The image of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Borongan Cathedral. BORONGAN CATHEDRAL

By Msgr. Euly B. Belizar, Jr., SThD

September 8, 2023

Borongan City, Eastern Samar

St. Augustine on the cosmic and historic significance of Mary’s birth: “She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley,”

In my little hometown of Borongan, Eastern Samar, September raises our emotional embers several degrees higher.

No, not only because it is the start of the ‘ber’ months that Pinoys in general associate with the coming Christmas. We are rather a bit more spiritually mundane (if there is such a term). Now let me explain what I mean. We tend to set our minds on our town fiesta and our spirits on the Birth of Mama Mary on September 8, which is its reason for being. The Cathedral Church always brims up with devotees that never fail to come even when elaborate of measures are taken (say, to avoid mass gatherings and observe the health protocols during the pandemic years).

We are simply an expression, exuberant if I may say so, of the so-called “pueblo amante de Maria (people in love with Mary)”.

That is how Filipinos used to be referred to in the language of our first colonizers who brought, with the sword of the ‘conquistadores’, also the Cross of evangelization by Catholic missionaries. Our first encounters with the persons of Jesus and his Mother Mary came about by way of both the shadows of foreign rule and the light of the Gospel.

But I apologize for digressing. Let me go back, as I should, to what I’d like to share. What could the Birth of the Mother of the Savior teach us both for now and beyond?

First of all, God’s love always surprises. The Scriptures abound with stories to back this point.

The births of Isaac, Moses, Samson, John the Baptist and the biggest of all, that of Jesus the Christ are in point. Include also that of his Mother.

And though Mary’s birth does not appear in the Bible, there are other sources that tend to express Catholic convictions regarding the Mother of the Lord. There is, for instance, the “proto-evangelium of James”. According to this writing attributed to one of the apostles, James, the barren couple, Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents, desperate to set themselves at rights with God as Joachim thought their infertility indicated that they must have displeased him in some ways, went into prayer and fasting to, as it were, make amends for their self-perceived failings. God’s response was a jolt whose magnitude exceeded even Abraham’s and Sarah’s experience.

As it eventually turned out, not only would Joachim and Anne be given a child but also that this child would be the future Mother of the Savior. The angel’s words, as recounted by James’ proto-evangelium, changed the couple’s life and world history forever: “The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth, and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.” Perhaps in time of many disasters, natural and man-made, we could learn from the example of Mary’s parents. There could be a surprise from the God of surprises in store for us and mankind, if we but adhere to his ways.

Second, not all truths nor salvation-history-making events are written in the Bible. One could make a legitimate case for the inclusion of Mary’s birth narrative in the last part of the Old Testament writings or in the Gospels, and one may wonder why this did not materialize, considering the many other birth narratives in the Scriptures of persons not as significant as that of the Mother of the Christ. But this is one such instance that appears to buttress the Catholic assertion that the Scriptures are not the sole foundation and source of faith.

Even the words and deeds of Jesus the Christ were not all written. So says the most faithful disciple, John the Gospel writer: “Now there are many other things that Jesus did which, if these were written down, the whole world itself I suppose would not be able to contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25). God speaks to us through the Scriptures, yes, we agree with the Judaeo-Christian world. But he also does so through Apostolic Tradition, as we Catholics further assert, and with reason. Besides God can also speak through the harrowing events we have gone through, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change manifestations. The more we respond with prayer, discernment and appropriate action, the better for us and our world.

Third, Mary’s birth finds its purpose, meaning and direction in the Birth of her Son. In this sense the Pinoy penchant to start harping on the Christmas spirit once September arrives is well-placed. September leads to December. Mary points to Christ. Mariology leads to Christology. And Christ points to redemption.

Even the liturgy on September 8 supports what we are saying here. The Gospel of Mt 1:1-16, 18-23 read on that day does not say anything about Mary’s birth but everything about the birth of Jesus her Son. This is no small matter. On the Feast commemorating the birth of Mary the liturgy brings up the narrative of the birth of her Son. This appears to me a justification of the Filipino spirit. As we say in theology: “Lex orandi, lex credendi (freely translated, liturgy determines belief)”. September is kin to December. Which is why we feel very much justified in playing Christmas songs at a time when many parts of the world still think September is a month to remember for the ember of a summer that is no longer. But the Filipino spirit declares that September 8 already points to December 25. And that claim is not without any basis. September is usually the end of summer in the western hemisphere.

From the light of summer the world in western eyes braces up for the shadows of winter. We have been going through the long, dark winter of the pandemic and natural calamities, climate change and the ongoing upheavals in the Ukraine, Afghanistan, the South China Sea etc. If we hold on to the faith that the Mother of the Redeemer exemplifies, must the light of the Savior’s coming be far behind?

Fourth, Mary’s birth, since it foreshadows Jesus’ birth, is a sign of the coming to flesh of God’s Word. The terse narrative of John referring to Jesus’ incarnation, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14), is an oblique tribute to Mary’s birth. The one was only possible because the other already was real. In this sense Mary’s birth being a sign has some sacramental character. Her physical presence in the world will ultimately bring the physical presence of God to the world.

PCP II reflects on the Visitation account in Lk 1:39-45 and finds it very significant not only for Elizabeth and her family but also for us today. Mary already has Jesus in her womb (after the Annunciation) when she travels on foot to the hill country of Judah to visit her cousin Elizabeth also bearing the infant John the Baptist in her womb. The event is portrayed by PCP II as the “evangelized” Mary (because she has in her the presence of Jesus, the real Good News) also becoming an “evangelizing” one in that she brings the presence of Jesus to the family of Elizabeth, Zechariah and John, bearing fruit in their experience of joy.

Luke the evangelist tells us that Elizabeth’s baby “leapt in her womb” for joy and she herself “was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:41). All that we are so familiar with today is sorrow over pandemic effects like multiple viruses, skyrocketing inflation and the threats to the environment, to world peace, to justice and to common brotherhood among humanity. Mary’s compassion as an expression of an evangelized person and community becoming likewise evangelizing urges us to be bringers of God’s presence (JC—the Good News) to a sorrow-laden world. Christians, with Mary, could, through Jesus the Good News that they proclaim, be instruments of turning this sorrow into joy.

Finally, the birth of Mary is an arrow in the direction of our own birth as disciples and as Body of her Son, the Christ. The Second Vatican Council’s teaching links the Church’s birth to the Paschal Mystery: “For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 5).

Need we stop there?

The inevitable consequence of accepting the truth that the Church’s birth is directly a fruit of Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross is its completion in the consideration of how the birth of Mary comes into play in our birth to discipleship. Mary does not only point to Jesus Christ but also to his Body, the Church. Mariology leads to Christology. In that truth is another: Mariology also leads to Ecclesiology. In fact, Mary is recognized in the Church as Jesus’ first and foremost disciple; she, in a word, embodies who we are, at our best. Remember the episode in Luke 11:27-28 at which a woman praises Mary indirectly by mentioning glowingly “the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you” (v. 27) to which Jesus replies: “Yes, and moreover: Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (v. 28) [King James’ version]? Many non-Catholics sometimes take Jesus’ words as a rebuke to the practice of honoring Mary usually associated with Catholics. But on reflection, Jesus cannot be rebuking his mother. He is, in fact, describing her. He is, in fact, saying: “My mother is not to be honored simply because she is my mother but because she is the model disciple. She it is who perfectly hears the word and keeps it.”

All this finds a happy conclusion in the words of the dying Jesus on the cross to the disciple he loved who also represents all his disciples that he loves: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27).

A Blessed Birthday, Mother, Mama Mary!


CBCPNews is a church-based news agency operated by the Media Office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.  This apostolate aims at helping the work of the new evangelization through the news media.  This is non-commercial and non-profit.  That being the case, it totally depends on generosity of its readers and supporters.

Should you wish to donate kindly press the donate button.  Thank you.