On September 8, Catholic Churches across the world will celebrate the Nativity of Mary, mother of Jesus. As her day approaches, my thoughts return to the 2016 Holy Land pilgrimage I made with four priests and 10 other fellow travelers. Jerusalem was our last stop; and, on our final day there, we began with a visit to the ruins of Bethesda, where excavations have revealed a pool and covered colonnades which many believe to be the Biblical site where Jesus healed the man who had been an invalid for 38 years (John 5: 1-15).
Nearby was the Church of Saint Anne, named in honor of the traditionally accepted mother of Mary. Also, according to tradition, this church was the site of Mary`s birthplace. As we looked and admired the interior of this holy place, a jovial resident priest followed along with us and pointed out the unusual asymmetry of the church`s design. He encouraged us to sit for a moment and sing a hymn. He wanted us to experience the beautiful acoustics for which the church is known, and we truly did when our voices joined together in AMAZING GRACE and our eyes blurred with tears.
When we were walking to the door to leave, the priest asked if we had noticed the life-size marble statue of a seated Saint Anne with her young child Mary. Some of us nodded. Then he asked if we had seen the opened scroll Saint Anne was holding. Some of us faltered. With his third question, he asked if anyone noticed the writing on the scroll. All of us failed. He led us back to the statue and showed us the inscription, which referenced Deuteronomy 6:5-7. The priest, with his French accent, said the familiar words of that passage:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
This marble image of Anne, Mary and the scroll silently spoke a powerful message. I heard with my heart God`s commandment to love and obey Him and teach your children to do the same. I thought of the generations before Anne and the spiritual heritage that had been passed down to her, which she then passed on to Mary, and Mary passed on to Jesus.
God selected Mary to bear His son and to nurture, teach and guide Him as He grew. She was the chosen one from all women ever born. She found favor in God`s sight (Luke 1:30).
Mary`s life personified her heritage. She loved and obeyed the Lord when the angel told her she would bear the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38). She was the first disciple. Her belief in Jesus encouraged His first sign (miracle) at the wedding in Cana when she told Him, “They have no more wine.” (John 2:3) She then said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) She followed Jesus to Calvary where she witnessed His crucifixion. She was with Him at His birth and His death. Her love never wavered.
It is significant to note that in Jesus`s tortured, dying moments on the cross He spoke to His mother. With words of comfort and love, Jesus — referring to “the disciple whom he loved standing nearby,”—said, “Dear woman, here is your son,” (John 19:26). Jesus then said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” (John 19:27)
Vincent S. S. Coles, an Anglican priest, wrote a hymn titled “Ye Who Own the Faith of Jesus” which includes these words:
Blessed are the chosen people
Out of whom the Lord did come,
Blessed was the land of promise
Fashioned for his earthly home;
But more blessed far the mother
She who bore him in her womb.
As the mother of Jesus, our brother (Hebrews 2:11) and our savior (John 3:16), Mary is the spiritual Mother of all Christians. May we pause and offer prayers of gratitude for her life. Happy Birthday, Mother Mary.
Edrie George Royals is a Northsider.