In the Gospel we just heard,
Jesus says, in effect,
‘It’s better to be a hearer of God’s Word,
and to do it, than merely to be
the physical mother of the Word of God.’
That’s true, of course—but to some,
it sounds like Jesus is putting Mary down—
some of our fellow Christians cite this passage
as “proof” that we Catholics are wrong
to give Mary all the honor we give her.
But I don’t believe for a moment
that the Lord would ever
put his mother in a negative light.
Any of us would be embarrassed
to do that, wouldn’t we?
Let me suggest a better answer.
Jesus said what he said because he knew—
and he knew everyone listening, knew—
that both statements were true of Mary!
It is not that Mary receives no blessing
for being his mother—rather, even greater
is her blessing for being his devoted follower.
St. Augustine said that Mary
first conceived Jesus in her heart—
by the obedience of faith—
and then conceived him in her womb.
This is why we give Mary so much honor—
because she was her Son’s
first and best disciple.
She was first to hear
and respond to the Gospel.
She was the first to go and bring
the Good News to someone else—
she went to Elizabeth and her household.
The feast we celebrate today
has to do with how Mary’s life on earth ended.
We believe that at the end of her natural life,
God took Mary to heaven, body and soul.
We believe God was not willing
to allow her body to experience
the decay we all face when we die.
While God might have done it another way,
it is certainly fitting that God would treat
his mother this way!
It means Mary received early
what all of us are promised
to have at the end of time:
enjoying God’s presence, not only in our souls,
but in our bodies, too—
in bodies that will never die again.
I think this doctrine
ultimately reflects on Jesus, Mary’s Son.
It shows us a son very devoted to his mother,
very grateful for all she did,
very mindful of the unique price she paid
for participating in his plan of salvation.
When we feel grateful, what do we do?
We say thank you; if we’re really grateful—
We give a gift, perhaps extravagant.
That’s what we do.
Would the Son of God do less?
In the Old Testament,
they had an “ark”—
a gold box that held the stone tablets
on which God himself
wrote the words of the Covenant.
God’s People were commanded
to honor to that ark—and when people
treated that ark with disrespect,
God is always very unhappy about that.
Well, what about the New Covenant?
In Jesus, the Word of the New Covenant
Became flesh in Jesus Christ;
And the Ark of the New Covenant
was Mary herself!
We believe, as St. John Damascene said,
“It was necessary that she
who had preserved her virginity
inviolate in childbirth
should also have her body kept free
from all corruption after death;
“It was necessary that she
who had carried the Creator
as a child on her breast
should dwell in the tabernacles of God.
“It was necessary that the bride
espoused by the Father
should make her home
in the bridal chambers of heaven.
“It was necessary that she who had gazed
on her crucified Son
and been pierced in the heart
by the sword of sorrow which she had escaped
in giving him birth,
should contemplate him
seated with the Father.
“It was necessary that the Mother of God
should share the possessions of her Son,
and be venerated by every creature
as the Mother and handmaid of God.”