The Birthday of Our Lady
This coming Friday (8th September) we celebrate the Birthday of Our Lady. Her entrance into the world was one of the greatest events ever to take place in human history, because by it, our salvation was about to be ushered in. I doubt anyone even suspected that the child born of St Joachim and St Anne would be the greatest and most highly honoured of all God’s creatures by being the Mother of our God and Redeemer.
It is from tradition and particularly from the Apocryphal Gospel of James, that we know the names of Our Lady’s parents. St Joachim and St Anne were childless until the birth of Our Lady, but they lived godly lives and were always fervent in prayer. After twenty years of fruitless marriage, and despite all their efforts and prayers, they were still without a child. According to tradition, Joachim decided to go into the desert for forty days, and made a retreat and did a lot of fasting and penance while St Anne stayed at home and did the same thing. An angel appeared to Joachim and told him that God had heard their prayers, and that he and his wife would conceive. So now very happy, Joachim set off to return home, and on the way met his wife in the Gate of Jerusalem. Before he could say anything, she told him she had had a vision and that they were going to have a child.
The Jews had been waiting for centuries for the coming of the promised Messiah, but no one would have thought this little baby girl born to Joachim and Anne was to be the fulfilment of that promise. St Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) teaches that Mary’s soul was the most beautiful God had ever created. She was immaculately conceived, without Original Sin and hence she was full of grace from the moment of her conception. Even in St Anne’s womb her sanctity was higher than all the angels and saints.
People sometimes say that since Mary had so many graces and was immaculately conceived and sinless, that we can learn very little from her. But this is not so. Yes, she is above all the angels and saints, but we must remember that in Baptism, our souls were cleansed from Original Sin and we were given sanctifying grace. And this gives us the foundation we need to grow in holiness. Yes, she was conceived “full of grace” (Luke 1:28), but it was still by her free will that she chose to continue in that grace, and each moment of her life she chose to cooperate with that grace, and to continue free from sin.
God had a plan for Mary and He also has a plan for each and every one of us. But it’s also up to us whether we want to cooperate with His plan and do His Will. We can choose to follow Him like Mary, but we can also choose to go our own way, and if we do that it is more than likely to lead to our destruction.
So let us rejoice at her birth, and also emulate her example and follow her ways. And may God who made Mary perfect and good in His image, also make us good and perfect, which is what we all should aspire to be – like Mary in how we devote ourselves to her Divine Son.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC