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Wednesday 29 June 2016

Brexit storm will pass and lessons for the USA . . . Maggie T. told us so.

Conrad Black weighs in at the CATHOLIC HERALD. Excerpts from the article:
The immediate reaction to the Brexit vote in the international media and financial markets illustrates again the complacency and vacuity of the governing elites of the West. 
. . .  Margaret Thatcher, was pushed out of office by her own party for warning that precisely what has happened would happen . . . . The lady was right from the start, and this is in large measure, her victory. 
. . .  the Americans have to expel the sclerotic cynics clinging to the furniture and glued to the walls of the great houses of government like limpets, but don’t have to wrench back the right to self-government from foreign hands. The British have the leadership required in place and at hand, but they have to disentangle themselves from the corpse of Euro-inertia.
The idiocy of the currency speculators and money managers will subside quickly. The European treaty and the incomprehensibly turgid Constitution of the European Union provide for two years of negotiation. Despite the initial purposeful response of the ciphers in Brussels, who are not elected, are not responsible to the so-called European Parliament or the EU’s constituent nations, and are not answerable to anyone, they will cave like jelly to try to keep Britain in. 
. . . The real casualty is the Brussels tyranny. It has got away with regulating everything down to the slightest details of small businesses-the Germans want to be loved in Europe, and as they are the strongest country in Europe and are accustomed to regimentation, they live with it. The French, Italians and other Mediterranean countries regard almost all politicians as worthless crooks and poseurs and generally ignore all regulations, so they don’t really notice. The little countries see Europe as the way for their own leaders to become powerful by assuming high positions as compromise choices between the large countries in the pan-European government. The British don’t like it, but were drawn in because they thought the Euro-train was leaving the station and they had to get on board.
. . . American Democratic administrations have always misjudged issues of Britain and Europe. Kennedy tried to subsume British and French nuclear forces into Nato under American command, Carter and Clinton and Obama have all been desperately trying to push Britain into Europe, from a glib, ahistorical reflex that it would make everything less complicated.
Brussels has been exposed in its infirmity. A common market will remain. The Euro-federalists will group around Germany (Austria, Netherlands, Czechs, Poles, and Baltic and Scandinavian countries except Norway), and adopt or retain the Euro. The Mediterranean countries, including Portugal, will desultorily follow France, which will be less dyspeptic with a change of government next year, And the East European countries will advance toward one of the blocs at the best speed they can attain. Britain will revert to measured cordiality, balancing interests as it has done since the rise of the nation state in the time of Henry VIII, invoking American assistance as it did in the last century, if the European balance tilts dangerously. This is unlikely now, in a nuclear age and with a relatively content and placatory Europe.
If Britain really does leave Europe, the economic consequences will be neutral all round, though the United Kingdom will be stronger without the dead weight of Euro-Danegeld as placebos to labour and small farmers (for notorious historic reasons). The hysteria of the last few days will pass like a summer shower. Britain, as it has often before, is leading Europe out of a well-intended cul-de-sac of undemocratic socialism to a future that works.

Secularism, France, Islam and the E.U. . . . Brexit anyone?

Here are excerpts from a review by George Marlin of a freshly translated book on the situation in Europe by Pierre Manet:

