St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church - Naperville, IL

C.A.R.E. Corner

May 26

Revelation 12 presents a vision of a “woman” in heaven, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. She gave birth to a male child, who was taken up to heaven. The woman was chased by a dragon but fled to the desert where she was protected. There are 3 main characters in this passage: the woman, her male child and a dragon. Is this the sequel to the trio mentioned in Genesis 3:15? In Revelation 12:9, the dragon, “the ancient serpent” was cast down and defeated, which fulfilled the prophecy of Genesis 3:15. Verse 5 of Revelation 12 speaks of a male child who would rule all the nations with an iron rod and would be caught up to God’s throne in heaven. That was the role of the Messiah, which the early Christians identified as Jesus.

So who was the woman? Revelation 12:5 points to the woman as the Mother of the Messiah. In Revelation 12, the “woman” about to give birth was the sign of God fulfilling that promise made way back in Genesis 3. The Church knew only of Mary as the Mother of the Messiah. It is very unlikely that someone in the first century would write about the Mother of the Messiah and not be referring to Mary. It was her male child who was taken up to heaven and who defeated the evil one. And it was her subsequent spiritual offspring – the obedient members of the new kingdom, the faithful believers of the Church on earth – who would continue to prevail over the evil one (see Revelation 12:17).

 

May 19

In Genesis 2:23, Adam gave the title of “woman” to the perfect helpmate that God created for him. Ultimately, Adam named her Eve “because she was the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). Last week we looked at Genesis 3:15 and the “woman” who would be so instrumental in bearing the one who crushed the devil. It is the offspring of this “woman” that God promised would prevail over the evil one.

The use of the term “woman” can be found throughout the Gospel of John because it held great theological meaning. John, trying to capture the beliefs of the early Church, represented Jesus as the “new Adam” and Mary as the “new Eve.” The first Eve led the first Adam into sin. But the new Eve led the new Adam to be an agent of the new creation. John never referred to Jesus’ Mother by her given name of Mary. Instead, he had Jesus always referring to his Mother as “woman.” It was that “woman” who led Jesus to perform his first glorious work at the wedding in Cana (see John 2). Tradition holds John to be the author of the Book of Revelation as well. And that text continues the use of the title of “woman” to refer to a very important player in the unfolding story of salvation.

 

May 12

The early Christians considered Mary to be the “new Eve.” Why? Let’s take a look back at the Book of Genesis. Genesis 3 unfolds the story of the serpent deceiving Adam and Eve into disobeying God. Adam and Eve were then expelled from the garden which changed the course of their lives. For his deception, the serpent got cursed and was relegated to crawling on his belly and eating the dust of the earth (Genesis 3:14-15). Part of that curse included the “seed” of the woman, specifically her son, who would defeat the serpent. In Hebrew, the word for serpent represents evil. God made it clear that those who follow the way of evil, symbolized by the serpent, would ultimately be defeated by those who follow the way of God.

In spite of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God did not abandon them. Instead God offered them some hope for a future. The early Christians saw Jesus as the one who ultimately defeated evil with his sacrificial death. That made Jesus the gateway to the future, so they referred to him as the “new Adam” whose obedience brought redemption and restored life. They also saw Mary as the “new Eve” because her “Yes” to God was a sign of obedience which reversed Eve’s disobedience. If Jesus is the “son” from Genesis 3:15, then it must be his mother, Mary, who is the “woman.” Stay with us as we tackle the importance of the term “woman” over the next few weeks.

 

April 28

In John’s Gospel, Mary is referred to 3 times at Cana (John 2:1-5) and 3 times at Calvary (John 19:25-26). On both occasions, Jesus called her “woman.” Again, that was intentional for his audience. John also provided important information regarding the presence of Mary at the foot of the cross of her son. John 19:27 gave us the account of Jesus handing his mother to the Beloved Disciple and entrusting her into his care. Jesus’ last act was to make provisions for his Mom. In a later column, we will explore the spiritual relevance of that act. But for now, let’s complete our scriptural references to Mary.

St. Luke, who also is credited with writing the Acts of the Apostles, brought Mary back into the story of the followers of Jesus who made up the fledgling Church. Mary gets mentioned by name in Acts 1:14 where she is part of the gathering of the followers of Jesus. Does that suggest she was also part of the gathering at the first Pentecost event? Was she a regular member of the Christian community referred to in Acts 4:42? Was she a part of the praying community in Acts 12:5? Scripture goes silent with regard to Mary after the reference to her by name in Acts 1. But her story did not end there. So stay tuned!

 

April 21

Today we pick up where we left off last week – with Jesus and Mary partying at a wedding in Cana. For our purposes here, it’s important to note that Jesus honored his Mother’s request for help by accepting and acting upon her intercession and beginning his public ministry, even though he had protested that the time to do so had not yet come. The Cana event was an example of Mary leading people to Jesus. Mary knew where to turn for help. And of course, the words Mary spoke are words all disciples should bear in mind at all times:” Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

In the entirety of John’s Gospel, Mary only spoke 2 times and appeared in 2 different scenes. But they were both pivotal moments. The first, as we already noted, was at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry when He performed his first miracle during the wedding at Cana. The second was at the end of his ministry and life when he performed his greatest miracle of conquering sin and death at Calvary. On both occasions, Jesus manifested his glory. And his Mother was present to witness it.

 

April 14

Today we pick up where we left off last week – with Jesus and Mary partying at a wedding in Cana. For our purposes here, it’s important to note that Jesus honored his Mother’s request for help by accepting and acting upon her intercession and beginning his public ministry, even though he had protested that the time to do so had not yet come. The Cana event was an example of Mary leading people to Jesus. Mary knew where to turn for help. And of course, the words Mary spoke are words all disciples should bear in mind at all times:” Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

In the entirety of John’s Gospel, Mary only spoke 2 times and appeared in 2 different scenes. But they were both pivotal moments. The first, as we already noted, was at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry when He performed his first miracle during the wedding at Cana. The second was at the end of his ministry and life when he performed his greatest miracle of conquering sin and death at Calvary. On both occasions, Jesus manifested his glory. And his Mother was present to witness it.

 

March 31

While in Jerusalem at the Temple, Mary and Joseph were greeted by Simeon, who was a stranger to them. Simeon was a man filled with the holy Spirit. He had a revelation about getting to see the Messiah in his lifetime, which he knew right away was Jesus. In Luke 2:27-32, Simeon spoke of Jesus as “God’s salvation.” The prophet Isaiah had said Israel would be a light to the nations. There at the Temple, Simeon echoed that by saying Jesus would also be a light to the Gentiles. But he also said Jesus was destined to be the rise and fall of many in Israel. During his public ministry, Jesus would ultimately raise up many who were poor, disabled, and sinful. But he would also be the reason for the fall of many, especially the political and religious leaders. Simeon also said Jesus would be contradicted, or a sign spoken against. This implied that he would be persecuted, or plotted against, which of course happened when the religious leaders ultimately conspired to destroy him.

Simeon then revealed a second prophecy which was specifically for Mary (Luke 2:34-35). He said Mary would be pierced by a sword.  A sword carries the image of killing and death. Her own journey, as we know, would ultimately take her to the foot of the cross. St. John would report in chapter 19:25-27 of his Gospel that Jesus was pierced by a sword on the cross. Mary too would suffer great emotional distress. Yet, she had no choice but to consent to the death of her child and accept it in trust. John Paul II called the proclamation by Simeon a “second annunciation,” which gave Mary a clearer picture of her role as the Mother of Jesus. It would not be an easy journey.

 

March 24

Luke 2:4-7 reports Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem, and unfortunately things did not improve for them. Though Joseph was from the family of David, a royal family, they certainly did not receive any royal treatment. There was no reasonable place for them to stay upon their arrival. Nonetheless, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. The name Bethlehem means the “house of bread.” Jesus was laid in a manger which essentially is an animal feeding trough. It seems the birth of the Messiah escaped the notice of the Jewish religious leaders, the priests and the Roman nobility. Did anyone notice? Shepherds came, even though they were the lowest of the low on the social hierarchy and considered to be outside of the covenant. Eventually the Magi came and they were pagans. Interesting how God works – isn’t it? All this gave Mary pause for more pondering and reflection (Luke 2:19).

The next event in the saga of  Mary comes in Luke’s Gospel when he made note of the event we know as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Mary and Joseph were apparently good, observant Jews who followed the prescribed Jewish rituals. On day 8, they had their infant son circumcised according to the Mosaic Law (Luke 2:21). At that time, they officially named him Jesus, which was the name the angel told Mary to give him. Then they headed to the Temple to present their son and consecrate him to the Lord.

