Saturday, 10 September 2011

NATIVITY OF OUR LADY: MARY THE ARCHETYPE OF CHRISTIANS (Homily at Jnanodaya, Bangalore (Saturday, 10 September 2011) Matthew 1:1-16

Jnanodaya (Saturday, 10 September 2011)
Matthew 1:1-16

As we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, the Titular Feast of Jnanodaya today, may I have the privilege of wishing a happy feast to the Superior, Mother Roselit, the Directress, Sr. Rogit, and all the inmates of Jnanodaya, and also all the CMC sisters who have gathered here from different parts of Bangalore. I wish the joy and blessings of this day to all of you and commend all of us to the protection of the mantle of our Mother of Mount Carmel. As we honour our mother, the archetype of Christian discipleship, by commemorating and celebrating her birthday, let Mary our Mother inspire us to be more effective instruments in the hands of God.
During the reading of the Gospel, probably you have been wondering why, of all, this particular passage, the geneology of Jesus Christ, which as such may not have any message for us at all, especially as we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady. Except for so many unfamiliar names of the Israelites, what is it after all? Any way, it was the reading given for 8th September, both in the Syro-Malabar and Latin liturgical calendars.
As I preach this homily amidst Scripture scholars, biblical theologians, and a whole bunch of budding women theologians, I am aware of the fact that I should do a careful reading of the biblical text. Yet, being a student of philosophy, I take the freedom to do a free reading.
The text mentions the name of Mary only once, that too only at the end of it, as a wife legally wedded to Joseph and as the woman from whom Jesus was born. Typical of the patriarchal Israelite tradition, Mary’s importance is presented in the whole story of redemptive history merely in terms of her relationship with two men!
Who was Mary? Was she a person of any significance at all? Looking at the passage that we have just read, I dare to say that Mary was a nobody. Left to herself, Mary was just another Israelite woman, without any special worth. As we celebrate the birth of Mary, we shall bear in mind that Mary did not have a geneology worthy of mention; she was just another woman, whose importance, within the Jewish tradition, arises from being legally wedded to Joseph, who is in the lineage of Abraham and David. There is nothing else; for, she was otherwise a nobody!
The history of humanity has plenty of examples in which most of these insignificant persons have lived out their lives, and died: without adding any further significance at all. Most of the people whom we meet, probably a good number of us as well belong to this category. There are a few others, who make an impact, and rise from their nobody status to the status of somebody, rarely into somebody of great significance. If we look at some conspicuous examples, we come across with a few others, such as our political leaders Mayavati or Jayalalitha, who rose from their status as nobody, definitely to a status of somebody worth millions of rupees. We find that they have come up by using or exploiting others for the realization of their goals, for their own whims and fancies: they make everyone else completely submit to their design; they make everyone else serve their causes, and they make others to suffer for the realization of their plans.
In contrast, if we closely follow the life of Mary, our mother, whose birthday we celebrate, we understand that she is remembered not only because of her association with Joseph and Jesus, two men in the salvific history.
Although Mary did not have anything to boast of her ancestral history, although she did not bequeath any significance from her own geneology, she attained significance not only for having given birth to Jesus. Although we believe in the fact that the choice of Mary to be the mother of Jesus was a completely gratuitious act on the part of God the Father, to my mind, Mary, in and through her life, had risen from her status of a nobody to the status of someone of great significance – along with and apart from her association with Joseph and Jesus. What I mean to say is that she has her own significance and personality, which she has developed in the course of her life.
The most important aspect that made her life significant, as I see it, is the presence and practice of three important attitudes in the life of Mary. They are, first, the attitude of total self-surrender, second, the attitude of selfless service, and, third, the attitude of accepting and accompanying suffering, all of which were aplenty in the life of our Mother.
First of all, the attitude of total self-surrender: I can well imagine that a young girl of the age of Mary naturally was proud of herself; she definitely had a plan for her life; at that age, any girl would not take the word of others as final. But, when the angel appeared to Mary, an unmarried young woman, announcing the birth of Jesus, informing her that she would bear a baby, that this baby would be the Son of God, she did not understand anything at all, to say the least. It was impossible for her to grasp the intricate divine plan. It was not only impossible for her to think of a pregnancy resulting from no-where, but also to know about the possibility of she conceiving the Son of God. All these were beyond her understanding. A woman of her age naturally would have just scoffed at it, as a crap or nonsense. But the attitude of Mary was different. She had already developed within her an ability not to scoff at certain realities of life that are beyond her understanding. She did believe in the divine plan, and, as a result, she was ready to surrender herself totally for the realization of this divine plan, come what may! So, she said: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” As it would turn out later, it was an answer on the part of Mary that were to become the crucible of her total self-surrender. It was so fundamental that she could not hold anything further back to herself. Her total self-surrender reaches its climax at Calvary, where the Son of God, as it was announced by the Angel at the annunciation, is crucified and buried. Probably, she had a thousand questions to ask, addressed both to the angel, and God the Father who had sent the angel to her. Yet, without any issues, Mary is there to surrender herself to the divine plan, a total picture of which is not available to anyone at all. This attitude of total self-surrender has made Mary some one of great significance; for, if not for it, it would not have been possible for even God to facilitate the redemption of the world. So, Mary’s attitude of self-surrender made herself great.
