“We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,
so we too might walk in newness of life.”
– Romans 6:4 (NRSV)
As the life of Christ began with Mary, so too the life of the Christian begins with Mary. The feast of the Nativity of Mary, Mother of God, is on September 8, nine months after she was conceived by her parents, whom tradition names Joachim and Anna. This feast originated in the Christian East, where it is celebrated as the first major feast of the Church year, which begins September 1 in the Byzantine Rite. In many countries, this feast also falls near the beginning of academic and fiscal calendars. In the Latin Rite, too, December 8 and January 1 are Marian feasts, situated near the beginnings of Advent and the civil year respectively. This feast gives us the opportunity to reflect on the childhood of Mary, and the new beginning that God brought about in her and with her. Therefore I would like to make three invitations that will help us make better use of this opportunity.
Begin something new. It need not be explicitly “religious”. New classes, new people, new projects, new hobbies ALL provide opportunities to grow in virtue and go in knowledge of God’s presence. Writing about the ordinariness of Mary’s birth, modern Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann writes:
Is there anything remarkable, anything especially unique about the normal birth of a child, a birth like any other? The Church began to commemorate the event with a special feast … because, on the contrary, the very fact that it is routine discloses something fresh and radiant about everything we call routine and ordinary, it gives new depth to the unremarkable details of human life… (Homily for the Nativity of the Theotokos)
Whatever undertaking you endeavor, however, ask God for the grace of childlike innocence when approaching it. I know when I start something new, the bad spirit constantly tempts me to “adult” cynicism. “I’ll never be consistent in this new endeavor,” the bad spirit says. The grace most necessary in this moment, I believe, is that grace of innocent trust for which Our Lady is especially known. And this grace is a sharing in that newness of life which our Baptism promises.
Talk to your mother, especially on her birthday. In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius frequently invites us to imagine a conversation with the Blessed Virgin. Speak to her from your heart and imagine what she would say in response. Perhaps on this feast of her birth, you can imagine her as a young girl full of hopeful energy. Or perhaps it is easier to imagine the Mother of Sorrows – a suffering migrant, mother of a tortured son. Or perhaps you can relate best to her as an older woman, reminiscing about how her life has been transformed by the resurrection of her Son and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the case, converse with her as with a most caring mother.
Imitate your mother. The saying goes, “like mother, like child,” and personally, by praying in the above manner, I’ve found that slowly – VERY slowly – the life of Mary has been more and more formed in my spiritual life.
I define the life of Mary as this: Mary believed the word of the Lord, and treasured it in her heart. For me, this believing and treasuring of the words of the Lord mean first of all believing and treasuring the Scriptures. But in daily life it also means believing and treasuring the words of Christ present in my conscience. By meditating upon Mary, I become more aware of the dozens of times each day I come to a choice, in which I can follow the path of greater love of God and others or greater love of self. The more I ponder Mary, the more I recognize that voice inside me urging me to make the choice of selfless love not as merely some psychological function, but as the word of the Lord. The more I invoke Mary in those situations, the more I say to that voice, “Be it done to me according to your word.”
So dear reader, our mother’s birthday is coming up. How will you celebrate? How will you walk in newness of life?