 

March 10

When Mary finally arrived at Elizabeth’s house, she greeted her according to the standard, cultural norm. But the greeting of Elizabeth to Mary was astonishing, as Luke noted in chapter 1, verses 41-45 of his Gospel. Elizabeth was “filled with the holy Spirit” which meant she had been given prophetic insight to know that Mary was also pregnant. She had no other way of knowing. Elizabeth declared Mary to be “blessed among women.” That was a description applied to Jael (Judges 5:24-26) and Judith (chapter 13), some of Mary’s ancestors in faith. These women, like Mary, were seemingly ordinary women whom God raised up to do great things, especially to crush evil enemies.

Elizabeth also addressed Mary with the astounding title of the “mother of my Lord.” That was a royal title and it was not just a lucky guess on the part of Elizabeth. Luke also made a point of reporting that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Did she stay until John the Baptist was born? We don’t know. But when Mary headed back home, it would have been right about the time that her own body was beginning to reveal her pregnancy status.

 

March 3

When we left Mary last week, she had just received the news of God’s plan for her life. In spite of being troubled by all this, Mary responded with humility, in complete acceptance. She referred to herself as the “handmaid of the Lord” and asked that everything unfold as Gabriel had reported it to her (Luke 1:38). Ultimately, Mary would respond with an outburst of praise in the form of a canticle, which we have come to call the Magnificat. But her sentiments were not exactly original. They echoed a prior song of praise given by her ancestor in faith, Hannah, in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 after the birth of her son, Samuel. Hannah had been barren and prayed earnestly for a child, referring to herself as the handmaid and servant of the Lord. This is how Mary also described herself in her own song of praise for the wonders that God produced (Luke 1:46-55).

From Gabriel, Mary also learned that Elizabeth, her relative, was pregnant. From Luke 1:39-45 we get details of Mary’s next move, which was to pay a visit to her kinswoman, the elderly and surprisingly pregnant Elizabeth. Luke reported that Mary “arose,” and went “in haste” from her home in Nazareth to the hill country of Judah. She had just learned of her own big, life-changing news. Yet, she turned her attention away from herself and went to share the joy of her formerly barren relative. This response seems to be quite consistent with her humble and selfless nature.

 

February 17, 2019

As we continue on to Luke 1:28, we get the greeting to Mary from the angel Gabriel: “Hail, full of grace!” The word “hail” means “rejoice.” It is the same word used by the prophets when they proclaimed prophecies about the Messiah. Gabriel did not address Mary by her given name. He addressed her as “full of grace.” According to biblical scholars, the Greek word used for “grace” in this passage describes an ongoing action. In other words, she was already graced, she always had been and she would always continue to be full of grace. This is life and soul transforming grace. If she is filled with God’s grace, there can be no sin in her. In essence, “full of grace” was her name, implying her real identity in the eyes of God. We see many times in Scripture, such as with Abraham, Jacob and even Peter that being designated by a new name signaled the beginning of a new role. Something big was apparently in the works for young Mary.

Gabriel then said to Mary “The Lord is with you.” This was not just a pious sentiment. Mary, who likely knew her Scriptures, would have heard that God was with her to equip her for some future event. This phrase has rich biblical roots. God told Moses he would be with him to liberate the Jews from Egypt (Exodus 3:12). God told Joshua he would be with him in his mission to lead the Jews into the Promised Land  (Joshua 1:5). God told Gideon he would be with him even though he was the least in his family within the least of the 12 tribes (Judges 6:12). And God told David he would be with him, as we noted earlier.

 

February 10, 2019

We continue our introduction to Mary with Luke’s description of Mary as a virgin, though she was betrothed. At that time and in that culture, betrothal was step one of a 2-step marriage process. Mary would still have been living with her parents. In first century Judaism, betrothals usually happened between the ages of 13 and 16 for girls. The betrothal meant a legally binding, covenantal relationship. So Mary and Joseph were already considered to be husband and wife, though they were not yet living together. Step 2 of the process was the “coming together” as in living under the same roof as spouses, which typically resulted in the consummation of the marriage.

Luke reminds us that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, who was “of the house of David” (Luke 1:27). That of course points to the royal family lineage. But there had been no heir of David in power since the Babylonian exile in 587 BC. And we typically date Jesus’ birth around the year 4 BC. For Mary and Joseph, being connected to the royal family of Israel came with no privileges in a time when Israel was being oppressed by the foreign powers of the Roman empire.

