Tuesday, December 21, 2010

There's Something About Mary

One of the things many Christians do not understand, is Catholics veneration of Mary. We do not worship her, we simply honor and respect her for what she was--a saint who was more than a figurine you drag out every Christmas as part of your Nativity scene.
Other than hearing the "Virgin Mary" mentioned in the Nicene Creed every Sunday, you rarely hear Mary's name discussed during Mass unless she is part of the rotated scripture readings or at a special Mass. But we have tremendous respect for her. Catholics aren't unique in this regard, most Orthodox Christian denominations, some Anglicans and Lutherans venerate Mary as well.

Why should Mary be venerated and considered more than simply Mother of Jesus?

Ark of the New CovenantMary was the Ark of the New Covenant. To understand this concept and the true meaning behind it, remember the following scriptures in John Chapter 1:
  • John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.

  • John 1:14: And then the Word became flesh

The Word became flesh in Jesus Christ.
Also remember the Ark of the Covenant which was a vessel containing the Tablets of Stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed:

  • Exodus 26:34: Put the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law in the Most Holy Place.
  • Exodus 40:3: Place the ark of the covenant law in it and shield the ark with the curtain.
  • Hebrews 9:4: which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.
  • Revelation 11:19: Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.
Mary carried Jesus in her womb. Jesus came into the world and turned it upside down with a New Covenant of Love that was recorded and written in the New Testament. So in essence, Mary was the Ark of the New Covenant.
Mother of God

Mary was Jesus's mother. If you believe that Jesus was God, then Mary has to be Mother of God. To deny this would be to deny scripture and to deny that Christ was fully God and fully man. Remember what Elisabeth said to Mary?

  • Luke 1:42-43: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
The Greek word Theotokos (Mother of God) is literally translated into God-bearer or one who gives birth to God. The earliest use of the term Theotokos came in the middle of the third century (250AD) by Dionysios of Alexandria in an epistle to Paul of Samosata. And the title Mother of God was formally affirmed at the First Counsil of Ephesus in 431 AD.
Neither Martin Luther (the Father of Protestantism) and Protestant reformer John Calvin had issues with calling Mary "Mother of God."
God could have created Jesus from dust like he did Adam or from a rib like He did Eve but God wanted the full human experience. God loved us enough to be with us and fully one of us.
God also fulfilled His promise in Genesis by putting an enmity between the Serpent and the woman. The enmity God created between the serpent was Jesus Christ.
  • Genesis 3:15: And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”
Is there any coincidence that God used Mary? Eve disobeyed God by eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge casting us with the taint of original sin. God uses a woman, The Virgin Mary, to give birth to our Redeemer of sin.
Mary is just not "Mother of God", she is our mother too.

  • John 19:25-27: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Note that Jesus did not say to the disciple: "Here is your sister" to denote her as simply a female Christian. He said "Here is your mother" which has a stronger, much deeper meaning.
We have a Father and a Son, God felt we needed a Mother too.

Nobody was Closer to Jesus
Mary played a role in Jesus's very first miracle at a wedding at Cana, in fact she precipitated it asking Jesus to turn water into wine (see John 2:1-10):

  • John 2:1-3: On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

  • John 2:4: “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
  • John 2:5: His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus showed humility and obliged his mother and turned the water into the best tasting wine at the wedding feast. This closeness Mary had with Jesus, her prompting of Christ's first miracle is why Catholics believe in intercessory prayer to her--especially via meditation with a Rosary.

Queen of Heaven
Mary is Queen of Heaven. Revelation Chapter 12 is our scriptural proof. Mary is the woman and the dragon is Satan symbolically revealed in Revelation Chapter 12.
  • Revelation 12:1-2: A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
Some Protestant scholars (perhaps in an attempt to nullify the importance of Mary?) believe that the woman mentioned in Revelation Chapter 12 refers to Israel and that the twelve stars on the woman's head represent the 12 tribes of Israel.
But the last verse in that chapter reveals otherwise. Who does the dragon, enraged at the woman, wage war against?
  • Revelation 12:17: Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus
If the woman was to represent Israel, did all of the woman's offspring (Israelis) hold fast their testimony to Jesus? No, not all of Israel were Christians. This is proof that the symbolism of the woman is Mary and Mary's offspring is Christ's church (those who hold fast to the testimony of Jesus).

Mary said Yes to God

When the angel Gabriel asked Mary to mother our savior, she said humbly accepted:
  • Luke 1:38: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Most importantly, what you can take from this blog this Christmas, is the fact that Mary said yes to God, she followed Jesus and nobody was closer to him.
This is what we Christians should do and strive for every second of our life.

