Homily for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary | Please click here for the readings.
In the tradition of the Church, there are only two individuals besides the Lord Jesus who have their birthdays celebrated with a special feast: St. John the Baptist and the Blessed Mother (whose nativity we celebrate today). According to some of the apocryphal writings of the early Church, the story of the birth of Mary is actually quite beautiful.
Tradition has it that Joachim and Ann, Mary’s parents, struggled to conceive and have a child, yet they never gave up hope that the Lord was going to bless them. Part of the story that has been passed down through the ages is that an angel of the Lord appeared to both Joachim and Ann and told them of the news that they would conceive and give birth to a daughter who was to be named Mary. The daughter was also to be dedicated to the Lord as a virgin from the very beginning of her life. The angel told Joachim and Ann that their daughter would also be favored by God and would eventually give birth to the Son of God. And from that point on, Joachim and Ann did exactly what the angel told them to do.
While that story is not found in the Gospels, it is held in the tradition of the Church. Whether or not it is true is something that is left up to interpretation. Even so, it is still a beautiful story about the life of the Blessed Mother and gives us a glimpse into how God had set His divine plan for the salvation of the world into motion well before Jesus’ birth.
Joachim and Ann being barren for a length of time would also tie into a long history of God using barren women to give birth to major figures in the story of salvation. Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Rebekah gave birth to Jacob. Rachel gave birth to Benjamin and Joseph. Why wouldn’t that tradition continue with Ann giving birth to Mary?
I think what all of this goes to show us is the power of God’s grace and how it can truly change the world. Look at how God used all of these barren women to raise up an entire nation of people who would be His followers, the recipients of His Promise. He promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that promise came true. The ultimate fulfillment of that promise was found in Jesus, who Himself bestowed upon each of us a tremendous grace that completely changed the world and opened for us the way of salvation. But that wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Mary, who herself was full of God’s grace and humbly submitted herself to that grace each and every day.
Here’s the thing, God wants to give each of us that same grace. He wants to shower an abundance of that grace into our hearts. Are we allowing Him to? Are we willing to accept it? Many times we ask for different things from the Lord but we want to receive those graces on our terms, rather than allowing the Father to do what He wants to do in and through us. If we truly want to receive grace from God, we’ve got to get out of His way and allow Him to do His thing. That’s humility. And it’s a hard thing to do. So today, on this Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Mother, let’s ask Mary to intercede for us, that we may grow in the virtue of humility to get out of God’s way and allow His grace to change our hearts so that He can continue changing the world through us.