Over the course of my three decades as a priest, I've noticed that many Christian men and women " too many " reach adulthood with a mental picture of Jesus that's quite strange. It doesn't correspond to His reality at all.
Some of us tend to imagine Jesus as either an unearthly miracle-maker or a vaguely distant holy man. We don't know how to resolve Who Christ is. We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man. We say that publicly at every Sunday Mass in the Creed. But we don't have much to look at to help us see what that means.
This is why the gift of Christian friendship is so important. One reason we instinctively search for strong Christian friendships and mentors is that, in living out their discipleship, good Christian men and women model Jesus to others. By their example, they help us experience Jesus as someone who was " and is " absolutely real in His passion for justice and mercy, His concern for others and His suffering. And that character and heroism of Jesus are things all of can respect and love, and want to follow.
But of course, character and heroism don't exist in a vacuum. They're shaped by many things, but especially by examples of courage. They're formed by a daily, intimate experience of love, with all the little moments of joy and sorrow, correction and encouragement that are part of real life. And therein lies the influence of a mother's love.
All of us know in our hearts that the best of what we are comes through our parents, and in a special sense, from our mother. And, as we prepare for Christmas during these weeks of Advent, reflecting on Scripture can teach us how the love of a mother touched the life of Jesus Christ in a very powerful way. Jesus shared exactly the same moments of maternal tenderness and humor that every child thrives on.
In our piety sometimes we tend to think of Mary as a means to an end, the vehicle God used to bring His Son into the world. But God chose Mary not to "use" her like an instrument, but because He loved her. He saw in her the beauty and character of a woman who would freely and lovingly shape His Son into the man He needed to be. We can't understand Jesus outside the love of His mother, any more than we can understand ourselves outside the experience of our families.
When we listen to the Sermon of Jesus on the Mount " "Blessed are you who are poor; the kingdom of God is yours" (Lk 6:20) " we're also hearing Mary: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…(for) He has lifted up the lowly; the hungry He has filled with good things, while the rich He has sent away empty" (Lk 1:46-47, 52-53).
Out of the faith and the flesh of Mary, the woman, God fashions the Child who is Redeemer of the world. Without Mary, there is no story of redemption. Without Mary, the woman of faith, there is no Jesus, the Son of God.
Next Wednesday, December 8, is the solemnity of Mary's Immaculate Conception. Quite apart from its importance as a holy day of obligation, the Immaculate Conception celebrates the unique greatness of Mary as a model of courage, strength, humility and fidelity for all men and women. Her beauty and glory are the gifts God intends for each of us. In her example as mother and teacher, we see the meaning of discipleship in its most perfect form.
Advent is the season that teaches us the real meaning of Christmas amid the noise and confusion of the world. In that learning, we have no better instructor than Mary, the woman God favored among all humanity.
(Archbishop Charles Chaput serves in the Archdiocese of Denver.)