Fourth Session of Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism Project.

Dear Friends


Everyone seemed to really enjoy the programme and found it beautiful, familiar and emotional. Fr. Barron's presentation began by looking at the Annunciation a word which has been anglicised from the Latin Vulgate (the 4th century translation of the Bible by St. Jerome) Luke 1:26-39: Annuntiatio nativitatis Christi.

Unlike the stories of the gods of the Greeks, Roman's and ancient Pagans, the God of Israel is not forceful or violent. Rather, He extended an invitation that respected Mary's free-will. Mary is visited (Fr. Barron goes as far as to suggest 'courted') by the Angel Gabriel and gives her assent; her fiat, opening the door to our salvation and cooperating and collaborating with the work of her Son. "Mary's role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it." (CCC 964). Mary's literal proximity to Christ must have effected her in a profound way. There is more on the Annunciation here

St. Ephraim saw that Mary had been prepared through all time for her vocation. Her closeness to God was such that he taught that she conceived through her ear: she heard the Word of God so clearly, it coalesced within her, took flesh and became man. In the Old Testament, the Word of God (the Torah—the Ten Commandments) were kept in the Ark of the Covenant. Mary would be the new Ark of the Covenant, "the place where the glory of the LORD dwells" (CCC 2676). In fact Pope Benedict XVI asserts that the image of Mary in the New Testament is woven entirely of Old Testament threads: the New Eve is the likeness of the great heroines of the Old Testament; Sarah, Ruth and Hannah. Mary personifies Israel, the bridal people of God, at its best: faithful to the covenant, attentive to the Word of God, desiring to respond in love to God's will. However, Israel is often slow to respond to God's call, Mary however acted promptly, quickly and obediently: "In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah..." (Lk 1:39).

Fr. Barron took us to Ephesus in Turkey, which was of course, part of Greece in Jesus' time. Here we heard how Mary was taken there by the Apostle John who had been entrusted by Christ from the Cross to care for His mother (Jn 19:26-27). I love the Ephesus part of the story of Mary. If like me you have ever wondered how St. Luke knew all the wonderful detail about the Angel's visit and Mary's thoughts, Ephesus holds the key. You see we know that Luke the Evangelist travelled with Paul; Paul mentions Luke in three of his letters (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Philemon 24) and in one of them refers to him as "our beloved physician." In Acts 16, the author changes from writing in the third person to the first as though he himself were a witness to those things he records. It seems to have been at Troas, in Asia Minor, in the year 48, that Luke joined Paul, and we know, of course that Paul visited Ephesus as he wrote a Letter to the Ephesians. It seems logical that this was when Luke had the opportunity to meet Mary and discuss all the things that happened. No wonder that he can report to us the way that "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)

It was in here in 431 A.D. that the Council of Ephesus took place. This was to sort out the problem that Nestorius and his followers did not want to acknowledge that God Himself suffered in the flesh. As a result they denied that Mary was theotokos—God bearer (a title which was part of the kerygmatic and liturgical life of the Church). This endangered the very truth of the Incarnation and redemption. In technical terms the Nestorians couldn't accept the communicatio idiomatum—the mutual predication of properties in christological statements. The council discerned that the essential question was who Mary is the mother of. She is the mother of Jesus, not a 'human nature' as Nestorius asserted. If we profess Mary as theotokos, we also profess the ontological unity of the divine and human in Jesus. The two beliefs imply each other.

The doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption were formally declared in the past two centuries, but have ancient roots. For example, the great theologian St. Gregory Nazianzen (d. 390 A.D.) wrote that Jesus "was conceived by the Virgin, who had first been purified by the Spirit in soul and body; for it was fitting that childbearing should receive its share of honour, so it was necessary that virginity should receive even greater honour" (Sermon 38, 13; quoted in Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin in Patristic Thought (Ignatius Press, 1999), by Luigi Gambero, pp. 162-3). St. Gregory of Tours (d. 594), wrote this about the Assumption:
The Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in tomb: and they guarded it, expecting the LORD to come. And behold, again the LORD stood by them: and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, she rejoices with the Lord's chosen ones. (Book of Miracles, 1:4).
I have written a piece on the Assumption here:

Of course the greatest confirmation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception came when the fourteen-year-old St. Bernadette asked the vision of Mary who she was: "Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou" (I am the Immaculate Conception).

The journey we all joined Fr. Barron on this week demonstrated the way in which Mary is for us the nexus mysteriorum inter se (“the interconnection of mysteries among themselves”). Scholastic theology believed that all the mysteries of faith were interconnected and that the revealed truth as a totality formed an organic whole, simple and utterly coherent, with no self­contradictory elements. Immaculate Mary, Theotokos, Queen of the saints, is alive and active in the Church today, working to draw mankind into living communion with her Son. Two thousand years ago, she said "Yes!" to God, and she has never ceased to say, "Yes!" to Him ever since.

Pope John Paul II, in his 1987 encyclical Redemporis Mater, wrote of how the Christian, following the example of the Apostle John, should welcome the Mother of Christ in his home, embracing her maternal charity and care. He wrote:
This filial relationship, this self-entrusting of a child to its mother, not only has its beginning in Christ but can also be said to be definitively directed towards Him. Mary can be said to continue to say to each individual the words which she spoke at Cana in Galilee: "Do whatever He tells you." For He, Christ, is the one Mediator between God and mankind; He is "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6); it is He whom the Father has given to the world, so that man "should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). The virgin of Nazareth became the first "witness" of this saving love of the Father, and she also wishes to remain its humble handmaid always and everywhere. For every Christian, for every human being, Mary is the one who first "believed," and precisely with her faith as Spouse and Mother she wishes to act upon all those who entrust themselves to her as her children. And it is well know that the more her children persevere and progress in this attitude, the nearer Mary leads them to the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8). And to the same degree they recognise more and more clearly the dignity of man in all its fullness and the definitive meaning of his vocation, for "Christ...fully reveals man to man himself." Redemporis Mater, n. 46.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Next week: The Indispensable Man: Peter, Paul and the Missionary Adventure.

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