God. We find her prayerfully pondering the true treasure, not of the Magi, but of the shepherds’ witness to the angelic visitation announcing the Gospel – the glad tidings of great joy, “’For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord. . . .’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!’” (Mt. 2:11; Lk. 2:10-11, 13-14). “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart,” St. Luke tells us (Lk. 2:19, 51).
To those who come seeking her intercessions (Jn. 2:1-11), she points them ever to her Master and God, wisely re-directing them as the Mediatrix to her beloved Saviour and Son, Jesus Christ. Even her death leads us to her beloved Child, Jesus. She continues to gently point us to Him Who is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn. 11:25) – her Resurrection and Life – and she bids us, just as she has always done, to listen to Him, to contemplate His words and His ways. “’Whatsoever He says to you, do it,’” is our Lady’s good counsel born of her personal experience as the very first disciple of the incarnate God (Jn. 2:5). In truth, wise children of the New Eve obey the words of her beloved Son and God because He, and He alone, has the words of Eternal Life. His words are “’spirit and life’” (Jn. 6:63). This was the conclusion testified to by St. Peter following the departure of many who had followed Jesus up until the point of all Jesus’ talk about eating His Body and drinking His blood. There is no other to whom any of us can go if we truly desire God’s Eternal Life (Jn. 6:66-69). “[F]or there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Ac. 4:12). Because Jesus, and Jesus only, has been “given . . . the Name which is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, . . ., and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”! And our Lady, the Mother of our God, humbly and obediently leads the way.
Obedience to our Lord is absolutely critical for the Christian soul and is absolutely essential for humility. Have this same mind in you “which was also in Christ Jesus,” which was also in His “most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mother.” “He humbled Himself [though God] and became obedient . . . .” Humility, beloved, comes to us by way of fearing God and obeying Him. And, as Sacred Scripture further attests, listening to and obeying the shepherds in whom God has placed the care of His divine, reason-endowed flock (1 Cr. 16:15-16; Pp. 2:29; Hb. 13:7, 17). When we obey God and His Word, when we fear Him and listen to Him, we die to self; we crucify ourselves with Christ God, so that it is Christ Who lives in me because I am dead to the world, dead to self: self-pleasure, self-control, self-assertion, self-will, self-exaltation, self-direction, self-love, self-importance, self-centeredness, and anything else self-conjured, yes, even self-esteem (Ga. 2:20; 6:14).
This is the way of humility and the most blessed Virgin and Mother of our God embodies it and leads the way for us to imitate her, if we are “’as wise as serpents and innocent as doves’” (Mt. 10:16). Mary – our Mary – knows what is utterly important and absolutely necessary, and she pursues it with all vigor and determination., though in a most unassuming way. She really doesn’t need to be “in your face” because Jesus Christ is her “all in all.” He is all-sufficient for her. He is her Lord, her strength, her foundation, her refuge, and her deliverer (Ps. 17 :1-2). And, because this is the case, she has no further need for self-esteem. She finds her solace in the grace of her creation, redemption, and sanctification. She has been created in the imago Dei, that is, the image of God, to bear the likeness of God, indeed, in the truest sense of that phrase because she has borne in her womb the “the One Who cannot be contained”!
Our holy Mother can further enlighten us in her death – her Falling Asleep – by pointing us to what the Western Church calls her Magnificat. In it, in her words which have been preserved for us as the Word of God, we can find the essence of who the holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is as a woman of deepest faith, humility, and obedience as the Handmaid of her Lord, not only in life but in death:
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden, for behold,
From henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is His Name, and
His mercy is on them that fear Him throughout all generations.
He hath showed His strength with His arm; He hath scattered the
proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the
humble and meek; He hath filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He hath sent empty away.
He remembering His mercy hath holpen His servant Israel, as He
promised to our forefathers, Abraham, and his seed, forever (Lk. 1:46-55).
“Let this mind be in you, [beloved,] which was also in Christ Jesus,” which also was in His Mother whose holy Dormition we commemorate today. Let this be our mind, our way, our life, our heart’s desire because it is full of Jesus Christ. It exudes Jesus Christ. Let it give shape and form and substance to our lives, conforming us to the image of the Son of God (Rm. 8:29). It is the fragrance and aroma of the incense of Jesus Christ Who burns within us, just as He did in His most holy Mother and first disciple. Let us listen with her as she received the angelic word as God’s own Word, in the fear of God, and with faith and love: “And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Lk. 1:38).
Now, that very angel is among others who come to receive this “most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary,” who is “higher than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim.” She is the enfleshment of what we all are called to enflesh by the grace of our God Who dwells even in us. Those who are humbled will be lifted up by God in due time (1 Pe. 5:6).
Most holy Theotokos, save us!
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Lk. 10:38-42; 11:27-28