. . . In France, many of the 1960s radicals worked their way into government bureaucracies in Paris and the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels. The Polish EU parliament member and academic Ryszard Legutko has observed that, from those perches, these unelected secularist apparatchiks have dedicated themselves to controlling every aspect of society, “including ethics and mores, family, churches, schools, universities, community organizations, culture and even human sentiments and aspirations.”
This phenomenon has caused a new crisis in France as well and is the subject of Pierre Manent’s newly translated book, Beyond Radical Secularism: How France and the Christian West should respond to the Islamic Challenge.
Manent, a renowned French political philosopher, just retired from the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Raised in a Communist family, after witnessing what he considered the futile student riots of 1968 he abandoned Marxism and embraced Catholicism.
Influenced by his teacher, the anti-Communist Raymond Aron – who introduced him to Aristotle, Tocqueville, and Leo Strauss – Manent went on to become a prolific writer on the history of liberalism.
Beyond Radical Secularism, which Manent calls an “exercise in sincerity,” took France by storm when it was published shortly after the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo in 2015.
He argues that since the cultural upheaval of 1968, most forms of authority have been degraded. French policies that combined individualism with antinomianism have destroyed the legitimacy of nation, church, neighborhood, and family. The idea of the common good has been abandoned, collective rules have been delegitimized, and community loyalty has been lost.
In France’s constitutionally established secular state (laicité) has neutralized all that its people have in common and have given unlimited sovereignty to the individual. “This idea of neutralization” Manent writes, “amounts to making religion disappear as something social and spiritual by transforming the objectivity of the moral rule into the subjective rights of the individual.”
However, granting unlimited sovereignty to individuals, maintaining that religion is merely a private opinion, and accepting differences of life so long as the equal rights of others are not violated, has backfired in dealing with France’s rapidly growing Muslim population.
The secularist assumption that all problems with Muslims will dissipate because they will eventually become modern, secular, and democratic, has proven to be wrong. Public life for Muslims is a collection of morals and customs, not an environment that guarantees rights. Muslims in France conduct themselves as Muslims and under the current understanding the government has had no alternative but to accept that. As Manent writes:
Our Muslim fellow citizens are now too numerous, Islam has too much authority and the Republic. . .too little authority for things to be otherwise. I therefore conclude that our regime must concede, and frankly accept their ways, since the Muslims are our fellow citizens. We did not impose conditions upon their settling here, and so they have not violated them. Having been accepted as equals, they thus have every right to think that they were accepted ‘as they were.’
But he calls on France to employ a “politics of the possible” that involves a grand compromise “between French Muslim citizens and the rest of the body politic.”
A new “social contract” should recognize that Muslims do not adhere to Western ideas and that they will continue to practice their religious rites, with several exceptions. Polygamy must be prohibited as well as the burqa which “prevents the exchange of signs by which a human being recognizes another human being.”
Muslims will have to affirm certain elements of France’s common life. These include the “freedom of thought and expression.” Shouting “Islamophobia” when you encounter other views is a form of censorship of speech and thought, and must desist. Islam must be treated in the “same way all political, philosophic, and religious elements of [French] society have been treated for at least two centuries.”
To be part of a nation that represents all the French people, Muslims must also declare their independence “from the various Muslim countries that send out imams, and that finance and sometimes administer or guide the mosques.” Only then would they be entitled to the rights and duties of French citizenship.
Muslims need not abandon their religion but must see themselves “as Muslims, as members of a national community” and “by giving themselves to France, Muslims receive from her in return their religion.”
Finally, Manent insists that while a secular state can be neutral, a society cannot. And French society has been “stamped mainly but not exclusively by Catholic Christianity including also significant Protestant and Jewish elements.”
Acknowledging that France is a nation “marked” by Christianity does not mean Muslims must be second-class citizens (as Christians have been for centuries in the Middle East) because “political rule has been rigorously separated from religious commandments and precepts enjoined by the Church; this is a secularity in its proper sense, which is indeed necessary and salutary.”
How likely is it that French Muslims would accept this offer? The chances do not seem good. But it is good that a clear thinker of Manent’s caliber has candidly described the problem and offered what many be the only proper way to solve it.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

65th Jubilee of Pope Benedict's ordination

Pope Francis on Tuesday hosted a celebration for the 65th anniversary of the priestly ordination of his predecessor Benedict, the pope emeritus. Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI when he was elected to the papacy in 2005, attended the celebration in the Sala Clementina within the Apostolic Palace. More than thirty cardinals were also present, as well as a number of other invited guests.

The event began with music from the Sistine Choir and a speech by Pope Francis. In his remarks, the Supreme Pontiff recalled St Peter’s response to Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” “Lord, you know that I love you,” answered the first Pope. And this, the current Pope said, “is the note that has dominated a life spent entirely in the service of the priesthood and of the true theology”.