The second attitude is that of selfless service. Gospels record at least two excellent examples of selfless service that Mary had carried out. Immediately after the annunciation, when Mary should have been more self-complacent, as she is now the mother of God, a unique status which no other woman in the whole world could ever claim, we see her rushing to Elizabeth who was now expecting John the Baptist. Later, at the wedding in Cana, we do not get to taste the wine, which had already been consumed by the guests; but we do get a feel of the selfless service that Mother Mary had rendered to the family in need. No one asked her to be of help; in fact, no one would have ever thought that either Mary or Jesus himself would be any help at all, except to be part of the wedding crowd. However, sensing the trouble, as the wine had run out of stock, Mary rushes to Jesus and, in her own way, requests Jesus to help them to overcome the embarrassment and humiliation. Interestingly, once the wine is made available, we do not find any mention of Mary. She had played her role well, and she is now off the stage. It was a sheer act of selflessness: her attentiveness and readiness to be of service is obvious, but without looking for a share in the glory either in the form of gratitude or in the form recognition. But her attitude to be of service to the other stands out as an aspect of her personality that stood the test of time.
Finally, the third attitude is that of accepting and accompanying suffering. The life of total self-surrender and selfless service that Mary had lived, simultaneously, required an attitude of accepting and accompanying self-emptying suffering all through her life. Indeed, it is easy to be with someone when things are successful and when the whole crowd is around. We do not find Mother Mary with Jesus anywhere he had been acclaimed. However, invariably, we see her with Jesus, accompanying him in all his troubles. It is a natural attitude of most of us to be with those who are in their glory; but at the moment of loss and failure, most of us make our exit. Mary had cultivated within herself an attitude of accepting and accompanying suffering, as she knew that nothing worth the name is realizable except through the path of self-emptying suffering. As such, the moment of suffering is intolerable for any one, as at that moment we are oblivious of the meaningfulness of the event, or the glory that would eventually flow from it. Mary’s attitude called for further agony, when Jesus’ life came to an untimely, humiliating, and contemptuous end in his crucifixion on the cross: the one who was promised by the angel to be the Son of God, is now hanging on the cross, along with the worst criminals. Yet, Mary was ready to embrace the suffering as she could submit herself to the divine plan, and she was the ‘handmaid’ of God. She realized that suffering was a necessary ingredient, an essential attitude of a servant of God.
These three attitudes that were adopted and practised by Mary made her what she was called to become, the Mother of the Son of God. From her status as a nobody, within the Israelite patriarchal juridical system, and in the eyes of the common man, Mary rose to the status of someone of unique significance, a role that cannot be duplicated. In fact, the wholehearted acceptance and practise of these three attitudes gave shape to the personality of Mary.
Interestingly, I find that these are the three attitudes that any mother should adopt, if at all she were to become a true mother. It is not only the necessary attitudes that would constitute a mother, but also a true Christian disciple. In fact, we find that the identification of these three attitudes in Mary makes her the archetype of Christian discipleship. An archetype, as we all know, is the first model or the prototype of what the other entities have to eventually become. The non-entity Mary became a significant personality in the salvific plan of God and, eventually, the archetype, through the cultivation of the fundamental attitudes of total self-surrender, selfless service, and self-emptying suffering. In fact, these attitudes adopted by Mary our Mother, are at the source of a Marian culture. It is amazing to see that Mary, an insignificant Israelite woman, sets the tune and texture of a new culture; her attitudes become the warp and woof of the new culture that is unveiled in her life.
As we celebrate the birthday of Mary, our Mother, as we venerate our blessed Mother, as we take pride in being the sons and daughters of our Mother of Mount Carmel, I think that we must merge and partake in the Marian culture. Indeed, the Marian culture, as we know, is nothing different from the fundamental Christian culture; it is a culture of self-giving love, it is a culture of caring for the other, it is a culture of living for the other in spite of self-annihilating suffering, all of which are epitomized in the person of Jesus himself.
Yet, as we take Mary as the archetype of Christian discipleship, and as the sons and daughters of Mary our Mother, her life example should remain close to our hearts; her attitudes of total self-surrender, self-giving service, and self-emptying suffering should propel us into shaping our life after her model. If we would succeed in adopting and practising these three attitudes, I am sure that we will be worthy to be known as sons and daughters of Mary.
The name of the institute, Jnanodaya, which literally means the “awakening of consciousness,” invites all the members of this institute to facilitate an inner awakening of divine consciousness within each one of us. In this process, Mary our Mother is the best example, the archetype of Christian discipleship. It is an awakened consciousness that has to be at the root of a noble and spiritual culture. It is obvious from the life of Mother Mary that the fundamental attitudes that we should imbibe in order to give rise to a Marian culture, a culture of awakened divine consciousness, should centre around total self-surrender, selfless service, and self-emptying suffering. If we adopt these attitudes, in view of partaking in the awakening of divine consciousness, I am sure that all of us who do not have a geneology worthy of any special mention, will definitely succeed in giving rise to a personality of significance, just as we see it in the lives of Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, Saint Alphonsa, and Blessed Euprasia. Once all of us succeed in imbibing these attitudes, we would succeed in evolving a culture of an awakened consciousness. It would be a consciousness of Mary our Mother; it would certainly be the consciousness of Jesus. Let the matrix of Jnanodaya, the womb of Mother Mary, facilitate the emergence of a new Marian culture, infused with divine awakening: that is my wish and that is my prayer for the day!

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