Mary, Mother of God
The Perfect Guide to Salvation
Mary, Mother of God holding the infant Jesus
By Father Michael Anthony Sisco
Our two high feasts of the entire year; Christmas and Easter, are too big and too significant to contain the celebrating in a single day. Therefore our celebration of both Christmas and Easter goes on for eight days (the Octave). Why eight days?
How many days did it take God to bring creation into existence? Seven days. So in Scripture, seven always represents a complete span of time. The eighth day then represents an everlasting day. The 8th day represents eternity. So we celebrate Christmas and Easter in eight days because in heaven we will celebrate the Christmas and Easter that never end.
But what is interesting is that within the eight days following Christmas, we are given the pattern for Christian living, explained through the feasts themselves.
The day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of Saint Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, because the day after Christmas we are reminded of what being a follower of Christ might cost us. On the feast of Saint Stephen we are reminded that being a Christian means we must lay ourselves down for the Lord, even to our own lives.
The following day we celebrate the feast of Saint John the evangelist, because that is the second call of Christianity, sharing our faith with others, proclaiming the good news to a desperate world.
Then the feast of the Holy Innocents, the children that Herod slaughtered in his attempt to kill Christ. In that feast we are reminded of the sacredness of life, and our responsibility to defend those who cannot defend themselves.
Then we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. In that feast we are reminded that the family is one of the major pillars on which the Church rests, and we have a need to preserve and protect the family.
Christmas ends with the Epiphany, in which we remember the wise men, the magi bringing gifts to Jesus. That feast reminds us to always seek the Lord diligently, like they did, and to give the Lord the best of ourselves, not just materially, but spiritually.
And in the midst of all of these feasts, we take a moment to consider the Mother, the humble virgin, the one whose ‘yes’ to God changed history forever. We consider her now, because her life is the sum and perfection of all these feasts. Well, what do I mean by that?
The first feast after Christmas is that of Stephen the martyr. Mary was never martyred, you say! Oh yes she was! Maybe not physically, but Mary had to choose to lay her life down for the Lord. When she said yes to the archangel, Mary knew the penalty for being caught pregnant without a husband was death. That’s a martyr's spirit. She displayed that spirit again when she shared every blood-soaked step of Calvary with her Son.
Well what about the feast of Saint John? Mary wasn’t an evangelist! Oh yes she was! What is the first thing Mary did when the angel left her? She journeyed to her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. As soon as Mary receives the Lord, she shares him with others! And in that beautiful exchange between the two women, Mary recites that wonderful prayer, giving her whole praise to God. That’s evangelism par excellence!
In the feast of the Holy Innocents, Mary and Joseph are willing to uproot their whole lives and start over in Egypt, to protect the life of Christ. As preserver of the family we see something interesting. Mary is Immaculately Conceived. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. And yet both of them defer to the authority of Saint Joseph. They don’t leave Joseph out in the cold. They recognize his authority. And so does God! Please take note that before Mary and Joseph are married, the archangel speaks to Mary, but afterthey’re married, the angel only speaks to Joseph.
Another thing, even though Jesus is ready to start his ministry at twelve years old, Jesus instead learned how to be a carpenter from Joseph for thirty years! Imagine this if you will. Jesus is the all powerful God of the universe! It was Jesus who was there before time began, saying in the book of Genesis, “Let there be light!” Boom! It was. “Let there be vegetation!” Boom! It was. Now here’s Saint Joseph saying, “Hey Jesus! Come on over here and let Dad show you how to use a saw!” THIS IS GOD HE WAS TALKING TO!! “Cool pop. Come on over here and let me show you how to make an aardvark.” But Mary and Jesus don’t belittle Joseph. Despite Mary being sinless, and Jesus being omnipotent, they defer to the authority of this mortal, flawed man.
And in being the perfect image of the Epiphany, like the Magi, Mary diligently sought the Lord her whole life long. We see it in the Gospel where the Holy Family encounter the shepherds that come to the nativity and tell them what the angel proclaimed to them. The Gospel says that “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.” That’s what diligently seeking the Lord means. We pray, we contemplate, we ponder, and we try to discern where the Lord is leading us. So it is very appropriate that we begin the New Year with a Feast Day considering the Mother of God. Because the Mother is, in every sense, our perfect guide to salvation.
--Father Michael Anthony Sisco