Born to Save Us

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12/22/2008

The tenth installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 98-111 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Church invites us to begin each new calendar year by celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Instead of trivial New Year’s resolutions, this feast, which brings the Octave of Christmas to a close, reminds us that the real new beginning came about when Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary.” The Word of God, the only Son of the Father, has come into the world to make all things new (see Jn 1:1, Rev. 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 in Nazareth. These are the very mysteries that the Liturgy presents to us in these days and, once again, it is where our study of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church resumes.

‘NO OTHER NAME’ Back to Top

When we speak about the “newness” of Jesus, this does not mean that he was simply a very interesting personality or someone with a fresh 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 “took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary” (Eucharistic Prayer II).

While there have been many important religious figures and philosophers throughout history, none will ever equal or replace Jesus. Sometimes, 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 (see Act 4:12). All who are saved, including those “who seek God with a sincere heart” (see Good Friday Liturgy), are saved only by the love of Jesus Christ. Thus, official Church documents such as 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.

In the Apostle’s 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 is the Son of Mary according to his human nature” (Compendium, 98). Often, especially during this time of year, the Liturgy invokes Christ as “Son of God and Son of Mary.” This 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 here is in him only one Person, who is divine” (Ibid.). 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. In Catholic doctrine, Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. When we hear references in Scripture 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 (see 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 motherhood are linked. In giving birth to her one son, the Incarnate Son of God, Mary’s pure love and spiritual motherhood extends 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 he 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’ Back to Top

The “newness” of Christ is also understood as a revelation of the Father’s love. Christ revealed himself by assuming our human nature and, in doing so, demonstrated something we could never have known with unaided human reason: “the invisible mystery of his divine sonship” (Compendium, 101). As Jesus declared to Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). In revealing himself, Jesus also revealed the entire plan of salvation decreed in the hidden counsels of God (see Eph 1:3-14, Col 1:26). Thus, the life of Christ is a “mystery” not in the sense that it is something impossible to understand, but rather that it reveals the unseen life of God and his hidden plan for the salvation of the world.

In his plan of redemption, God prepared the world for the coming of Christ through the ages. Even in the hearts of those who did not know the living God, he awakened a longing for his presence. God revealed himself to the Chosen People, teaching them through the prophets to hope for definitive deliverance. In a more immediate sense, the ministry of St. John the Baptist prepared for Christ’s birth, “the dawn from on high.” (Lk 1:78; see Compendium, 102).

Even 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 — reveal truths about God’s saving plan (Compendium, 103). Likewise, we may learn much by meditating 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 (Lk 3:3). Though he was sinless, Christ identified with all of humanity and, in so doing, was revealed to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). The Liturgy tells us that Jesus was baptized “in waters made holy by the one who was baptized” (Preface for John the Baptist). In this way, Jesus’ baptism prefigures our own baptism.

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 mediate on the mystery of the Word made flesh.

DISCUSSION/REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR COUNCIL USE Back to Top

1. What does it mean to speak about the “newness” of Jesus and the life that he brings? In what way is salvation through Jesus Christ both unique and “universal”?

2. How does the Church understand Mary’s virginity? How does her virginity relate to her motherhood? And how does her motherhood relate to the Church? (see Compendium, 99-100)

3. Why does the Church refer to the life of Christ and to God’s plan for redemption with the term “mystery?” (see 101-102)

4. What do the mysteries of Christ’s infancy and his “hidden life” teach us? For example, what do the Epiphany, the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt symbolize in relation to our salvation? (see 103-104)

5. What is the significance of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan?