SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  MICAH 5:1-4 OR ROM 8:28-30MATT 1:1-1618-23 ]

Today we celebrate the birth of our Blessed Virgin Mary.  In truth her birthday would not have been celebrated if not for the fact that she is the mother of God.  Indeed, birthdays are only meaningful events when we are celebrating the gift of life and the gift of love.  The life that is given to us is not just for ourselves but it is always for the good of others.  As St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”  (Rom 14:7f)  So to be born and to live is always for the Lord and His people.

Mary’s birth is celebrated in the Church because she was already saved by the Lord at her conception in the womb of St Anne.  The dogma of the Immaculate Conception speaks of Christ’s salvific grace in His passion, death and resurrection given to her in view of the fact that she would be His mother.  She was saved by the Lord by preemption rather than by redemption.  In other words, Christ’s grace protected her from being born with the sin of Adam.  In this way, her womb was a perfect sanctuary for the Lord to dwell in.  This is why Mary is also called the tabernacle of the New Covenant, carrying the Lord Jesus in her womb.

But more importantly, that Mary was a creature like us, giving birth to the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in the flesh, makes it possible for us to be saved.  This is because as the second reading explains, “They are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that his Son might be the eldest of many brothers. He called those he intended for this; those he called he justified, and with those he justified he shared his glory.” Jesus, by His coming in the flesh, shows us our true identity as the sons and daughters of God.  In the letter to the Hebrews, we read that “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”  (Heb 2:11)

The fact that the gospel traced Jesus’ history to Abraham means that Jesus was a human person, with flesh and blood.  This authenticates the humanity of Jesus.  It is important for the Church to underscore Jesus’ true humanity so that we are truly saved in Christ.  St Paul’s letter to the Galatians says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”  (Gal 4:4f)  Unless Jesus was a man, we cannot say that we can overcome our sins.  We would say that He was after all, divine and hence could do the Father’s will. But because Jesus as a man was able to fulfill the divine will using His human will, we too, with His grace, can do the same.  We have no excuse that salvation is not within our reach.  Jesus has shown us the way.  “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  (Heb 5:8f)

But Mary also served to link Jesus to the history of salvation as the Messiah foretold to come.  “The Lord says this: You (Bethlehem), Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel; his origin goes back to the distant past, to the days of old.”  This explains why the scriptures take pains to trace His history to Joseph as His foster father in order to show that He was the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah made to humankind.   It was Mary’s betrothal to Joseph that made it possible to ground the messiahship of Jesus; that He was the One promised by God to save us.

But for this to happen, we need to thank Mary for saying “yes” to God to undertaking this role of being the Mother of Christ and then later on as the Mother of the Church.  We must bear in mind that Mary, like Joseph, was betrothed in marriage.  Perhaps Mary, like Joseph, thought that marriage was the only possible vocation for her.  Like everyone else, Mary would have thought that getting married and having a family was the way to live out the will of God for her.   If that were so, then she must have given up a lot to have a family.  How many of us are willing to abandon our preferences and our plans for the greater good of others? But that was what Mary did.  Her life was for God and for us.

Of course, there is also the other tradition that suggests that perhaps Mary wanted to live a life of virginity.  This argument derives from her question to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  Regardless whichever interpretation we favour, the point remains that Mary cooperated with the plan of God for her.  She was ready to do whatever God willed for her.  She was able to say “Yes”, knowing the complexity ahead of her, the possible disbelief if she were to tell Joseph and her parents and relatives that she was pregnant through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit; and perhaps, face ridicule, rejection by Joseph and worst of all, be accused of committing adultery.  We can imagine there would have been a host of questions and uncertainties ahead.   Yet, she in faith said to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)  Mary never put herself before God and His people.  It was always God’s will before her own plans.

Today, when we celebrate the Birthday of Mary, we want to thank God for the gift of her life.  She is the New Eve, as the Fathers of the Church call her.  Whilst Christ is seen as the New Adam who gave life to all men, Mary too, by her obedience, brought life to us all in giving us Jesus.  Mary is truly the New Eve, for without her cooperation with the grace of God, there would be no saviour.  What is more, she cooperated with God’s grace throughout her life; not just at the Annunciation.  She continued to give life to the Church and to her Son by supporting Him quietly and unobtrusively by standing by Him, especially when everyone abandoned Him at the cross.  Mary shared in Jesus’ suffering and death and thus gave herself totally to us in the offering of her Son for the salvation of humanity.  She was generous and forgiving towards those who killed her Son.  Without uttering grudges, just cries of grief, she joined Jesus in offering Himself for the forgiveness of sins.

Mary continues to offer herself to us by being not just the Mother of Christ but of the Church.  She was with the Church in prayer when the apostles waited for the descent of the Holy Spirit.  She became the mother of the Church when our Lord handed her over to John who was told to make a place for her in his home.  From that moment, Mary began to exercise her motherly role in the Church by giving support to the apostles.  After her death and glorification, Mary continues to watch over us and help us by her prayers so that we too can share the life of Christ and be life-givers to others.   With this assurance of her presence with the Church, we can now do the same and be life-givers to others through the sacrifice of our own lives.

Today, as we celebrate her birthday, let us too make our life a vocation for the service of God and our fellowmen.  Let us not live in vain, not even a single day.  With devotion and dedication, let us use our life, all our talents and resources for the glory of God, for the salvation of humanity and the service of our fellowmen.  We have only one life and therefore we must do all we can, and expend ourselves for the good of humanity so that we will never regret that we had not lived our life meaningfully.  We must learn from Mary and our Lord that we cannot be living for ourselves if we are to find life.  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” (Mk 8:35-37)  With Mary, we live fully by giving our life to all.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore