A Catholic Monthly Magazine

How to Have 
a ‘Mary’ Christmas

By Victor M Parachin

By Victor M Parachin

Let us learn from the Virgin Mary how to be bolder in obeying the Word of God.

Lessons for Living - from Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Pope Francis

When friends and colleagues learned that Protestant theologian Dr Scot McKnight was writing a book about Mary, he was often asked, "Why?" His answer was simple and straightforward: "Because she was the mother of Jesus and the mother of Jesus ought to matter to each of us".

McKnight's perspective is shared by St Luke in his Gospel, who places Mary on centre stage and presents her as a shining star in the nativity story describing the birth of Jesus. Clearly, Luke views Mary as a highly important woman whose life can inform and inspire people. Here are six lessons for living from Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of God.

1  Be like Mary and remain open to 'angels'

“Angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people”, is a teaching from Hebrews 1:14 (New Living Translation). This is a reminder that angels come in many forms and appear when we are most in need. One who experienced such angels was Jesuit priest Pedro Arrupe, who worked as a missionary in Japan. Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the American declaration of war against Japan, Arrupe was arrested by military police and placed in jail. "I passed the days and nights in the cold of December entirely alone and without a bed or table or anything else but a mat on which to sleep. I was tormented by my uncertainty as to why I had been imprisoned", he relates.

Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

The weeks of solitary confinement, along with an intense thirty-six-hour period of interrogation, began to impact him emotionally and spiritually. Just at that moment of great discouragement and despair, Arrupe experienced ‘angels’, who brought him great comfort. It was Christmas. That day he could hear outside of the prison, some very quiet voices of people singing. Arrupe described the singing as "a soft, sweet, consoling Christmas carol, one of the songs which I had myself taught to my Christians. I was unable to contain myself. I burst into tears. They were my Christians who, heedless of the danger of being themselves imprisoned, had come to console me, to console their priest who was away".

2  Be like Mary and move from fear to faith

When the angel Gabriel informed Mary that she was "highly favoured" by God and would give birth to a son, Luke reports that "Mary was greatly troubled at his words" (Luke 1:29, New International Version). However, she transitioned quickly from fear to faith telling Gabriel, "I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled" (Luke 1:38, New International Version). 

Moving from fear to faith is a spiritual transition which can be surprisingly simple to do. Consider this personal incident from Therese J Borchard, author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety And Making The Most Of Bad Genes. In her book, she tells of suffering a massive nervous breakdown. "The suffering was unbearable. My husband rushed me to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Fear consumed me. Until I saw Jesus". In the hospital was a ten-and-a-half-foot marble statue of Jesus. "His arms extended toward those in desperate need of healing", she noticed. On the pedestal was this inscription: "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest" (from Matthew 11:28). Weeping before the image of Jesus, Borchard spoke quietly, "I believe, Jesus. I believe". Her fear disappeared.

3  Be like Mary and adapt to changing circumstances

Mary exhibits an amazing flexibility, flowing with the unexpected changes which came into her life. Upon being informed she will have a baby even though she was still a virgin, Mary grew into her new role. When she was told there was no room at the inn, she had her baby in an animal stable. Read and recite biblical verses such as these to motivate yourself when adjustment to change must take place:

§  “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

§  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

§  “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

§  “I, the Lord, do not change. So, you . . are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6).

4  Be like Mary and find reasons for gratitude

Too often when disturbing and troubling events come into our lives, we become focussed on the negative aspects of life. Let Mary be a guide when this happens.

In spite of initial confusion and concern over the direction of her life, Mary expresses gratitude saying "my spirit rejoices" and continues to offer praise and thankfulness (Mary's song - Luke 1:46-55).

Here's a contemporary example of finding reasons for gratitude. During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, a woman made it a point to get out of her small condo and take a walk to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. On one of those days, she returned to her condo and saw a large bag from a local restaurant in front of her neighbour's door. Because the man was in his 80s and living alone, the woman sent him a text saying that "your food delivery has arrived and is by your front door". When he returned the text later in the day, the man said he was surprised because he had not ordered the meal. Clearly someone had given him a gift. There was no note or card with the delivery. The man told his neighbour that he was grateful but perplexed as to who had been so kind. In fact, he spent most of that day reviewing his circle of friends and acquaintances wondering who had purchased and sent him the meal. Insightfully, the woman told the man that he had received two very important gifts that day. Her neighbour replied, "I get the first gift of the meal but what was the second gift?" She responded, "“The gift of the meal was wonderful, but spending the day thinking about all the people who love you was priceless!”

5  Be like Mary and ask better questions

After being informed she would conceive a child through the Holy Spirit and while still a virgin, she didn't respond "why me?", but asked this better question: "How will this be?" (Luke 1:34). Psychologists often recommend asking better questions when life changes and challenges emerge. Instead of why, they recommend asking questions which begin with how, what and who. ‘Why’ questions are severely self-limiting because they tend to be negative, defensive and delay the ability to explore positive alternatives.

Asking the right questions is what leads to clarity and courage for dealing with complex situations. For this to happen, "we need to shift our focus from the whys to the hows and whats", says psychologist Dr Jeffery S Nevid. Here are sample questions anyone can use when shifting from ‘why’:

§  What is really going on here?

§  How can I rise to the challenge?

§  What is my next step?

§  Who can offer me guidance?

§  What can I learn from this?

§  What resources are available to me?

§  How do I see this progressing?

§  How can I make the best of this?

§  What would a successful outcome

look like?

6  Be like Mary and cultivate optimism

Mary resonated strongly with Gabriel's reassurance that "nothing is impossible with God". Hearing those words, Mary responded with this affirmation, "May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38). Optimism is a form of faith, the belief that somehow, someway, things will work out for the best. This is expressed in the writings of St Paul who said, "In all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28). Additionally, St. Paul stressed the importance of maintaining a positive attitude toward life: "Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

Similarly, poet Kahlil Gibran observed, "Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens".

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