Our Gift to Mary on the Feast of Her Nativity
Tomorrow is an unusual observance in the life of the Church. We celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Why is this unusual? After all, it seems absolutely natural to celebrate a birthday, in fact, some might say it would be unusual not to celebrate the birthday of a beloved family member or friend. On the other hand, in our liturgical life, it is more typical for saints to be honored for the day they were “born” into heaven, rather than when they were born into the world.
Since Mary was always sinless, she is honored even for her birth on earth and her Immaculate Conception, which we celebrated nine months ago, on December 8, as well as her entry into heaven on the Solemnity of the Assumption on August 15. Like every Marian feast, we celebrate Our Lady’s nativity because it tells us something about Jesus.
The Church’s attention to Mary – our love for her – is based on her relationship to Jesus Christ. Her son is God’s eternal Word who came to dwell among us, when he was born of Mary. Christmas, the Nativity of Our Lord, is the feast we celebrate to tell the story of how Jesus came to reveal to us who God is, to teach us the meaning of life, and to help us live.
One of the reasons we celebrate birthdays is to honor what makes the person with the birthday so special to us. Last year, on this feast of the Nativity of Mary, Pope Francis took up this theme and pointed out that one special gift of Mary is what she teaches us about being helpful.
We learn in the Gospel of Luke that after her visit from the Archangel Gabriel, Mary “went with haste” to be with her cousin Elizabeth and to lend a hand in all of the preparations that come along with preparing for the birth of a baby. Pope Francis points out that this “helpfulness” is an act of discipleship. Jesus too, calls all of his followers to be ready to help. “Making a difference and helping others does not have to be done on a grand scale, he said, but entails doing everyday things ‘with tenderness and mercy’” (Angelus Address, September 7, 2014).
We also celebrate birthdays by offering gifts, and so I would like to invite you to consider giving Our Blessed Mother a very special gift this year. Many of you learned at Mass this past weekend of the present we hope to give Pope Francis in the form of a pledge to #WalkWithFrancis. If you made a pledge, thank you! If you were out of town over the weekend, I invite you to visit WalkWithFrancis.org and make a gift of prayer, service or action in love of Jesus and to honor Mary by following her example. Whether you made the pledge at Mass or online, I encourage you to ask a friend to accompany us in celebrating Mary’s birthday by also joining our pledge drive.
When Pope Francis spoke of Mary’s attitude of helpfulness, he pointed out how easy it is when we see something that needs to be done, when we are faced with the reality of very serious and large challenges – such as the care for the environment or the violence plaguing our cities this summer or the persecution of our Christian sisters and brothers in the Middle East – to sit back and think that someone else will take care of it. The giving of ourselves through the #WalkWithFrancis initiative is an opportunity to be that someone else. Moreover, helping the people we encounter in our neighborhoods and streets or volunteering at Catholic Charities or praying for suffering Christian refugees and urging public leaders to act to protect them or helping to bring peace to our neighborhoods are all small but important steps in imitation Jesus’ life of self-giving love.
What a wonderful gift it would be in honor of Mary’s birthday if each of us was to take a few minutes today to thank our Lord Jesus for the gift of his Mother and then model our own lives after her life of love and service.