Feast of Mary, Mother of God
Num 6:22-27. The solemn priestly blessing, a prayer that God would bless and protect us and be gracious to us, is very apt at the beginning of a new year.
Gal 4:4-7. Through the Incarnation, the distance between God and man has been bridged and now we can call God “Abba! Father!”
Lk 2:16-21. The visit of the shepherds on the first Christmas night. The closing verse, about Jesus’ circumcision eight days later, makes it especially fitting for the octave day of Christmas.
This is the feast of “theotokos” “Mother-of-God” – as Jesus’ mother Mary was defined at the Council of Ephesus, in 432. We grow attached to our religion by tasting its stories and images. One of the most powerful is the Christmas story, that introduces Mary, the virgin Mother of God. Though she is not named by St Paul, he alludes to the joyful fact that it was through her that God sent his Son as our Saviour. Then, including the solemn priestly prayer of Israel on her feast(our first reading), suggests that Christ’s gracious protection is guaranteed to all who love and cherish his blessed mother.
Intercessions (Bidding Prayers)
That Mary, the Mother of God will lead us to a closer understanding of and loyalty to Jesus her Son.
That Mary, the Mother of God and mother of mercy, will be the model inspiring our love and concern for others.
That Mary, who stood by the cross as her Son was dying, may comfort all who are bereaved and grieved by illness or loss.
That Mary, the Mother of God and mother of holy hope, will pray for us and protect us “now and at the hour of death.”
New Start (Patrick Rogers)
New Year’s Day is not a bad time to speak on the possibility of making a significant new start, both as individuals and as members of our civil and church communities. Many will be happy to reflect on possible New Year’s resolutions, to bring a new quality into the year just beginning. January 1st is also designated a day of prayer for peace in a world which is only too prone to make war. One might easily build the homily around the things that make for peace. New Years are deeply felt by most people as a time for asking God’s blessing on the year ahead, which is a still unforseen future holding a mixture of both hope and fear. The first reading offers the reassurance that the God we love and worship is One who goes with us on our journey, who is gracious and familiar to us. And the Gospel tells of the welcome God gives us, sending us His Son, born from a human mother, and bearing the name “Jesus” which offers the ultimate solution for all human ills, since he will save his people from their sins.
Recently, the Church proposes another important idea to be celebrated on this significant start-day of the year. In the feast of we say thanks for the wonderfully human way that God came close to us us, through the motherhood of Mary, the Virgin from Nazareth. Through this theme, we can recall the real Jewishness of Jesus, whose parents brought him to the Temple, to fulfil the Law of circumcision.
By mothering him, Mary not only gave Jesus a body, she also fundamentally shaped his personality and moulded his early identity. Part of her shaping of Jesus’ identity was in the religious upbringing she gave him, teaching him prayer and love towards God, and handing on the core of Jewish belief in the reliably faithful God, whose faithfulness was shown through the story of his people. The spirituality of the Magnificat (Lk 1:46ff) would have been taught to Jesus by his mother.
From his home life with Mary, and Joseph (the too-often forgotten man in the story) Jesus first came to know the meaning of faithful love in its human practicality. The second reading points to the cosmic dimension of Mary’s role, that her total ‘Yes’ to God, the Saviour was “Born of a woman, born under the law;” and so the divine Son took a human face and received a human name. It is a day for joining in her deep pondering on the Word of God.
Splendour in Simplicity (John Walsh)
In the gospels we read that the most common reaction of those who witnessed the actions, or heard the words of Jesus was one of astonishment and amazement. For example, at the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, when his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzlingly white, and Moses and Elijah appeared speaking to him, Peter spoke for all three Apostles present, when he said, “Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here.” But when they heard a voice speaking from the cloud that covered them, all three fell on their faces, overcome with fear. Ordinarily, we have to say with the Letter to the Hebrews (11:1), “It is only faith which can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of those realities which at present remain unseen.” And by way of example, it adds, “It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.”
To nobody is all this more readily applicable than to the one who was the first to believe in Christ, our Mother in faith, as well as Christ’s earthly Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are many of us who, in our approach to Mary, place her on a lasting pedestal, and look on her after the manner of the three Apostles gazing on the transfigured Christ. All too often we imagine her as the Madonna of the Christmas card, serene, immobile, seated forever in the immaculately clean stable of golden straw and glistening snow outside, with adoring angels hovering overhead. Such a figure is simply not real. For the plain fact is that Mary, on earth, knew neither triumph nor heavenly spectacle. No one has ever lived, suffered, died in such simplicity, in such deep unawareness of her own supernatural dignity.
What evidence do we have for this, you may ask? And the answer is there in the few short sayings attributed to her in the gospels. For, in her own eyes, Mary was the handmaid, the servant of the Lord, depending entirely on God’s will, and sustained by God’s goodness. The fathers of the Vatican II Council acknowledged this when they stated that Mary stands out among the poor and the humble of the Lord, who confidently await and receive salvation from God (Lum. Gent. 55). Indeed, in the first four centuries of the Church, Christian writers placed greater emphasis on the simple faith of Mary at the Annunciation, than on her divine motherhood. The Virgin believed, and in her faith conceived, or as St Augustine strikingly wrote, “She first conceived Jesus in her heart, before conceiving him in her womb.” Mary, whom we venerate as the Mother of Good Counsel, wants above all to be our guide and counsellor in this area of faith. She wants to beget faith in us, to be our Mother in faith. That is why, in the gospel of St John, she is present at the beginning and the end of Christ’s public life.
She is there at the wedding feast of Cana, fully believing before Jesus had worked a single miracle. It was only after the changing of water into wine that Jesus’ disciples began to believe in him. In fact it was Mary herself who brought about this very sign by her request to Jesus to intervene. “Do whatever he may tell you,” she told the attendants, words which only one who believed totally in the power of Jesus could utter. Cana was the first of the signs recorded by St John, in order to bring us, as it did his first disciples, to believe in Jesus. But as to the Mother of Jesus, she is represented as already believing before it.
Significantly, John’s gospel also is the only one to record the presence of Mary at Calvary. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his Mother” (19:25) is the terse statement we read there. When all the signs and wonders of the public mission of Christ seemed, in the estimation of many, to have been a delusion, and all but one of his carefully chosen Apostles had deserted him, his Mother was still there witnessing him draw his last breath, and still believing. For Mary’s faith in her Son had never been founded on the evidence of astounding miracles or visions, but rather on a complete, absolute, childlike trust in the mysterious ways of God our Father. Nor did her role as Mother on earth cease when her Son departed this world. For in his dying moments, Jesus had ensured its continuation when he said to John, “Behold your Mother.” Here Jesus reveals that his own natural Mother will henceforth be the Mother of the disciple also, the disciple who was a figure of all of Jesus’ true disciples, you and I included. At that moment Mary assumed a new role in God’s plan of salvation for the human race, that of spiritual Mother to us all.
The Mary-Image (Liam Swords)
The American sociologist Andrew Greeley, addressing the question “Why do Catholics stay in the Church?” – particularly nowadays when so many of them seem to disagree with much of its official teaching – suggests that it is because of its images, metaphors and stories. And the most powerful image of all is Mary, the Mother of God.
It all begins when a mother brings her little child to see the Christmas crib. The child gazes in wonder at this exotic scene of angels, animals, shepherds, kings, mother and father, all gathered around a little baby in its cot.
“Who is the baby?” the little child asks.
“That is Jesus.”
“And who is Jesus?’
“Jesus is God.”
“Oh.” the little child says.
“And who is the lady?’
“That is Mary, God’s mammy.”
It is a hard story to beat. it is many children’s first introduction to theology and a most effective one at that. Nothing in later life shakes their attachment. They may disagree and sometimes violently with the Church’s pronouncements on certain issues. They may fall foul of its discipline in areas as intimate as marriage and family life. They may be disillusioned by the lifestyle of their clergy but they remain Catholics or at least the great majority of them do.
An American survey in the 1990s showed the actual defection rate among Catholic as remaining fairly steady over the previous thirty years, at about 15%. Some “hard-liners” within the church like to dismiss many of their fellow-worshipers as “a la carte” Catholics, who prefer to choose their own menus than swallow the official line. But the rank and file of Pobal Dé (the People of God) remains unimpressed by labels, and Catholic to boot. They have their stories, images and rituals and nobody will detach them from them. The most powerful object of attachment is the metaphor of Mary, the Mother of God. Research on young Catholics in America shows that the Mary image continues to be their most powerful religious image. I personally have known some older people, very often men, whose attachment to religion was tenuous, to say the least. Yet they carried in their pockets a rosary beads and stopped occasionally in places like Knock to pray before a statue of Our Lady. And the people I knew, were far to intelligent to be duped by superstitious charms or miraculous madonnas. I remember reading somewhere that Brendan Behan Wrote a letter to the newspaper protesting vehemently against some journalist who described him as a “non-Catholic.” He was not a non-Catholic, he insisted, but a bad Catholic and there was a world of a difference between the two.
There’s a story heard from nuns who taught grade-school in Chicago. One day God made a tour of heaven to check out the recent arrivals. He was taken aback at the quality of many of those allowed in and he went out to confront Peter about it.
“You’ve let me down again” he told Peter.
“What’s wrong now?” Peter asked.
“You let a lot of people in that shouldn’t be there.”
“I didn’t let them in.”
“Then, who did?’
“Well, I turned them away at the front gate, but they went round the back and your mother let them in.”
It is the sort of story that may make intellectuals squirm or non-Catholics sneer. But it strikes a chord in our Catholic sensibility. It tallies well with our conception of mother and the gospel image of Mary. She is the Mother of God and our mother too and like any mother, she will not be baulked by bureaucratic red-tape or hair-splitting moralists, when it comes to the happiness of her children.
New Year Resolution with Mary (Munachi Ezeogu)
The name “January” comes from the Roman god Janus, the god with two faces, one looking to the past and the other looking to the future. This is indeed a time to look back at the year that has just ended and to look forward to the new year ahead of us. How did I spend this one year of my life that has just passed? Did I use it to advance my goals and objectives in life? Did I use it to enhance the purpose of my existence? Could I have done better last year in the way I invested my time between the demands of work, family, friends and society, and the demands of my spiritual life? What things did I achieve last year and what did I fail to achieve? How can I consolidate the achievements of last year while reversing the failures and losses in this new year? Through soul searching questions like these we find that a review of the past year naturally leads to setting goals and resolutions for the new year.
There are people who tell you that there is no point making new year resolutions. Do not believe them. We must set goals and make resolutions as a necessary conclusion to our review of the past year. And we do need to review our lives from year to year because, as Socrates says, the unexamined life is not worth living.
Today’s newspapers are full of individual and collective new year resolutions. Most of those, however, are not resolutions at all but only wishes. What is the difference between a resolution and a wish? A wish identifies a goal one wants to reach, a resolution specifies the steps one will take to reach it. A wish says this is where I want to be, a resolution says this is the road I will take, this is what I will do to get there. The wishful person says “I want to pass my exams this year” and the resolved person says “I will devote an extra hour to my studies everyday in order to pass my exams.” The wishful person says “I will have more peace and love in my family this year” and the resolved person says “I will spend more time with my family at table instead of rushing off to the TV, so that we get to know and understand ourselves better.” The wishful person says “I will live a life of union with God this year” and the resolved person says “I will set aside this time everyday to pray and hear God’s word.” The difference between wishing and resolving is: are we prepared to do what it takes to make our dreams come true, are we prepared to pay the price?