Pope Francis said that Benedict continues to serve the Church, “not ceasing to truly contribute to her growth with strength and wisdom.” “And you do this,” he said, “from that little Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican, that is shown in that way to be anything but that forgotten little corner to which today’s culture of waste tends to relegate people when, with age, their strength diminishes.” He spoke, too, about the “Franciscan” dimension of the monastery, which recalls the Portiuncula, the “little portion” where St Francis founded his order, and laid down his life. Divine Providence, he said, “has willed that you, dear Brother, should reach a place one could truly call ‘Franciscan’, from which emanates a tranquillity, a peace, a strength, a confidence, a maturity, a faith, a dedication, and a fidelity that does so much good for me, and gives strength to me and to the whole Church.”

At the conclusion of his remarks, Pope Francis offered best wishes to Pope emeritus Benedict on behalf of himself and of the whole Church, with the prayer for Benedict, “That you, Holiness, might continue to feel the hand of the merciful God who supports you; that you might continue to experience and witness to us the love of God; that, with Peter and Paul, you might continue to rejoice with great joy as you journey toward the goal of the faith.”

Pope Benedict at Westminster Abbey, London
Later, after more music and speeches by Cardinals Gerhard Müller and Angelo Sodano – respectively Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals – Benedict offered words of thanks to all his well-wishers, and in a particular way to Pope Francis. Speaking to the Holy Father, Benedict said, “Your kindness, from the first moment of the election, in every moment of my life here, strikes me, is a source of real inspiration for me. More than in the Vatican Gardens, with their beauty, your goodness is the place where I dwell: I feel protected.”

The Pope emeritus also reflected on the concept of “thanksgiving,” reflecting on a word written, in Greek, on a remembrance card from his first Mass. That word, he said, suggests “not only human thanksgiving, but naturally hints at the more profound word that is hidden, which appears in the liturgy, in the Scriptures,” and in the words of consecration. The Greek word “eucharistomen,” he said, “brings us back to that reality of thanksgiving, to that new dimension that Christ has given it. He has transformed into thanksgiving, and so into blessing, the Cross, suffering, all the evil of the world. And thus He has fundamentally transubstantiated life and the world, and has given us, and gives us today the Bread of true life, which overcomes the world thanks to the strength of his love.”

Friday 24 June 2016

The Shrine of St. Thomas More, St. Peter ad Vincula, London.

"I am the  king's good servant, but God's first." -- STM

He has cast off the chains of servitude to tyrants and is free to serve only God.

This item was sent along to me as a reminder that the shrine of St. Thomas More is in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula 
in the Tower of London.

St. Jean Baptiste

A blessed Solemnity of St. Jean Baptiste to all in our OCSP Deanery! 

Pray for the Church in Quebec and for our brothers and sisters in faith to be faithful witnesses.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Pope -- Pro-life at all levels

Today in Oslo, Norway the VI World Congress Against the Death Penalty opens, organized by NGOs including about 140 organizations from around the world. Pope Francis sent a video message for the occasion. The English transcription of the original Spanish message is found below this is in line with opposition to abortion and assisted suicide. The Church is clearly consistent on all matters relating to human life and needs to affirm that these are all linked under the providence of God.

I greet the organizers of this World Congress against the death penalty, the group of countries supporting it, particularly Norway as its host country, and all those representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society taking part in it. I likewise express my personal appreciation, along with that of men and women of goodwill, for your commitment to a world free of the death penalty. 

One sign of hope is that public opinion is manifesting a growing opposition to the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defense. Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty. 

The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is an auspicious occasion for promoting worldwide ever more evolved forms of respect for the life and dignity of each person. It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal. 

Today I would encourage all to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also for the improvement of prison conditions, so that they fully respect the human dignity of those incarcerated. “Rendering justice” does not mean seeking punishment for its own sake, but ensuring that the basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender. The question must be dealt with within the larger framework of a system of penal justice open to the possibility of the guilty party’s reinsertion in society. There is no fitting punishment without hope! Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment. 

I trust that this Congress can give new impulse to the effort to abolish capital punishment. For this reason, I encourage all taking part to carry on this great initiative and I assure them of my prayers. 

Thursday 16 June 2016

Canadian Liberal Government Denies Genocide of Christians in Syria

 reports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in the House of Commons Tuesday to vote against a motion declaring that the atrocities of the so-called Islamic State constitute genocide.