 

January 27, 2019

As we continue to unfold the story of salvation history, we are brought to the writings of the New Testament. Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew 1:16  identified Jesus as the “Messiah” who was born of Mary, the wife of Joseph. Matthew also reminded us in 1:23 that this child Emmanuel, born of a virgin, fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). The virgin who bore Jesus was a young woman by the name of Mary. The child Jesus came from the line of David. Matthew specifically laid out Jesus’ genealogy in terms of his Davidic pedigree. Remember, the kingdom that would last forever would come through the lineage of David. Matthew presents Mary as the divine sign promised to Israel: a sign of God’s faithfulness to David; a sign of God’s fulfillment of his plan for all creation.

Was Mary really the young woman who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy? The early Christians thought so. They knew what Isaiah had prophesied. For them, Mary fit all the parameters of the prophecy. And they believed God’s promises that the line of King David would continue and that through the Jews, God would send a Messiah. After witnessing the life and death of Jesus, they had no doubt that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. We see that clearly in Matthew’s Gospel, which he wrote so all future generations would make the connections as well. If we call ourselves Christian, we too have accepted that Jesus was the promised Messiah from the house of David.

 

January 20, 2019

As we continue to unfold the story of salvation history, we are brought to the writings of the New Testament. Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew 1:16  identified Jesus as the “Messiah” who was born of Mary, the wife of Joseph. Matthew also reminded us in 1:23 that this child Emmanuel, born of a virgin, fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). The virgin who bore Jesus was a young woman by the name of Mary. The child Jesus came from the line of David. Matthew specifically laid out Jesus’ genealogy in terms of his Davidic pedigree. Remember, the kingdom that would last forever would come through the lineage of David. Matthew presents Mary as the divine sign promised to Israel: a sign of God’s faithfulness to David; a sign of God’s fulfillment of his plan for all creation.

Was Mary really the young woman who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy? The early Christians thought so. They knew what Isaiah had prophesied. For them, Mary fit all the parameters of the prophecy. And they believed God’s promises that the line of King David would continue and that through the Jews, God would send a Messiah. After witnessing the life and death of Jesus, they had no doubt that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. We see that clearly in Matthew’s Gospel, which he wrote so all future generations would make the connections as well. If we call ourselves Christian, we too have accepted that Jesus was the promised Messiah from the house of David.

 

January 13

After the reign of Solomon, things pretty much went downhill for the people of Israel. A whole series of disobedient kings resulted in continual turmoil, including military defeats and conquerings by various foreign powers. The worst of those happened in 587 BC when the Babylonians came in, destroyed most of Israel and sent the able-bodied Jews into exile in Babylon. In the midst of that chaos, the prophet Isaiah shared a sign of hope with King Ahaz. It bears keeping in mind that a prophet’s job was to speak God’s truth. Known as the Emmanuel prophecy, Isaiah 7:14 spoke of a young woman, of marriageable age, who would bear a son and call him Emmanuel. Emmanuel means “God with us.” None of the kings following Ahaz totally fulfilled that prophecy.

Chapters 9 and 11 of Isaiah give considerable detail regarding the new king as a “christ” or “messiah” from the throne of David, who would reunite the tribes into one everlasting kingdom that would be a light to the nations. This christ, the anointed one, would be the one that God had promised to both Abraham and David and he would bring all the nations to God. This new king would establish a worldwide kingdom that would never end. The Jews waited and watched for centuries for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled.

 

January 6, 2019

One of the special treasures of the Catholic Church comes in the person of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We continue to encounter her throughout the Christmas season. Mary of course plays a very important role in the story of salvation history. And even though her name doesn’t appear very often in Scripture, she is no bit player. The role she willingly undertakes is pivotal to the beginning of Christianity and to its ongoing history. So let’s take a good, long look at Mother Mary.

In order to understand the fullness of Mary’s role in the bigger story, we actually have to go back in time, long before Mary was born. In the history of the people of Israel, the glory years began around 1000 BC with the reign of king David, which was followed by the reign of his son, Solomon. 1 Samuel 16:13 presents us with the prophet Samuel anointing a young David to do the work of the Lord. With that anointing with oil, “the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” David then went on to defeat Goliath, became king for 40 years and established Jerusalem as the center of Jewish worship. Scripture also tells us of God’s promise that the throne of David would last forever. Here are the words from the prophecy in 2 Samuel 7:16: “Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.”