Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Feast of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Celebrating Interruptions

Reading: Micah 5:1-4a or Romans 8:28-30; Psalm 13:6ab, 6c; Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23 or 1:18-23
Picture: CC Sebastiano Pitruzzello (aka gorillaradio)

It’s usually no surprise who gets to be the center of attention at birthday celebrations. The birthday celebrant, of course! After all, a birthday is a time to celebrate the gift of a particular life, and all the blessings that that life brings to the rest of us. And so, it may at first be more than a little surprising that on the day when we celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the spotlight seems to be on someone else. Although our readings do refer to the our Blessed Mother, we seem drawn not so much to focus our attention on her as to consider how the birth of Jesus Christ came about… The gospel provides us with a lengthy genealogy of Jesus, as well as a description of how Jesus came to be born in the household of David. What, we may well wonder, does all this have to do with Mary?

To answer this question, perhaps it’ll be helpful for us simply to follow the lead of our readings. Two things – two rather paradoxical aspects – may stand out for us when we consider how the eternal God takes flesh in time and space. The first is how Jesus’ arrival springs quite spontaneously from the natural course of human living. In Jesus, God doesn’t come among us as a spectacular and extraordinary revelation from on high. There’s no blinding flash of light, no loud booming noise, nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. There’s only an orderly succession of names – Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob – at the end of which is born the baby Jesus who is called the Christ. If there is consolation to be found in this aspect of Christ’s birth, it comes to us in the realization that we don’t have to be spectacular or extraordinary individuals to experience God. God seems to delight in showing up in the humblest of situations, among the most ordinary of people.

But that’s only one side of the story. There is another, perhaps apparently less palatable, but no less consoling aspect. It is summed up in the word interruption. Listening to the litany of names in Jesus’ genealogy, for example, aren’t we struck by how the list of men is (thankfully) punctuated – interrupted – at key points by women? There is Rahab, the mother of Boaz, Ruth, the mother of Obed, Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, and finally, the one whom we celebrate today, Mary, the mother of Christ, and our mother. And, as we well know, each of these women has their own story to tell. Theirs are stories of interruptions to the deceptively smooth flow of human life and history. Much like how Jesus’ birth comes as an unsettling – even shocking – interruption to the plans and expectations of saintly Joseph. He was betrothed to Mary, but before they lived together, she was found with child… What do these considerations tell us, if not that as ordinary and unspectacular as God’s coming often seems to be, it also often encounters us as an interruption to our best laid plans.

Perhaps here is where we finally come to some appreciation of what it is we are celebrating today. Perhaps here is where we are reminded of the great gift that Mary’s life brings us. In Mary, we find the indispensable quality for welcoming and experiencing God. In Mary, we find the admirable capacity to live an ordinary human life while remaining open to the many God-filled interruptions that characterizes it. For, as we heard in the first reading, whether it is in the smooth flow of daily living, or in its disturbing interruptions, all things work for good for those who love God… To celebrate Mary is to share and to rejoice in her gift of delighting in the ordinary yet surprising ways that God comes among us, the different ways in which Jesus continues to be born into our world.

How might we better celebrate our blessed Mother’s birthday today?


  1. Last night on the way home after dinner, I drove past the Novena Church. It was brightly lit up and the crowd spilled over, occupying the entire car park in front of the Church. Then it dawned on me that it was most likely the evening Mass of the nativity of Our Lady.

    Friar Lionel Goh, o.f.m., who was for many years with the Biblical Institute in Jerusalem once gave a talk on the Old Testament figures. It was as informative as it was hilarious {if you know Friar Lionel's nature}. In his talk, he debunked the Western depiction of Mary as this petite lady with blonde hair and blue eyes. Instead, he showed us photograph after photograph of the typical Palestinian woman going about her daily chores; fetching water, buying food, doing the housework. Friar Lionel concluded that Our Lady must have looked and behaved no differently from any of them: weather-beaten, tough, resolute, looking after the needs of the family.

    When someone in the audience asked why then does Our Lady portray herself with blonde hair and blue eyes in her earthly apparitions, he intoned, deadpan: "Do you think people will still believe in her if they saw her as a tough Palestinian woman?". Yes, Our Lady truly comes down to our level.

    Today, as we commemorate the birthday of Our Lady, let us recall all of her non-physical attributes that caused her to be acclaimed "full of grace".

    Hail Mary, full of grace, the LORD is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the Fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

  2. Many a time interruption works like a rude awakening or an unexpected wake up call when everythign is going fine and dandy. It's when I least expect it that some major occurence befall and there is no way that I can prepare for its eventuality.
    I resort to asking myself Why?
    Then I wake up and ask the mirror question "Why not"? and then it dawns on me that surprises come mostly in neat joyful packages but when least expected, can be testing times to jolt us out of our complacency. How can it be otherwise? There is no way we can practise our responses but rather rest in the hope that He will lift us up and not test us beyond our capacity to endure.
    My aunt died yesterday morning after five years being struck with a stroke - bodily disabled but still with a lucid mind. If God does not allow us to be released, we will be in a perpetual state of suspended agony. Death in this case is a merciful end. It is the final interruption to life.

  3. I used to have a problem relating to Mary. Oh, I say the Hail Mary often enough. But I used to wonder, why pray to Mary when I can go straight to Jesus and God? Nothing against this amazing, holy woman. But I thought, what's the reason, advantage, purpose of going to her instead of to Jesus her son who is God?

    Maybe it is due to my lack of reverence, lack of fear and hesitation, tho still respectful, when dealing with the authoritative and powerful.

    It is only recently that I began feeling an affinity towards Mary. She is how I want to be -- readily accepting God's word, going about her life gently, yet strong in the face of her son's tragic death, and comforting to the fearful disciples after the crucifixion. She is my role model and I want to be her child, her friend.

    I don't picture her as blonde with blue eyes, because there are also statues of "black Virgins". I never thought of her as wrinkled and bent either. In my mind, she is in her 30s or 40s, with a serene face, smiling gently with open arms to comfort.

    On her birthday, I honour her and pray that I can learn from her.

  4. The message in this post is so profound and applicable to me that I want very much to celebrate interruptions.

    I believe that all things work for good for those who love God and I remember that the bible contains many accounts of interruptions which end wonderfully well for those who love God. But it is a great challenge to me not to be upset or troubled by a certain interruption in my life. It has caused me much heartache for a long time, and I've often wondered what purpose God could have with this interruption.

    During prayer just now, I felt as though the answers have been right before my eyes for quite a while, especially through the words of various people and media recently. I've been so hard of hearing!

    Heavenly Father, you are love. Let me renew my faith daily in your love.
    You are master of the future. Keep me from fear daily of what is to come.
    You have given us life and light. Let me give thanks daily for such great gifts.
    We are your hands and feet in this world. Strengthen my will to answer daily to your call and others' needs.
    May I always remember who You are to us and who we are to You, and so welcome interruptions with faith, thanks and love.

  5. Alas! The most pious intentions often break down in the heat of the moment.

    One of the problems of working from home is that the people around you refused to recognize that you are working.

    I dread it when my mother kept trying to talk to me about inane things endlessly. Things get worse when my mother's friends visit her. Many of them like to enter the room where I am working, trying to finish an urgently needed document. One of them did so yesterday afternoon. She actually stood right beside me, talked to me about some thing that I don't care about and then stared at my computer screen for a long time.

    These instances certainly do NOT look like one of those ways where God comes among us and in which Jesus continues to be born into our world. I almost growled. Grrrr!


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