The Opposition motion — tabled by interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose — won the support of New Democrats, Bloc MPs, and four Liberal backbenchers: Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Anthony Housefather, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, and Karen Ludwig.
It was defeated by the Liberal majority in a vote of 166 to 139, sparking shouts of “Shame!”
In a heated question period shortly before the vote, Ambrose insisted that Trudeau was hiding behind “weasel words” and lacked “moral clarity” when it comes to the terror group.
She said that while allies in the U.S.  gave evidence that “ISIS’ crimes against religious minorities, women and children are genocide — the Liberal government refuses do the same.
“If all our allies can find the moral resolve why can’t our prime minister?” she asked.
Trudeau responded that Liberals “strongly condemn” the actions of the terror group and have “formally requested” the United Nations Security Council make a determination if they constitute genocide.
When he was pressed again on the case of thousands of Yazidi girls being murdered or turned into sex slaves, the prime minister was resolute that determinations of genocide must be done objectively on the international stage.
“We will not trivialize the importance of the word genocide by not respecting formal engagements around that word,” he said.

“Mr. Speaker, this isn’t actually about him,” Ambrose shot back.
“If all our allies can find the moral resolve why can’t our prime minister?”
— Rona Ambrose
The interim Tory leader wondered aloud how far ISIS would need to go before the prime minister would recognize what’s happening is genocide. Trudeau warned against playing petty politics with atrocities.
Perhaps the most heated exchange came when Ambrose reiterated that the federal government should ensure Yazidi girls are placed in Canada’s joint sponsorship program, following Germany’s example of providing “safe haven” for 1,000 girls.
Trudeau said his government has “re-opened” this country after 10 years of cuts to immigration and refugee programs from the Tory government. He noted, by way of example, the 25,000 Syrian refugees welcomed to these shores.
captured islamic stateA Kurd Yazidi holds a sign in northern Germany in 2014 during a rally in solidarity with Kurds trapped in Syria. (Photo: Ingo Wagner/AFP/Getty Images)
“The prime minister doesn’t get it,” Ambrose shot back. “These girls are not refugees. They are not considered refugees. They’re languishing in camps as displaced people but we have a special program that he has power to use to bring these girls to Canada.
“So I ask him again, when is he going to take direction and help these girls?” she shouted. The remark sparked applause from the Tory benches.
Trudeau, again, responded that while the last government “did a lot to diminish our capacity to welcome people from around the world,” his was restoring Canada as a country that welcomes the vulnerable.
He did not respond directly to the plight of Yazidi girls.
The full text of Ambrose’s defeated motion: 
That the House agree that ISIS is responsible for: (a) crimes against humanity aimed at groups such as Christians, Yezidis, and Shia Muslims, as well as other religious and ethnic minorities in Syria and Iraq; (b) utilizing rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war and enslaving women and girls; and (c) targeting gays and lesbians who have been tortured and murdered; and, as a consequence, that the House strongly condemn these atrocities and declare that these crimes constitute genocide.

Monday 13 June 2016

Multiculturalism Has Had Its Day . . . Marriage needs to be encouraged - Rabbi Sacks

The outgoing Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks, says British Muslims should learn from the U.K. Jewish community's centuries of experience as a minority and abstain from imposing beliefs on the majority population.

Following are excerpts from a London Times interview in which the Jewish leader’s criticism of the British government is especially strong in light of the upcoming BREXIT vote. 

In the interview Sacks also said: "the government has [not] done enough at all" to encourage marriage, adding it should recognize marriage in the tax system, and also help stay-at-home mothers with childcare subsidies. “The state has an interest in marriage because the cost of family breakdown and non-marriage, the last time I looked at it, was estimated at £9 billion a year,” he said.

On multiculturalism in Britain he said "has had its day and it’s time to move on." 
Rabbi Sacks with former  C of E archbishop, Rowan Williams
“The real danger in a multicultural society is that every ethnic group and religious group becomes a pressure group, putting our people’s interest instead of the national interest,” he said. 

