This homily is based on Luke 2:16-21 on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
How do you mother God? Philosophers would be quick to point out that the question makes no sense. God would have no need for a mother: If God is infinite, He would have no beginning. And if He is all-powerful, He wouldn’t require anyone to nurse Him or raise Him.
Except, of course, that for us Christians, God decided to become human. And He didn’t just show up on the face of the earth as a self-reliant grown-up. God opted to go through the entire tedious process of becoming human so that He emerged in our world in much the same way each one of us does–as a helpless baby dependent on and in need of a mother.
Which makes you realize what an awesome–and frightening!–mission Mary had. She didn’t have the benefit of the Church’s insights into exactly who Jesus was. Our theological understanding of Jesus has been borne of centuries of the Church’s reflection and prayer. But Mary tried her best to make sense of the mystery before her anyway. We’re told that she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”, so she must have somehow sensed the great value of the Christ Child. Recalling the words of the angel, she must have discerned the gravity of her mission to be the mother of the “Son of the Most High”–even without fully understanding what it meant and what it would entail.
And the Gospels reveal to us exactly how she went about mothering Jesus. Because she had neither a manual to turn to nor a “Help” button to click, she basically fumbled her way through her task. She misunderstood her Son a lot, but precisely because she always nursed her experiences and reflected on them in her heart, she always found the needed openness and hope to discover exactly what was asked of her. After all, this business of mothering God is neither a science nor an art that one can master, but a mystery that one can at best discern and surrender to.
The Virgin of Guadalupe has always been a favorite Marian image of mine because of all her different images, it portrays so well what it means to mother God. Not only does Mary carry her child in her womb, but her hands are clasped in prayer and her eyes seem swollen–perhaps as much from tears as from straining to discern and make sense of what lies before her.
Today, this first day of the year 2017, we are invited by the Church to learn from the Mother of God. We are also asked to do as she did: Not only to say “yes” to God’s invitations to us this new year, whatever they may be, but even more specifically, to mother God: God not in His infinite and divine vastness of course, but God as incarnate in the people in our world today who find themselves helpless and in need of mothering. They are many and they are all around us.
Like Mary, we are furnished with no blueprint. The only way to mother God in His people is the way of Mary: to agree to allow oneself to be led by the mystery, and to fumble after it with openness and yes–always–with hope.