Belief in the Virgin birth unites us with our Evangelicals brothers and sisters. There is yet another point of unity which results from acknowledging the unique motherhood of Mary. Given our present world situation, it is of utmost importance. It turns out that Islam from the beginning has had a high regard for the Mother of Jesus. The Koran contains over thirty references to the Virgin Mary. No other woman's name is even mentioned, not even that of Mohammed's daughter, Fatima. Among men, only Abraham, Moses, and Noah are mentioned more times than Mary. In the Koran, the Blessed Mother is described as "Virgin, ever Virgin."*** (See Fr Ladis J. Cizik, OUR LADY AND ISLAM, also a comparison of Bible & Quran on Virgin Mary.)
These final days of Advent we accompany the Virgin, pregnant with child, and her husband on their road to Bethlehem. Our Mexican and Filipino communities are doing this in a lovely way by celebrating Posadas, the blessed couple's search for hospitality. Even if we do not enact these event, the question before us is, Will we welcome the Holy Family?
For some people, all this is a charming story, but “outmoded.” They are afraid if we press it too literally, it will turn young people off. I can only respond by pointing out what has been this year's best selling children’s book and most popular pre-Christmas movie. Children love Harry Potter because something inside tells them that life does have epic proportions. That our world is not flat but a magical place where the most amazing things have occurred – and still can happen. (I am not referring here to "medical miracles" or the "marvels of science" but events understood as involving the penetration of the natural world by supernatural powers.)
Now there is a danger in this - not only for children, but adults. Those who play with magic often get more than they bargain for. We humans are no match for purely spiritual beings. They do not sleep nor lose their focus. A person may have the illusion he is controlling them, but it always turns out they are controlling him, using him for their purposes which can turn out to be most horrific. During my thirty years as a priest, I have seen instances both in Peru and here in Seattle.
As Christians our response to magic should not be to simply dismiss it. Today’s Gospel makes clear that we do live in a split-level universe where incredible things do happen. Like the magician we strive to communicate with spiritual beings – in our case, saints, angels and above God himself - and we often receive here and now benefits: healing, enlightenment, strength, etc. But unlike the magician we have no illusions about controlling them, harnessing them for our purposes. Rather we work to find our relationship to the original Source, our place in His overall plan. For that humility, we have no better models than the Virgin Mary and her husband who “awoke” and “did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” (Mt 1:18)
*The 1910 General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church listed the following five: (1) Inerrancy of Bible, (2) Virgin Birth, (3) Substitutional Atonement, (4) Bodily Resurrection, and (5) Authenticity of Gospel Miracles. Later fundamentalists usually combined number five with one of the first four and included some statement on the Second Coming of Christ.
**Rev. Johann G. Roten, S.M who teaches at Dayton University gave this explanation of the Virgin birth:
The Virgin birth is a doctrine plainly stated in the Apostles' Creed that Jesus had no physical father, and was not conceived as a result of sexual intercourse. The exact detail of such a miracle–an exact point and mode through which a supernatural enters this world–are not part of the doctrine. In the normal act of generation the human father is a carrier, sometimes an unwilling carrier, always the last in a long line of carriers that stretches back far beyond his ancestors into pre-human and preorganic times, back to the beginning of creation itself. That line is in God's hand. Once, only once, and for a special purpose, God dispensed with that long line which is his instrument. Once his life-giving hand touched a woman without passing through the ages of interlocked events. Once the great glove of nature–as C.S. Lewis says–was taken off his hand.
There was, of course, a unique reason for it. That time he was not simply creating a human being, but the man who was to be himself: he was creating man anew. Was beginning, at this divine and human point, the new creation of all things. As one spiritual writer put it: "The whole soiled and weary universe quivered at this direct injection of essential life–direct, uncontaminated, not drained through all the crowded history of nature."
***In an article which appeared in the L'Osservatore Romano (13 April 1978) Giancarlo Finazzo cites a Hadith attributed to the Prophet, "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son". (See THE VIRGIN MARY IN THE KORAN)
From Archives (Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A):
Also: Mary's Vow of Virginity, Lost Ark Discovered
Bulletin (Top 10 Reasons, Jesus Video, Quotes from Koran)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)