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anativityI have lots of people whose birthdays I remember and I celebrate them at least in my mind if not with a card, a call, or (these days) with an e-mail. Today Eastern and Western Catholic Churches celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – a birthday I always mark with a smile and/or a prayer of gratitude for her role in our life. This morning I wondered who came up with this date as probably no birth certificate exists to prove her arrival and most of what we know from that time is less than an exact science. What I found was that the first written mention of Mary’s birth was in the apocryphal text called the Protoevangelium of James, a document probably in its final written form in the early second century. It speaks of her parents, Joachim – a wealthy member of one of the tribes of Israel – and Anna, but is not clear about where or when she was born. Some accounts speak of Nazareth as her birthplace and some say it was a house near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. The date for commemoration of her birth was logically set, but not until the sixth century, as nine months after the celebratory date of the Immaculate Conception.

Regardless of historical accuracy, the Christian Churches have always celebrated Mary in many ways during the year with great devotion. She is particularly dear to mothers around the world who look to her even on the ordinary days as a model for living – in good times and times of suffering. Perhaps that is a good reminder for us today to give thanks for our own mothers and/or those who have “mothered” us with their care and love – all those who have encouraged our birthing into spiritual maturity. I will think on those women today and mark this day joyfully in celebration of them.