Rabbi Sacks  advised Muslims in Britain to learn from the Jewish experience of living as a minority in the country, saying that, "the lessons are — number one, you don’t try to impose your views on the majority population. Number two, you have to be what I call bilingual, you know you are Jewish and you’re English… because it forces you to realize that actually society and life is complicated. It mustn’t and can’t be simplified. Number three, there are times when it’s uncomfortable, when you realize there is such a thing as anti-Semitism. [Being] a minority isn’t always fun.”

Thursday 9 June 2016

Jean Vanier on the right to love and care as opposed to the "right to die"

Jean Vanier
Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche an international organization of homes for the mentally challenged.  He was interviewed by the CBC recently and here are some quotes from him with regard to the assisted suicide legislation being considered by the Liberal Government:
  My question is always how to put into legislation certain safeguards. Now, there are people who are terribly lonely. They want to die. So what help is getting to people who feel lonely? And how to think about a society where we're more concerned for each other and trying to love each other and help each other. We're putting a lot in the hands of the medical (community) without putting many safeguards in.
"[W]e mustn't go too quick to just say 'there's a legal right.' [People] also have a legal right to be walked with, accompanied and helped."- Jean Vanier
. . .  the question is how to encourage palliative care? Because we can move quite quickly into just the rights of a person who's in pain. And so it's really being attentive to those who are in pain, and how can we help people during these periods to die peacefully. 
Jean Vanier
(Elodie Perriot/L'Arche)
People could go through periods of just fatigue, depression, loneliness. So we mustn't go too quick to just say "there's a legal right". They also have a legal right to be walked with, accompanied, and helped. 

So I hear what you're saying — that everybody is independent. Of course, we're also all interdependent. We need all to be loved, in order to find the beauty of life. And of course, what we see here in all our communities of L'Arche. And people come to us maybe who are quite violent, who are in depression, but then they discover something. They discover that they're loved. Lawmakers should also realize that the human being, we're born in weakness, and we die in weakness. And that we're all vulnerable. And that we all always need help. A society needs to encourage opening up our hearts to those who are weaker and more fragile. 

"[M]y God, we need each other, we need help, we need good doctors, we need the old people's homes. We are all fragile, we all need help, and yet at the same time we all have strengths."- Jean Vanier
So the "something" in society that's going wrong when we thinking all the time that people have to be perfectly independent, perfectly strong, where in reality, my God, we need each other, we need help, we need good doctors, we need the old people's homes; where there's caring and where there're not just one or two nurses or helpers looking after too many people and nobody has time to listen to each other. There's a fundamental sickness in our society. And how can we, little by little, discover this? To move from the I to the we — we are all fragile, we all need help, and yet at the same time we all have strengths. You see, the extraordinary thing here in L'Arche is that so many people with disabilities — they bring forth within us a capacity to love and to be in communion with one another, and to have fun. 

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Cardinal Sarah speaking truth to power

George Weigel writes this month in FIRST THINGS about the new book by Cardinal Robert Sarah, God or Nothing.  The book is selling phenomenally all over the world.  It tells the story of a heroic bishop from Guinea and is an invitation to faith, addressed to everyone but perhaps particularly to those in the West.   

Weigel says: 

The cardinal, who was appointed by Pope Francis as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments with the mandate to continue the reform of the liturgical reform accelerated by Benedict XVI, was in Washington recently to address the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. 

Cardinal Sarah is not a showman, but he made a deep impression on the 1,300 in attendance by the depth of his faith and the lucidity of his presentation. He spoke movingly of the solidarity of which human beings are capable because we’re made in the likeness of the original communion of solidarity—the Holy Trinity. And in that context he defended the weakest and most vulnerable among us, in all stages of life, calling his American audience to live the truths on which the nascent nation staked its independence.

He then warned, quite rightly, that the “death of God” too often results, not in God’s burial, but in the “burial of good, beauty, love, and truth” through their inversion: “Good becomes evil, beauty is ugly, love becomes the satisfaction of sexual primal instincts, and truths are all relative.”

This accurate description of one root of today’s culture wars EARNED Cardinal Sarah the usual rebukes in the left-leaning Catholic blogosphere, where that shopworn parade of horribles—Manichaeism, culture-warrior, not-with-the-Pope Francis-program, etc.—was dusted off and trotted out yet again. Ironically, however, Cardinal Sarah’s address and his portside critics’ predictable response more-or-less coincided with a striking blog post by a Harvard Law School professor, Mark Tushnet, who seems not to have gotten the memo from the Catholic left that we should all just get along. 

Thus Professor Tushnet, writing in a post entitled “Abandoning Defensive Crouch Liberal Constitutionalism”:

The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. . . . For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (‘You lost, live with it’) is better than trying to accommodate the losers who—remember—defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War . . . And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945. . . .

There is intolerant, aggressive, God-burying secularism in a nutshell: Those of us who believe in marriage as it’s been understood for millennia, the right to life of the unborn and the elderly, men using men’s bathrooms, and religious freedom in full are the equivalents of post-Civil War lynch mobs, Nazis, and kamikaze-inducing Japanese militarists. Instead of berating Cardinal Sarah for speaking truth to dominant cultural and political power, might it not behoove his carping critics in the progressive Catholic blogosphere to challenge those in their political camp, like Mark Tushnet, who commit such calumnies—as some of us on the other side of the aisle, so to speak, have challenged the calumnies of Donald Trump? Is there no courage to be different left on the Catholic left?

Leon Trotsky, the old Bolshevik eventually liquidated by Stalin, famously said that “you may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in you.” Change “dialectic” to “culture war” and you’ve got the truth of our situation, as Cardinal Sarah understands. Recognizing that truth is the beginning of any serious effort to follow Pope Francis and heal, evangelize, and convert the culture today.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Mary's Immaculate Heart

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, a senior editor at The Federalist and a Protestant Christian offers a reflection on what Blessed Mary means to us as Mother of Christians in her book: The Christmas Virtues: A Treasury of Conservative Tales for the Holidays.  

In this excerpt she takes on the glib dismissal of Christian faith by N.Y. Times ‘progressive’ bigots and answers some of the feminist critique of the role of Mary in the “beloved community”  - - the Church.

 My children shower me with affection, so I have no real reason to go fishing for more love. But I do it anyway. The problem is, when I ask if they love Mommy or Daddy more, they always insist that they love us equally. Sometimes I load the question the way political pollsters do: “Daddy has been working late a lot and sometimes yells at you. Mommy is a great snuggler, makes all your favorite meals, and taught you to ride a bike recently. Who do you love more, Mommy or Daddy?”

But even then, the kids insist they love us both the same. It’s touching. And also infuriating.

Even worse is what they say when I sometimes fight for a World’s Greatest Mom trophy. (Don’t judge; we all do it.) I thought there was only one answer to the question “Who’s the best mother in the world?” And that the answer would always be “You, Mom!” Oh, no. When I ask my kids, “Who’s the best momma in the whole world?” they always reply, “Mary, mother of God!”

They’re careful to insist that I’m absolutely, positively, a solid second. Which isn’t bad, I guess. After all, Mary is—literally—the most blessed woman in the history of the world. We Christians know this because God chose her as the one woman throughout all space and time to deliver humanity its Saviour. And if you needed even more proof, when God chose her—which was probably the biggest surprise any human being has ever experienced—she responded with a brief moment of confusion ­followed by serene, lifelong acceptance. Most of us struggle to achieve serene ­acceptance at the checkout line at the grocery store. So, yes, she’s the best mother.

And her unique role in the history of humanity is never more apparent than at Christmas.

We moderns have a variety of beliefs about Jesus’s birth. Some of us confidently accept every last miracle richly detailed in the Gospels. Others pick and choose—they’ll accept that God became flesh and dwelt among us for our salvation, but the star guiding the Wise Men is a bridge too far. Others reject the story in toto.

In 2003, the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof mocked the Virgin Birth in a column published on the Roman Catholic feast of Mary’s assumption into heaven (just to ensure the maximum amount of implied insult). Kristof was worried because 83 percent of Americans say they believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus. He said this belief separates us from the rest of the industrialized world—and he didn’t mean it in a good way.

“The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time,” Kristof wrote, remarking with horror that the percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth had actually risen five points since the question was last polled. “I’m troubled by the way the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering,” he tsked. Though he didn’t specify when, exactly, Christians had not believed in the Virgin Birth. Which was first mentioned, you know, in the Bible.

