Sometimes holiness is about life-changing events or heroic acts. But far more often, holiness makes the ordinary extraordinary. It transforms the mundane or the monotonous into life-giving channels of grace.
Today we celebrate one of the most tender and natural feasts on the Church calendar—the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although we date the liturgical feast to at least the sixth century, we can actually trace the celebration much farther back. After all, don’t you think Jesus celebrated Mary’s birthday?
Join Him in the celebration. We shouldn’t feel silly for celebrating Mary’s birthday just like we would celebrate the birthday of a family member or friend. After all, she’s our Mother, and I’m assuming you celebrate your earthly mom’s birthday. So why not your heavenly Mother’s birthday?
I think that’s why this feast is one of my favorite Marian feasts. Mary had a birthday, just like you and I have birthdays. When we think of Mary’s life, we tend to think of two things: the Annunciation, when Gabriel came to ask her to be the Mother of God, and the Crucifixion, when she stood at the foot of the Cross to watch her Son give His life for us.
Two moments. Two life-changing, earth-shattering, history-will-never-be-the-same moments.
But what about the rest of her life? Sure, there’s the birth of Jesus, the wedding at Cana, or the Presentation in the Temple. Or that little incident of losing Jesus when he was twelve. But these are just a few moments in a whole lifetime. If we look at Mary’s life as a whole, we realize that most of her life was not spent receiving messages from angels. It was spent:
Preparing for the Sabbath.
Sweeping the floor.
For as extraordinary her vocation was, most of her day-to-day life was, presumably, quite… ordinary.
Just because Mary was sinless, perfect, and the model of our holiness does not mean life wasn’t ordinary. Rather, it is what she did with the ordinariness that made the extraordinary events possible. It was because she was faithful in the ordinary that she was able to be faithful during the extraordinary.
Mary was able to vulnerably answer the angel, “Let it be done to me” because she was a girl of prayer, a girl who obeyed her parents, who surrendered to God in the everyday life of a Jewish daughter. Mary was able to stand at the foot of the Cross and faithfully suffer the greatest pain a woman has ever suffered because before that she had suffered the little pains faithfully—the self-gift it takes to nurse a child when you want to take a nap or wash dishes when you want to visit with your neighbor.
Holiness doesn’t have to be dramatic. In fact, it rarely is. It usually looks less like a Nobel-peace-prize-winning-action and more like a sweeping-the-fiftieth-Cheerio-off-the-floor-this-morning-action. Not that Nobel peace prize winners aren’t saints—ask anyone who knew Mother Teresa. But she would be the first to say it was the smallest acts of her life that made the biggest difference.
Sometimes holiness is about life-changing events or heroic acts. But far more often, holiness makes the ordinary extraordinary. It transforms the mundane or the monotonous into life-giving channels of grace. It makes the normal, everyday acts—our commute to work, our laundry, paying the bills, or carrying for a loved one—acts of love. They might not feel any different, we might still dread them, or they might still be a little painful. But when we do them out of love, He transforms them and He transforms us. That’s how we become saints.
Celebrate Mary’s birthday today. Sure, with cake and ice cream and treats. But most of all, by living this ordinary day pursuing holiness: completing our daily tasks well, offering up annoyances, and spending a little extra time in prayer.
Image credit: “The Virgin in Prayer” (detail) | Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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