A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
I must admit that dates and names are two of the things that cause my memory to work overtime. I can remember places, I can remember buildings, I can even remember appointments, but dates in particular are a challenge to me. Consequently, I often get reminded of my forgetfulness by close friends whose birthday I have forgotten, with words like ‘ Thanks for your lovely birthday card’ and I then creep off sheepishly to the nearest card shop in search of a ‘Sorry I forgot card’. And I must admit, I do feel very guilty when this happens.
But why are birthdays so important, why do we – most of us anyway – remember past birthdays with such nostalgia ? Children of course love them as they do any occasion which provides presents and a party. But as adults get older, many of us prefer to forget our current birthday because it reminds us of how time is catching up on us and we are moving speedily towards the last train home. Birthdays also shame us into remembering all those things we had planned doing in the past year but which are now things forgotten; birthdays remind us of joys, of sorrows, of regrets, of missed opportunities as well as of achievements.
But for me as I get older , and I am sure for many of you here this morning, birthdays are a time for remembering our youth, our friends our relatives our good as well as our bad experiences, national as well as personal milestones in our three score years and ten.
From very early in my childhood I have kept a sort of diary – not daily, but one that contains momentous events in my life and as I look back through the pages – as I do quite often- I am reminded of people who have played a significant role in my life – relatives, friends, teachers, priests, colleagues – their names come flooding back as do shared experiences, some good some bad. But there is always an event or a person about whom I still ask – I wonder if, I wonder when, I wonder how… and I suppose I will never find answers to such questions after all these years.
Today we are celebrating the birthday of Jesus Mother Mary and I still ask myself from time to time, questions like those I have just mentioned, – how do we know when she was born; what were her parents like; how did she spend her childhood; did she have any brothers or sisters; did she have any special instinct that she had a special purpose in life; who were her friends; did she ever get told off, did she ever disobey her parents – or was she one of those perfect children that we sometimes hear about but never actually meet? The answer of course is We do not know.
So why celebrate Mary’s birthday on 8th September – why celebrate it at all in fact? I believe the answer is that Mary’s birthday – although the actual date is unknown , and it doesn’t really matter – I think that celebrating Mary’s birthday is a way of celebrating the coming of Our Lord into this world, son of God, Son of Man, Divine and human, who took our nature upon himself , born of a woman. Without that woman and without her response to the angel Gabriel ‘ Let it be to me according to your word’ I cannot imagine what would have happened.
Her birth was like any other human birth; we assume her childhood was like any other child’s and we assume that because of her relationship and imminent betrothal to Joseph, she experienced all the teenage joys and sorrows and excitement of her contemporaries. An ordinary girl, in ordinary time – but one chosen by God before all time as we heard in today’s first reading:
From you Bethlehem, shall come forth for me one who is to rule, -when she who is in labour has brought forth.
There are only three birthdays celebrated in the calendar of the Church – Jesus, John the Baptist and Mary all celebrated universally by the 11th century. Mary’s day which we are celebrating today is exactly 9 months after the December 8th celebration of the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and although we have no concrete evidence for the accuracy of these dates, their origin stems from an apocryphal Gospel of St James – (never actually authenticated by the church) – where Mary’s parents are named in order to counteract claims by the sceptics, atheists and agnostics of the time about Mary’s background and virginity.
As members of the family of Christ, as brothers and sisters one with another and brothers and sisters with Christ it is right and proper that we should remember with joy and give thanksgiving to God, the birth of that baby girl in Nazareth, a baby girl chosen as I have said, by God before her coming into this world, to be the vehicle by which God took human flesh and came and dwelt among us.
As St Paul reminds us in the Epistle we heard this morning,
Those whom God predestined, he also called; those whom he called he justified, and those who he justified he glorified.
And what greater glorification could she be given than to be the bearer of the Christ Child, the promised Messiah .
That is what Christians believe and if they believe then they should celebrate, celebrate that human flesh can be the bearer of Christ to the world.