The gospel today presents Mary to us as a model of that new life in Christ that all of us wish for ourselves in the new year. There we see that Mary was prepared to do something to realize this goal. What did she do? We read that the shepherds, when they went to adore the Child Jesus in the manger, told all that the angels had said to them. “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Again after the boy Jesus was found in the Temple, we are told that “His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Mary was a woman who valued the word of God, who treasured it and made time to meditate and ponder it. It is true that the holiness of Mary is attributed to the grace of God, but this should not make us forget that she needed to make an effort in order to cooperate with the grace of God. She pondered the word of God in order to discern what God was saying to her at every stage in her life as the handmaid of God.
The two examples above of Mary pondering the word of God, namely, after the visit of the shepherds and after the finding in the temple, show that Mary found the word of God both in divine revelation (the angels’ words to the shepherds) and in her own experiences (her encounter with her son in the temple). Similarly God speaks to us today through divine revelation (e.g. the Bible, the teaching and preaching of the Church) as well as through our personal experiences, if only we made time to reflect on them as Mary did.
Whatever the situation in which we find ourselves – a hardship, a disappointment, a decision to make – God has a solution, an answer that is right for us. We tell God about it in prayer but we also listen to what God has to tell us about it. Prayer is a conversation with God but sometimes all we do is pick up the phone, read out the list of our problems to God and drop the phone without listening to hear what God has to say to us. Let us today resolve to listen more to the voice of God, to treasure God’s word and ponder it in our hearts. Then shall we be able to realize our new year resolution of a new life in union with God.
Surprised by God (Paul Francis Spencer)
Because we have grown accustomed to our yearly celebration of the Christmas season, the Incarnation-event no longer surprises us. Like so many of the mysteries of our faith, we just expect it to be that way. One of the functions of the liturgy is to foster amazement at the things God has done, to present the mystery of Christ in its freshness. Today on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, which is the octave day of Christmas, we see Mary wondering at what has happened, treasuring the events of Christmas in her memory, and pondering them in her heart. By celebrating the eighth day with Mary, we share in her sense of awe before God’s merciful love made known in Christ: ‘The Almighty has done great things for me; holy is his name.
The image of Mary put before us today is not that of the intercessor of Cana nor of the compassionate one on Calvary; rather, she is portrayed the silent virgin, the contemplative one, whose fruitful stillness brings to birth the glory of God, and who continues to ponder the marvels the Almighty has done for her. What better way is there to begin a new year than by silently gazing on the silent virgin-mother. New Year’s Day is a bridge between the past and the future; Janus, who was for the ancient Romans the ‘man who stood at the gate of the year’, is depicted as looking back and at the same time looking forward. The Christian attitude to this is summed up in the tradition of celebrating the Te Deum yesterday and the Veni, Creator today: our attitude is one of gratitude for all we have received and dependence on the Spirit as we face an unknown future. For many, New Year’s Day is a day for making resolutions, but what better resolution could we make today than that of adopting Mary’s stance before the Word-made-flesh, making her contemplative gaze our own and keeping the incarnate God constantly before our mind and heart.
Mary is the woman who stands at the gate of the year; she is the gate-way to heaven (‘felix caeli porta’ the hymn Ave Maris Stella calls her). As mother of Christ and mother of the Church she is the doorway between yesterday and tomorrow, that point of contact between the world that is and the new world that is to come: Salve radix, salve porta, ex qua mundo lux est orta. She is the open door through which the light of Christ pours into a darkened world.
As we look back over the past year, we can ask ourselves how much of it has been spent in the imitation of Mary, the silent one who pondered God’s saying and doings in her heart, or how much of it has been wasted in running away from silence, afraid of encountering the Word-made-flesh. As we look to this new year, which begins today, we can entrust it to Mary’s watchful care, placing ourselves in her hands, and asking her to teach us how to gaze with love on the incarnate God.
First Reading: Book of Numbers 6:22-27
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;/the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;/the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.