My Dear Family of St. Matthew!
This Wednesday, December 8, 2021, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, who is the Patroness of the United States of America. We have just begun a new church-liturgical year, focusing on the Gospel of Luke (Year C). Luke is the Gospel known for including numerous women disciples alongside the men, who together listened to Jesus’ teachings and were called to live them out according to each person’s unique and God-given vocation, talents, gifts. In the context of this new year and continuing from last week’s focus on the questions of Jesus found in the Gospel of Luke, let’s focus here briefly on one of Luke’s uniquenesses – his portrayal of the profoundly new way Jesus interacted with women. And it’s appropriate to start with THE woman of faith, young Virgin-Mother Mary, and her special role in God’s plan for all of us. So, what makes the feast of the Immaculate Conception so special?
Well, a young, teenage girl, possibly around 14 years of age, says “Yes” to God’s amazing, unbelievable plan for her life and for our lives!
Not too long ago, a gallant, young man with stars in his eyes and a fluttering, excited heart would attempt to impress a young girl, the love of his life, by referring to his beloved as “You are one in a million!” At the time, it seemed to be an enormous exaggeration of numbers, but it conveyed what a distinctive, rare, and special woman she symbolized. However, a million pales in comparison to the number of human beings that inhabited the earth since Adam and Eve were residents in the Garden of Eden. Scholarly, rational, highly intellectual scientists delved deeply in the world’s population growth.
Beginning with one man and one woman, they calculated the numbers of generations, the number in each family group, offset by the effects of plagues, wars, disasters, and the devastation of the Flood of Noah (when the population was reduced to a great degree, spoken of as eight persons, biblically-speaking). There seems to be broad agreement, using conservative figures, that at least 300 billion (that’s a B) persons lived and died on earth up to the time that Christ came into the world. At the time of Christ, the world population was between 200 and 300 million persons but that number accelerated over 2000 years to its present 7.75 billion figure. What can we glean from these incredible facts and numbers? Assuming that one-half of all these vast billions were women, only ONE woman was chosen for the honor of honors. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel announced to this innocent, holy, young Jewish woman, Mary, that God wishes her to be the mother of His Son. This youthful Virgin accepted with humility and joy.
God’s choice of Mary was made long before Mary was born and He prepared her to be full of grace in every way, a perfect woman. Mary was conceived in her mother Ann’s womb without the stain of original sin. That is the celebration of Mary as the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. It was a spiritual rhapsody. No one person, no king, no prophet, no apostle, no bishop, no pope, no angel — all these bore witness to the Word, but Mary of Nazareth gave birth to the Word. No one in the history of redemption played such a unique role. God the Son, the Son of the Creator, received his flesh from this earthly creature when he nested in a human cradle, Mary’s womb, for nine months. Millions of Christians pay homage to this gracious woman, meek and humble, the handmaid of the Lord. No one in Scriptures deserved the honor of bearing the Messiah, but Mary. To Catholics, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is an ultimate gift to all of us.
This humble woman of God, “servant” and “handmaid of the Lord” prominently figures in the Gospel of Luke. As a matter of fact, I am of the opinion that Luke interviewed Mary before she was assumed into heaven – but in any case, Luke did much of the “journalistic” work of tracking down the stories that spoke of how Jesus first came into this world in our human flesh. And Mary in some fashion was certainly the ultimate source for these initial chapters in Luke’s Gospel.
As time and space permits, I hope to share with you how Luke gives us a most comprehensive picture of Jesus’ ministry both towards men as well as women. St. Luke uses the “pairing” writing style to emphasize Jesus came for all, men and women. In many of the pairing cases, the story about the man is traditional and the one about the woman is special to Luke. Lucan “pairs” can be detected in almost every chapter of the Gospel. Taking inspiration from Jesus Christ himself, Luke is obviously trying to portray women as equal to men in dignity before God, shown by the paralleling of events involving men and women. This does not mean that men and women are interchangeable or have the same vocations; it is showing that men and women have equal dignity before God. So as you become a dedicated reader and listener to his Gospel, it will become clear to you that Luke is truly sympathetic to women, as his Gospel provides more passages about women than any other Gospel, including 23 unique stories. For instance, without the inspired writings of Luke, we would not know about the miraculous conception of Elizabeth, the prophetess Anna, Mary’s Magnificat, the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with her tears and costly oil, and of the women who accompanied Jesus in his travels and supported his ministry. The inspired writings of Luke describe the prominence of women in Christ’s ministry as Luke consistently portrays them as true examples of faith in spite of a culture that minimized women.
And looking around today, despite great strides made for women over past years, women and girls around the world are still married as children or trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery, they still die needlessly due to lack of simple care in pregnancy and childbirth, they are still refused access to education and political participation, and some are still trapped in conflicts where rape is perpetrated as a weapon of war. …
————— … STAY TUNED, ARTICLE CONTINUES NEXT WEEK… —————