Kristof wondered why more Christians couldn’t be like his Presbyterian grandfather, who rejected the notion of the Virgin Birth. Which is an odd stance, since you can’t really be a Christian without believing in Christianity. But not as odd as Kristof’s follow-up claim: that the “evidence for the Virgin Birth” was “shaky.” If you’re looking for forensic proof of the deepest mysteries of God’s love, then you’re in the wrong business.

It’s easy to understand why our modern cultural elites struggle with the science of the Virgin Birth, the heavens filling with angels, and the star of the Magi. Yet if you think about it, these miracles aren’t even close to being the most difficult things to believe about the Nativity story.

The deepest mystery of Christmas isn’t how Jesus was conceived and born—it’s why. Why would almighty God care so much about losers like us that he would humble himself to take on human flesh and enter humanity at such a low station?

As intellectually and technologically advanced as we’ve become, this incarnation of God in the person of Christ Jesus is just as unfathomable to us as it was to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the Wise Men two thousand years ago.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a doctor of the Church, held that there were three miracles present in the Christmas story. The first was that God would be joined with human flesh. The second was that He would be born of a virgin. The third was that Mary would have such profound faith that she would accept God’s word. Sure, she asked a few questions. But once those were answered, she believed.

And that’s why, in the “who’s your favorite (non-Jesus) person in the Bible or church history” parlor game, Mary is a fan favorite. (She’s way ahead of every other figure, as evidenced by all the art and hymnody surrounding her story—not to mention all the children named Mary, Miriam, Marilyn, and—ahem—Mollie.) In the midst of a hectic life in a hectic world, her incorruptible faith can make her seem nearly impossible to relate to. But she was meant not just for Jesus—she was meant for all of us.

Jesus himself holds her up as a model for all Christians. At one point in the Gospel of Luke, a woman listening to Jesus in a crowd cries out to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you!” He says, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

On first reading, this might sound like a slight. But it’s not. Jesus isn’t saying, “Sure, but . . .” He’s saying “Yes, and . . .” That the Virgin Mary bore Jesus and nursed him and raised him is beautiful and holy. And yet it pales in comparison to Mary’s joyful confession that she is the Lord’s handmaiden and that she will follow his Word wherever it leads.

She is blessed simply because she was chosen to be the mother of God—but she is a blessing because of the way she made that choice. She said yes, not just to Gabriel’s ­unprecedented invitation, but to everything God asked of her. She assented completely, giving over not just her body—which, let’s face it, is asking a lot—but also her heart.

Somehow, it’s not hard to imagine a New York Times columnist echoing the complaint that Christianity—and especially Catholic Christianity—is inherently sexist, what with having little, if any, place for women. As in her day, Mary’s story is met with suspicion, even scorn. Yet it was a lowly woman whom God entrusted with the most important role of all—carrying himself for forty long weeks and pushing him into the world. “For unto us a child is born” would not have been possible without Mary’s womanhood.

Many of my fellow Protestants are a bit weirded out by Marian devotion among Roman Catholics—the May crowning, the statues, the rosary. And certainly some traditions have made Mary into an object of worship, a co-redeemer, and one to whom prayers are offered. But just because some go too far doesn’t mean any of us should ignore Mary. We remember and honor her so that we may remember how God chose to be with us; we remember and honor her by seeking to make her words our own: “I am the Lord’s servant/maidservant! I have heard Your Word, O Lord, and can only say, Amen!”

Through Mary, God gave Jesus to all mankind. And Jesus gave her back to all mankind as he hung on the cross, telling John—and all of us—“Behold your mother!” Mary isn’t God. She’s not above God, she’s not equal to God. But given her starring role in the Nativity story, we can all agree that she is even more than just the mother of God. She is the model for, and mother of, all Christians.

Martin Luther, the reformer and pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, gave a Christmas sermon in 1529 saying of Mary that she “is the mother of Jesus and the mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees. . . . If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother.”

My children agree. And they’re right. Mary is mother to us all—and she’s the best mother in the whole world.