01 January. Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
A very Happy New Year, 2017!
1st Reading: Numbers 6:22-27
A new-year prayer for God to bless and protect his people
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.
2nd Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
The distance between God and man has been bridged, so we can call God “Abba! Father”
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
The shepherds visit the manger. Later, Jesus is circumcised and named
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.
[José Antonio Pagola]
Some may wonder why the Latin Church designates the first day of the new year as the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. Ever since the 4th century, our Church, after celebrating the birth of the Savior, has asked a blessing on the new year under the maternal protection of Mary, Mother of the Saviour and our Mother.
We need to ask what we’ve made of Marian devotion these last years, since we’ve probably impoverished our faith by virtually eliminating her from our lives and thought. No doubt we are motivated by a sincere desire to purify our religious sensibility and find a more solidly bible-based faith, abandoning pious excesses, exaggerated devotions, superficial and wrongheaded customs. We’ve tried to overcome any tendency to idolatrous Mariolatry which would substitute Mary for Christ, seeking in her our salvation, our forgiveness and our redemption – things which we really should welcome in her Son.
If it all had been to correct dead-ends and to situate Mary in the authentic place that corresponds to her as Mother of Jesus Christ and Mother of the Church, we would have to rejoice and reaffirm such a stance. But has it really turned out in that way? Have we dismissed and forgotten too much? Haven’t we put her in an obscure corner of our soul along with other things that seem useless to us?
The abandonment of Mary, without going deeper into her mission and into the place she should occupy in our heart, does not enrich our Christian living, but impoverishes it. We may have committed almost idolatrous excesses of Mariology in the past, but now we run the risk of impoverishing our spirituality, by her almost complete absence from our lives.
Mary is the Mother of Jesus. But the Christ who was born of her womb was destined to grow and incorporate many brothers and sisters, men and women who would one day live by his Word and his Spirit. Today Mary isn’t just the Mother of Jesus. She is the Mother of the whole Christ. She is Mother of all believers. It’s good, at the beginning of this new year, to again raise our eyes to Mary. She will accompany us through the coming days with a mother’s care and tenderness. She will care for our faith and our hope. We should not forget her all year long.
At the Council of Ephesus (451), Mary, the mother of Jesus was proclaimed as Mother of God or Theotokos, acknowledging the very Godhead of her Son, Jesus Christ. Under this noble title she is still honoured by most Christians around the world, and today’s feast invites us to lay our hopes and plans for the new-starting year in her motherly care. We entrust to her our personal concerns and those of our era, with all its conflicts and glaring injustices, the unequal wealth and opportunity, the war in Syria and Iraq; in short, all that troubles peace and fairness in our world at this time.
In spite of everything, we should start this new year of 2017 with a sense of wonder and trust. Somehow we can share in the spirit of Saint Peter at the Transfiguration of Christ when he said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Such wonder and reverence was typical of Mary, our Mother in the faith, the first believer in our great Christian family. But Mary was also a flesh-and-blood woman of her times, a hard-working girl from Nazareth, cheerfully willing to be of service to others. It would be illusory to imagine her as a Christmas-card Madonna, set serenely against a golden background with hovering angels. Such a figure is simply not true to her life-story as told in the Gospels. The real Mary from Nazareth knew no riches or privelege in her lifetime. Nobody has ever lived, suffered and died in greater simplicity, marked by a strong and simple faith.
As she saw herself, Mary was the handmaid of the Lord, trusting in Providence and sustained by the goodness of God. Indeed, she stands out among the Lord’s anawim, the humble hearts who confidently trust that God has everything in hand (Lumen Gentium 55). In the first four Christian centuries, Church writers emphasised Mary’s faith rather than her divine motherhood. As St Augustine put it, “She conceived Jesus in her heart before conceiving him in her womb.” Also venerated as Mother of Good Counsel, Our Lady can be our guide and counsellor in the area of faith. She wants to beget faith in us, to be our Mother in faith. That is why, in the gospel of John, she is present at the beginning and the end of Christ’s public life.
John is the only evangelist to record Mary’s presence at Calvary, by tersely stating, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his Mother” (Jn 19:25). Although the miracles and message of Jesus seemed a delusion to many, his mother stood there faithful to him to his last breath, still believing in God’s power to save. Her faith was not built upon his miracles, but upon childlike trust in the mysterious ways of God our Father. Nor did her role as mother cease then, for with his dying words Jesus gave it a new focus with the instruction: “Behold your son….. Behold your mother.” The mother of Jesus will henceforth be mother to all his disciples, sharing with us her strong and simple faith.
What she treasured
Today on the feast of the Holy Mother of God we see Mary marvelling at what has happened, treasuring the events of Christmas in her memory, and pondering them in her heart. The image is that of the contemplative woman who ponders the marvels the Almighty has done for her and for all people. She ponders in response to what the shepherds said to her. Those simple, humble shepherds had preached the gospel to her, repeating what had been told to them by the angels, “Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” It is this good news, this gospel, that she treasured and pondered over.
The same gospel has been handed on to us, and we are invited to treasure it, to ponder on it and to respond to it, as Mary did. Today, New Year’s day, is a day when many feel drawn to make good resolutions. What better new year’s resolution could we make today than that of adopting Mary’s stance before the grace of God? Today’s feast invites us to share in Mary’s sense of awe and wonder before God’s merciful love, made known to us in Christ, her son. As we look towards the new year, which begins today, we ask Mary to help us to treasure the gospel as she did, so that Christ might come to others through us as he came to us through Mary.