Daily Reflection
September 8th, 2000
Roc O'Connor, S.J.
Theology Department and Campus Ministry
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Birth of the Virgin Mary - Feast 
Micah 5:1-4, or Romans 8:28-30
Psalms 13:6, 6
Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23 or 1:18-23

Today we celebrate the birth of Mary.  The title of the feast indicates that we remember her as a "person" - a baby girl born to a poor family in Judea.  We don't celebrate the Queenship of Mary, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Virgin Mary, or any of those other ecclesial titles that were applied to her well after her life.  We just celebrate the birth of Mary.  But do we celebrate only the birth of an individual?  It certainly seems to me to be the case that many, if not most, tribal societies know nothing of this entity called, "the individual."  There, the main reality - the only reality - seems to be the tribe, the group, or the clan.  An "individual" is born into a web of direct and palpable relationships that define and orient her in this world.  What is most telling about an "individual," then, in such a society are the relationships that define his place in the world.  To whom does she belong?  That's the key question.  So, in celebrating the birth of Mary, we engage her not only in terms of the web of relationships she was born into, but those she chose (her fiat), and those that chose her (members of the Church).  Further, we encounter that set of relationships that scripture applies to her.  Today's readings are a good example.  She is the "the one who will bring forth the shepherd of Israel," she is Joseph's wife.  Thus, Mary is a woman defined.  She is known by those to whom she belongs.  She is definitely not an isolated person.  But she is definitely a defined and, should we say, "limited" person? 

The reality of being defined by relationships raises questions for many of us.  It again seems to be the case that fewer and fewer people in North America are born with an enduring and conscious sense of belonging.  Isolation - under the guise of absolute human independence - seems to be the birthright most of us share.  Yet, each of us, like Mary, is also defined, limited, circumscribed by our families, our culture(s) - and our scriptures.  In scriptural terms, we are adopted children of one God.  We have been redeemed and saved for a life of, well, you know the drill. 

So, our celebration of the birth of Mary raises some issues about the relation between community and the individual, doesn't it? Therefore, let me leave you with a few rhetorical questions for your further edification:  Rhetorical questions #1 - 4:  How do you like being defined?  How do you like the fact that your essential meaning in life is a gift and not only a choice?  What is it like to be told that you are basically dependent upon God and the graciousness of others - and maybe not so independent as North American culture tells you?  How do you resolve the tension between belonging and individuality? 

I wonder:  maybe at the heart of the discovery of what it means to truly be an individual, there's a door.  And that door opens to relationship and to belonging to God and others.  Maybe it opens to a relationship and a kind of belonging that is neither imposed out of a fear of isolation nor enforced because community is "the slipping away."  As I consider the nearly 70 students younger than 22 years old in my two classes - I wonder whether we should be encouraging them to develop community.  I wonder whether we should rather encourage them to explore more deeply the frontiers of individuality and individuation so that maybe they can find that door that opens toward a deeper form of relationship and belonging to God and to others.


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