Peace be with you,

© Michael J. Cox

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Real Gift of Christmas

With Christmas fast approaching, many probably wonder, what gifts will be left for them under the Christmas tree this year. As a kid, I always remember getting that one special gift each Christmas: "I've got a tough assignment for you" Talking GI-Joe, the electric race track that entertained me and the family cat for hours, Electric Football with the Kansas City Chiefs players who quickly vibrated straight for the sidelines each play.

So we are all probably wondering...

What will be the best gift we receive this Christmas?

As an RCIA sponsor, this was shared with me in my parish RCIA class and I think it is appropriate here:

The Difference Between Santa & St. Nicholas

Santa Claus belongs to childhood;
St. Nicholas models for all of life.

Santa Claus, as we know him, developed to boost Christmas sales—the commercial Christmas message;
St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all—the hope-filled Christmas message.

Santa Claus encourages consumption;
St. Nicholas encourages compassion.

Santa Claus appears each year to be seen and heard for a short time;
St. Nicholas is part of the communion of saints, surrounding us always with prayer and example.

Santa Claus flies through the air—from the North Pole;
St. Nicholas walked the earth—caring for those in need.

Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem;
St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.

Santa Claus isn't bad;
St. Nicholas is just better.

—J. Rosenthal & C. Myers

See: Who is St. Nicholas?


As far as what will be the best Christmas gift this season, maybe the above will cause us to refocus. Let's take a look at our Savior and what gifts he left behind.

There are quite a few Christian denominations who subscribe to the Sola Scriptura ("by Scripture alone") doctrine--one of the five solas developed by Martin Luther.

Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. The belief that "Scripture interprets Scripture" and the Bible is sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine. Hold on to this concept for a minute. If scripture was able to interpret scripture properly, why do we have 25,000 different Christian denominations? Knowledge is important but the New Testament was written after Christ's Death.

So what did Jesus leave behind for us?

Jesus didn't leave us a Bible. Besides a legacy of love, Our Lord and Savior, left behind two important things.

1) His Church:

  • Matthew 16:18-19: "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Jesus said this shortly before predicting his own death. He entrusted Peter with authority over His earthly church which mirrors Isaiah 22:20-22.

Apostolic Succession is confirmed in the book of Acts (Acts 1-15-27) and in Acts Chapter 20:

  • Acts 20:28: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

The Holy Bible is important. The Holy Bible contains Truth. We know that Jesus quoted from scripture..."For it is written"...to teach but what does scripture tell us is the pillar and foundation of the truth?

  • 1 Timothy 3:15: if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth

Reading the Holy Bible and knowledge is important. As St. Jerome once said: "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ."

Father John Corapi, who has five advanced degrees in theology, has said that if knowledge was the key to sainthood, he was sure that he had enough knowledge to be canonized a Saint someday. But as he correctly noted, knowledge is not what makes one a Saint. Most of the Saints were not overly educated people.

If the Holy Bible was the most important thing Christ wanted to leave behind, He could have taken a tree and turned it into a million bibles and handed them to his disciples. But not everyone can read, not everyone can see. The most important things Jesus Christ left behind was His example of love, His church and the Holy Spirit.

2) The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is needed to properly read and interpret scripture and the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins was the last gift the Resurrected Jesus left behind.

  • John 20:21-23: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Proof that the Holy Spirit was passed on by Apostle Paul (not one of the original 12 apostles) can be found in Acts 19:1-7

What are the fruits of the Holy Spirit?

Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

The above embodies the Spirit of Christ and what the Spirit of Christmas should be. We all probably have a good working knowledge of what is right and wrong, what is good or evil and sometimes we can probably recite the scripture.

The Holy Bible is a "Do-It-Yourself Manual" but you cannot do it yourself very well without proper spiritual guidance and the aid of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is needed to guide us into doing what is right to avoid sin.

Having been to numerous churches over my lifetime, I have never been able to find a church that connects me more to the Holy Spirit than the Catholic Church. The gifts of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Communion which renews my baptismal promise and helps keep me alive in Christ and helps me from getting disconnected from the Holy Spirit.

So this Christmas, remember the greatest gifts Christ left behind. And the circumstances and situations in which he gave them--shortly before his death and returning from the tomb. And the greatest gift of all if we choose to receive it.

John 6:47: "Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life."

Have a very Merry Christmas!

A recommended video to watch, click HERE

Peace be with you,

© Michael J. Cox