The month of May is dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Most Catholic schools will be having May Crowning of Our Lady, and many parishes will begin daily rosary before mass.
During the month of May, I will devote all Sunday homilies to the topic of Blessed Mother. This is in response to request from some folks who have asked me if I could teach few classes or "refresher course" on Blessed Mother. Perhaps Sunday homily will be the best place to do so. Also I want to let you know that on Sunday, May 17, 3PM here at Mater Dolorosa Church, we'll recite rosary, I'll give reflections on Blessed Mother, have benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and conclude with May Crowning by our parish children.
This week was a week of funerals. There were three. And I can also summarize it as a week of funerals for mothers. Since I'm new here in the parish, I did not have a chance to get to know the mothers who have passed from this world to the next. Often families of these mothers request something specific. "Father, we don't want a generic homily. Our mother was special, and she deserves a special homily." Usually at funeral homilies we the priests and deacons focus on how Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus, to redeem the world by his passion, death, and resurrection. And just as Jesus was raised from the dead, all of us who have died in Christ through baptism, will rise with him and enjoy eternal life. They would say, "We know that Father. But our mother made Jesus present by the way she lived her life." When I ask, "How did your mother make Jesus present by her life," they reply with stories of how their mother made sure that everyone was fed, clothed, and loved. They tell how when someone was sick in the family, their mother brought hot food, stayed with them overnight at hospital, and made sure that they weren't left alone. They tell how their mother baked the best upside-down cakes and cookies for birthdays. They also tell how their mother raised a garden full of beautiful flowers. For the family, there is no perfect 10 to 15 minute homily that can capture their mother's love for them.
When we as Catholics talk about our own Mother Mary and our love for her, we often are criticized for over-emphasizing her at the expense of her Son, Jesus. Some even go as far as suggest that Catholics make Mary another god or deify her. The following are some common questions that Catholics are asked regarding Mary.
- If Jesus is the one Mediator between God and the human race, why do we need Mary and why do we need to pray to her to intercede for us?
- Nowhere in the Bible do living Christians honor deceased saints in heaven. Isn't praying to Mary who deceased 2,000 years ago really a form of consulting spirits or seeking oracles from the dead, which is forbidden by the Bible?
1. Did Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli teach that Mary was a virgin at least until Jesus’ birth? (Yes)
2. Did Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli teach that Mary is blessed among all women? (Yes)
3. Did Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli teach that it was appropriate for Christians to honor and venerate Mary? (Yes)
4. Did Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli teach that Mary was a virgin for her entire life, before and after Jesus’ birth? (Yes)
5. Did Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli say that Mary was overemphasized by the Roman Catholic Church? (No)
6. Did Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli say that Protestant teachings about Mary should be different from Roman Catholic teachings about Mary? (No)
By the way, these questions were asked by a Protestant minister to his congregation (Rev. Ken Collins). On some questions, many missed it. Our Catholic beliefs about Mary, the minister said, "is a major issue for Protestants today, but it was a relatively minor issue for the Protestant Reformers. If Calvin, Luther, or Zwingli preached about Mary in a Protestant church today, the congregation would think it was a Roman Catholic sermon."
He also said, "At the time of the Protestant Reformation, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians all agreed that Mary was a virgin, not just at the time of Jesus’ birth, but for her entire life. You’ve heard the explanation that Jesus’ “brothers” were really His cousins? You may be surprised to learn that that was John Calvin’s opinion! Ulrich Zwingli especially emphasized Mary’s perpetual virginity. All three also agreed that Mary is blessed among all women, and that it is right for Christians to honor and venerate her. Martin Luther taught that Mary was born without sin and he continued his devotions to the Virgin Mary until his death."
Let's go back to the two common questions that others ask us Catholics regarding Blessed Mother. The first question says, if Jesus is the one Mediator between God and human race, why Mary and why pray to Mary? We Catholics believe that Jesus is the one Mediator between us and the Heavenly Father. Yet St. Paul says in 1 Timothy (1 Tim 2:1-4), "I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be offered for everyone...This is good and pleasing to God our savior..." Is St. Paul denying one Mediatorship of Jesus when he asks Christians to offer prayers for each other? No. What he's talking about is primary and secondary mediation. Jesus is always the primary mediator. Blessed Mother, the Saints, and we are secondary mediators. When someone asks me to pray for their sick mother in a nursing home, I'm a secondary mediator.
The second question asks, if Bible prohibits us from praying to deceased persons, isn't praying to Mary same as calling up the spirits or consulting oracles? We find that the author of the Book of Revelation honors deceased saints in heaven: "These are they who were not defiled with women; they are virgins and these are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been ransomed as the first fruits of the human race for God and the Lamb." (Rev. 14:4) If Jesus who died and rose again is worshiped as God of the living, those who died with Him through baptism and now are with Him in heaven are just as "alive" as those who are alive here on earth.
Now that some of these obstacles are set aside, I want to go back to the funeral homily. As I've said, every mother is special, and she deserves special homily. I also said, no 10 to 15 minute generic homily will ever be able to justify the depth, breadth, and width of our own mother's love. So here is a challenge for you. If Jesus asked you to come up with a funeral homily for his mother, how will you approach it? Certainly Blessed Mother was one of a kind mother to Jesus, and he will expect you to come up with a very special one and not a generic one. What qualities and virtues about her will you talk about? It's bit daunting, isn't it?
In upcoming three Sundays, I will cover three different titles of Blessed Mother: "Mary, the New Eve," "Mary, the Mother of God," and "Mary, the Ark of the Covenant." We'll look at the biblical basis for these titles and try to comprehend the profound role that Blessed Mother played in God's plan of salvation. I'll be borrowing much of the material from a professor of scripture named Dr. Brant Pitre who taught one of my scripture classes at Notre Dame Seminary. [His lectures can be purchased at this link.]