sources from the word among us
Born to Save Us
Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Brings New Life to the World
As the New Year begins, many people make resolutions that are soon forgotten. The Church always encourages good resolutions at the beginning of the year but also brings us to the true “new beginning” that came about when Jesus was born of Mary.
The Word of God, the only Son of the Father, has come into the world to make all things new (John 1: 18; Revelation 21:5). The newness of Jesus and of the life he came to give us can be glimpsed in Christ’s birth and his “hidden” years at Nazareth.
“No Other Name” When we speak about the “newness” of Jesus, this does not mean that he was simply a very interesting personality or someone with afresh perspective. Rather, Christ is utterly unique as Lord and Savior. In accordance with God’s mysterious plan for the salvation of the world, the eternal Son of the Father was “incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin” (Eucharistic Prayer IV).
While there have been many important religious figures and philosophers throughout history, none will ever equal or replace Jesus. Care must be taken lest even well-intentioned efforts at interfaith dialogue end up relativizing Jesus—that is, seeing him as a tremendously important religious figure but not the one and only Savior. However, our faith resoundingly attests that “there is no other name” by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12, RSV). All who are saved, including those who seek God with a sincere heart, are saved only by the love of Jesus Christ. Thus, official Church documents such as the declaration Dominus Iesus, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2000, insist on what is called the “unicity” and “universality” of the Lord Jesus, the Savior (3). He is the only Savior of the entire human race.
In the Apostles’ Creed, we profess that Jesus “was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit” and “born of the Virgin Mary.” In effect, we proclaim that Christ “is the Son of the heavenly Father according to his divine nature and the Son of Mary according to his human nature” (Compendium, 98). Often, especially during the Christmas season, the liturgy invokes Christ as “Son of God and Son of Mary.” That does not mean that Jesus is two persons cobbled into one. Rather, as the Compendium puts it, Jesus is “truly the Son of God in both natures [divine and human] since there is in him only one Person, who is divine” (98). Of course, no other religious figure makes or can make that claim.
In both the liturgy and in private devotions, we lovingly speak of Mary as Virgin and Mother. This, too, bespeaks the “newness” of Jesus. Catholic doctrine teaches that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. When we hear references in Script-xure to Jesus’ “brothers and sisters,” we may think that Mary had other children after the birth of Jesus. However, these are rightly understood as close relatives of Christ, not his actual siblings (Compendium, 99). This is sometimes a point of discussion with some non-Catholic Christians who do not believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity.
However, Mary’s virginity and her motherhood are linked. In giving birth to her one son, the incarnate Son of God, Mary’s pure love and spiritual motherhood extend to all whom Christ came to save. Far from being sterile, Mary’s virginity is abundantly fruitful in bringing the Savior into the world and in helping us as members of the Church to live the new life that he has won for us. Indeed, Mary plays an essential role in God’s plan of redemption. Not only did she bring the Savior into the world, but she is also the ultimate model of the Church, which is to be both virginal in the purity of her teaching and motherly in her love for all her sons and daughters.
The Mystery Hidden from Ages. And so the mysteries of Christ’s infancy—such as the Epiphany, the presentation in the Temple, and the Holy Family’s flight into and return from Egypt—bring us to the heart of the good news, “the mystery hidden from ages” but now newly and definitively revealed in Christ (Ephesians 3:9; Compendium, 103). In these events, the divinity of Jesus, born of Mary, shines through. In the household at Nazareth, something of Jesus’ wondrous humanity can be glimpsed. We may learn much by mediating on the “hidden life” of Jesus and the simplicity, love, and obedience of the Holy Family (104).
To begin his public life and ministry, Jesus received John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). Though he was sinless, Christ identified with all of humanity and, in so doing, was revealed as “the well-beloved Son” and “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (cf. Matthew 17:5; John 1:29). The liturgy tells us that Jesus, “the very author of Baptism,” was baptized by John the Baptist to “make holy the flowing waters” (Preface, The Nativity of St. John the Baptist). In this way, Jesus’ baptism prefigures our own baptism “by water and the Holy Spirit” (cf. John 3:5), through which we begin to participate in the new life that Jesus has won for us by his cross and resurrection.
Let us live joyfully the “newness” of life imparted to us. May the light of Christ shine ever more brightly in our hearts as we continue to meditate on the mystery of the Word made flesh.
For Personal Reflection
How would you explain to non-Christians or atheists the script-xural statement that “there is no other name” than Jesus’ by which we are to be saved (Acts 4:12, RSV)?
In what ways is Christ utterly unique as Lord and Savior?
Give several examples of why and how Mary’s virginity is “fruitful” rather than sterile.
Recall an occasion when you turned to Mary for her aid or experienced her spiritual motherhood. What impact did this have on you? What might you do to deepen your appreciation of Mary and your devotion to her?
Excerpted from The Joy of Believing: A Practical Guide to the Catholic Faith by Most Reverend William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore (The Word Among Us Press, 2015). Available at wau.org/books