The first day of the new calendar year is usually a time when people extend good wishes to each other – “Happy New Year!” – and look forward in hope toward what the New Year will bring. It is also designated as the Church’s World Day of Peace, a day when we exercise our Christian hope in prayer for peace throughout the world. Today is also a major Marian feast day in the Church, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Fittingly, it is the conclusion of the great Octave of Christmas. We are still celebrating the earthly birth of Jesus Christ, God and man, the Prince of Peace and the Source of every blessing.
As we think of God’s blessings and pray for peace, the Church invites us to ponder the beautiful ancient priestly blessing which we find in today’s first reading: “The LORD bless you and keep you! / The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! / The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” It is God himself who is the Source of this triple blessing, originally given to the people of Israel through their priests, Aaron and his sons. As we start this New Year, this solemn blessing is given to us by God through the ministry of our priests. At every Eucharistic celebration today, the priest will invoke God’s special blessing on all the people who are gathered for worship. As we come into God’s presence at Mass, he comes to us with his blessings of grace and peace.
The shepherds of Bethlehem, the poorest of the poor, who appear in today’s Gospel, certainly received grace and peace from the newborn Prince of Peace. They went physically to his place of birth, met Jesus, and went forth, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” We do not have to go physically to Bethlehem to meet Jesus. We can enter his presence and receive his blessings at any Catholic church. He reveals his presence most powerfully in the Eucharist, giving us the priceless opportunity to adore the Child who is at the same time the Prince of Peace. From the Eucharist pour forth immeasurable blessings for us and for the whole world.
Being in the presence of God to receive his blessings implies a willingness to do his will. His blessings flow most abundantly upon and through those who do his will. The greatest example of a person who remains in the presence of God, receives his blessings, and does his will is Mary the Mother of God. She is the model disciple, the spiritual mother of all who believe, all who ponder the word of God and keep it.
This was the point Jesus made when a woman once raised her voice to say, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed,” and Jesus replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:27-28). Jesus was not discounting the physical motherhood of the Blessed Virgin but was rather expanding the concept of blessedness and saying precisely where the blessedness of the Virgin Mary lies. Mary is eminently blessed because she first conceived the Word of God by her fiat and did his will. It was because she did the will of God that she is found worthy to be the Mother of God, the Theotokos.
Sometimes people question this eminent title of Mary. How can anyone be called “Mother of God”? No one can claim to be the origin of the One who has no beginning or end, but when God became man in Jesus Christ, he chose a woman as his mother. In today’s second reading, St. Paul alludes to this: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman….” Because Jesus is God and Mary is his mother, she is rightly called “Mother of God.” We honor Mary as truly Mother of God precisely because the One born of her is God! This is the central mystery we celebrate at Christmastime.
When we go in haste to the lowly manger to worship the Child, we also honor his Mother. In honoring her, we follow the example of God himself, who honored Mary above all other creatures. God sets her before us to reveal the mystery of divine motherhood which is still at work in the Church. The Church generates children through Baptism and nourishes them with the word of God and the Sacraments. We are all called to participate in this maternal mission, giving life to others by coming into the presence of God, doing his will, and receiving his blessings. We rely on the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God and our mother, so that the promises of God may be fulfilled in us and that his face may shine on us for all eternity. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ!
With Mary as my example, how can I embrace God’s will daily? As I begin this new year, how will I be more open to God’s grace and peace? In what ways do I rely on the intercession of Mary in my life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 20, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.