Skip to main content

Here are my mother and my brethren!

In which the Pilgrim venerates Mary as mother of Jesus in every sense, dwells on family and faith, and longs to be a true Brother of Christ.

Then his mother and his brethren came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brethren are standing outside, desiring to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it."
—Lk 8:19-21, Gospel for Tuesday of the 25th Week of the Year

Jesus' words here can seem harsh (Mark's version even more so) and there are those who take this verse out of context and used it to denounce the rightful veneration shown to Mary. These objections, and Jesus' relationship to his mother can be easily righted by actually listening to the words Jesus speaks here in light of the rest of the Gospels and Jesus' other teachings.

First, if we are to take Jesus at his word that his mother would be one who hears the word of God and does it then there is no one more qualified for this position than Mary of Nazareth. For at the Annunciation, when she had heard the words of the angel that carried the Word of God, she replied with her most perfect and free-willed "Fiat." "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Lk 1:38) She whom the angels called full of grace (see Lk 1:28) is the perfect handmaid of the Lord whose eyes are ever raised to heaven, as those of a handmaid on her mistress(Ps 122 [123]) watching for the slightest command and fully prepared to carry it out. Even divorced from her genetic maternity, there is no woman in heaven and earth more suited to the title "Mother" by Jesus' own words.

But let us take the opposing route: what if Mary were not a woman "full of grace" who had uttered the perfect "Fiat" but merely was the earthly mother of Jesus of Nazareth (as if the word "mere" could be applied to anyone from whom the Son of God received his flesh). Then she would still be afforded no less honor.

When the Rich Young Man asks "what must I do to obtain Eternal life" our Lord replies "You know the commandments: 'Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" (Mk 10:19) Christ, whose food is to do the will of the Father (Jn 4:34), warned, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Mt 5:17) Jesus who was like us in all things but sin (Council of Chalcedon, cf. Heb 4:15), and thus subjected himself to the Law, would honor his mother, then, more perfectly than the most scrupulous devotee of the commandments.

One of Jesus' strongest judgments against the Pharisees is their mockery of this commandment: "God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.' But you say, 'If any one tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God." (Mt 15:4-6)" Jesus fierce condemnation of the Pharisees here is mirrored in the Proverbs—words we should take to heart with fear and trembling: "If you curse father or mother, your lamp will go out in utter darkness" (Pv 20:20) and "The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures." (Pv 30.17)

As above, Christ said the Pharisees' sin here was to say: "If any one tells his father or his mother, 'What you would have gained from me is given to God,' he need not honor his father." So there is never any excuse not to give to one's parents what is due to them for care and honor. And what has Mary to gain from her Son but the full Glory of God which he receives from His Father? Thus he did when he crowned her Queen of Heaven and Earth: clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars (see Rv 12:1). So let us always be found singing "Hail, Holy Queen!" so that by honoring she who was fully honored by her Son, we may honor and worship her Son all the more.

But the purpose of Christ's lesson from today's Gospel is not a lesson in the veneration of His mother, as right and necessary as that is. He is teaching a deeper lesson about what it means to follow Christ, which is to do the will of His Father. To his disciples, he knows full well that there are times that one may have to make choices between family and faith, and he firmly declares that in such times, the choice can only be faith: "For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worth of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Mt 10:34-37) Our bond in the communion of the saints by the Holy Spirit, uniting us to the Body of Christ, runs deeper than the connections of genetics and family ties. The adage "Blood runs thicker than water" is deadly false when it comes to the waters of Baptism.

But though division can occur because of Faith, Christ's message is not primarily divisive but radically uniting. Up till Christ's proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven, inheritance was always through the family. Bonds of family came before all other bonds (and should still come before all other earthly bonds—honor thy mother and father, again ...), to the exclusion of all others. So when Christ says that we(!) are now his family, not by blood or earthly marriage, but from hearing and doing the Word, then he is promising the same bonds and inheritance that family receive. As with Mary, this means that what we are promised by such bond is a share in his inheritance from his Father, that of His Glory. The First Pentecost was in this sense signing the papers of adoption, and the sign of this familial unity is that all could understand the apostles as if they were speaking with one tongue (Acts 2:11)—the division of the Tower of Babel had been destroyed (Gen 11:7).

By following the commandments to Love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength and to love neighbor as ourselves, we are drawn into the family of the Holy Trinity where we share in the Love that passes between Father and Son that is the Kingdom of Heaven. When Christ turns to his disciples, and by God's grace that will include us, and says "Here are my mother and my brethren" he is promising us the Kingdom of Heaven. By the intercession of his mother who already shares in that Glory, may we truly listen to the word of God and devote ourselves to living it, that we may one day come to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven as true sons and daughters of God. Amen.


Popular posts from this blog

The Daily Examen

The Daily Examen, bringing the events and encounters of your day to prayer, is an ancient practice exhorted nigh universally among the Catholic spiritual writers I've read. Those who write about the Examen consider it an indispensable tool of growth in the spiritual life, and so all should strive to make it a part of their spiritual exercises. As such, it is one of the spiritual practices to be done by Servants of the Secret Fire.

The examen is sometimes also referred to as the Examination of Conscience, but I tend to avoid that term when talking about the Daily Examen, for the Examination of Conscience is a term I associate with preparation for Sacramental Reconciliation. One should make a thorough examination of one's conscience, especially with regard to one's sins before Reconciliation, and reflecting on one's sins is a part of the Daily Examen, but it is not limited to that, while the Examination of Conscience before Reconciliation would not include all that the …

Ah, Hell!

When Jesus is asked  “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answers “Strive to enter through the narrow door" nicely dodging the question for those who love precision about such things. (Lk 13:23 & 24) John in his vision strives to see how many have been saved while granted a glimpse of heaven, but is likewise thwarted a census when the number is that "which no one could count." (Rev 7:9) Was it a small fraction of the seething multitude of the total human population over time? Was it everybody? No straight answers are offered.

Stuck in our desire to be in the know about who and how many will be saved, we're often presented with two viewpoints well illustrated by two early theologians. Origen erred on the side of Universalism, that in the long run EVERYBODY gets saved (apokatastasis), even the fallen angels, including Satan. So powerful is God's mercy and the saving power of the Cross that no creature can resist it. This opinion was condemned by the Ch…

Mystagogy: The Rod, the Root, and the Flower pt III

'There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.' [Isaiah 11:1]

'My covenant shall be in your flesh.' [Genesis 13:17]

Part three of my reflections on Coventry Patmore's short religious thoughts in The Rod, The Root, and the Flower [Part I and Part II]

From "Homo"
VIII - Creation is nothing but a concerted piece, consisting of representative repetitions and variations of and harmonious commentaries upon the simple theme, God, who is defined by St. Thomas as an Act—the Act of love, the 'embrace' of the First and Second Persons, and their unity is the thence proceeding Spirit of Life, 'Creator Spiritus', the Life and Joy of all things. In this divine contrapuntal music, plagues, the sack of cities, and hell itself (according to St. Augustine) are but discords necessary to emphasize, exalt, and illustrate the harmony. If Beethoven and Back are but senseless noise to the untrained ears of the …