Monday, January 01, 2007

Integritas and the Mother of God

(Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God; This homily was given on 1 January, 2007 at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; See Luke 2:16-21)

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Mother of God. That title is one that goes back to the early centuries of the Church, and was disputed towards the beginning of the 5th century.

At that time there was a great deal of controversy about how we should refer to Mary. Some said that she was the mother of Christ, the Son of God, so she should rightly be called the Mother of God. Others said that “Mother of God” was going too far. She gave birth to His human nature, and should simply be called Mother of Jesus of Mother of Christ.

To resolve that dispute and answer that question of what title we should use to refer to Mary, they recognized that what was needed was to go back one step further. They needed to ask the question not “Who is Mary?” but “Who is Jesus Christ?”

In our gospel this morning, the shepherds make haste to see the child born in Bethlehem. Who did they go out to see? Or, as the Christmas carol asks, “What child is this?” Was he just a man? Was He God? Perhaps half man and half God? Who is this child born in Bethlehem?

The Fathers of the Council of Ephesus, in the year 431, looked to the creeds and the foundational beliefs that had been developed centuries earlier. They looked to the Council of Nicea, in the year 325, from which we derive the Nicean Creed which we recite each week; they looked to the Apostle’s Creed. Jesus Christ is not simply human; nor is He only divine. He is fully human and fully divine, true God and true Man.

Furthermore, whenever we look at the person of Christ, we never do so in slices or in pieces. We never say, “Here is His human nature. That belongs to Mary. Now, here is His divine nature and divine personhood. That belongs to God.”

No. We look at Christ in His entirety: fully God and fully man. In Latin, the term for that is integritas. It means whole, sound or complete, and it is where we get the words integrated and integrity.

When we look at Christ we look at the whole person, in all His integrity. Mary conceived and gave birth to a child, and that child was the eternal Son of God. Therefore Mary is the Mother of God.

But when we reflect on Christ and Mary as persons of integritas, we need to look much further than their titles, how we refer to them. They were the most integrated persons who ever walked the face of the earth. In everything they did, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary were persons of integrity.

Look at the gospels. Jesus always does the right thing; He constantly speaks and acts in the most necessary and integrated way. He knew when to be patient, and when it was time to act. He knew how to be silent, and still, and at prayer; and He knew when it was time to speak up and be heard. He knew how to challenge and exhort, and how to listen and welcome and forgive. He was the most integrated man who ever lived.

Mary herself was also a woman of integritas. She always knew when and how to say “Yes,” to God. She knew just how and when to support Christ and to be involved in His life. She was the one who initiated His first miracle at the wedding in Cana. She said to Him, “They have no more wine.” When He replied, “What has that to do with me?” she deferred to the waiters and focused the attention on Christ. She knew when it was time to speak, and time to stand by in quiet attention and love, like at the foot of the cross. Jesus and His Mother were the epitome of integritas.

Today we begin a whole new year in 2007. how is God calling us to be people of integrity? Where do our lives need to be more fully integrated?

One of my favorite theologians and authors is a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago named Fr. Robert Barron. Many times in his books and talks he uses the example of the rose windows that we find in medieval cathedrals.

Many of the old churches and cathedrals contain large, stain-glassed windows with the image of Christ in the center, often seated on the lap of His Mother. All around that central image are oval medallions, like petals, depicting the virtues of faith, hope, and love, or the prophets of the Old Testament, or other great biblical figures. The rose window represents the well-ordered soul. We are called to put Christ in the center of our lives, and look to Mary for the supreme example of how to live a well-ordered life. The virtues, our plans, our will, our actions and words, these should all be ordered around our relationship with God. That is integritas.

How is God challenging us this New Year to be men and women of integritas? Are there times in our lives that we experience dis-integration, or dis-order when it comes to our relationship with God and others?

This morning we gather around this altar to celebrate the Eucharist, and to give ourselves completely to God in 2007. Might we receive from Him all that we need to live a well-ordered life in this New Year. May we be persons of integrity, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and His Mother, Mary, the Mother of God.