Monday, January 1, 2018

And a homily for this solemn feast day

Homily for Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
I was thinking about making a New Year’s resolution this year. I did not make any last year and it was a pretty good year. Quite simply, I really would like to get in better shape.

All of us at one time or another have made a New Year’s resolution. Most studies show that about 80% of all New Year’s resolutions are broken in about 20 days and completely abandoned before we turn the calendar to February. Ouch!

Then some of us have this wacky tradition of eating certain foods on New Year’s Day. My wife swears by a meal of cabbage, black eyed peas and pork. This is supposed to bring happiness, health and wealth. Well, over the years I guess one out of three ain’t bad.

As people of faith, I have a few questions for us today. Do we take time to reflect this New Year’s Day on this wonderful solemnity the Church provides in honor of Mary the Mother of God? Do we follow the example of Mary to resolve to do God’s will in our lives? And how can we make this our top priority in the year ahead?

You know last week someone asked me why did the Church makes us go to Mass just to celebrate New Years. Then one of my non-Catholic friends asked me recently how can we call Mary the Mother of God when God always existed?

These questions revealed to me that a little catechism lesson may be in order on this first day of the New Year. Of course for all of us here gathered in church today we pretty much know what today’s celebration is all about. Yet I wonder how many Catholics go to church on January 1st and pay little attention to the solemnity. Here are some interesting facts that may help us all appreciate how we come to celebrate this solemnity on January 1st.

From as early as the year 230, Mary was honored by the Church with the title Mother of God. She was referred to as the “theotokos”, which is Greek for “God-bearer”. It is important to note that all this was designed to say more about who Jesus is than to assign titles to Mary. You see there was a great debate in the early church about whether Jesus is fully God and fully human, or if he was two distinct persons, or if his divinity is separate from his humanity. Two great church councils, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Ephesus and Chalcedon, both in the 5th century, declared once for all that Jesus is one, fully human and fully divine. Therefore, when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she bore the Son who is God and man, the second person of the Holy Trinity. In no way has the Church declared that Mary preexisted God or is mother of God the Father. But since she indeed gave birth to Jesus, her title as Mother of God is affirmed.

In many ways and in different forms, the celebration of Mary as Mother of God has existed since around the year 500. In the mid 18th century, the Pope formally allowed a celebration of Mary’s maternity in Portugal. It gained wide acceptance in Europe and in 1931, was made a universal feast day, although in October. It was Pope Paul VI in 1974 that fixed this solemnity on January 1st and made it a universal celebration.

It is completely and entirely fitting to celebrate Mary as Mother of God on this the octave day of Christmas. We see the Church giving us the Gospel story of the visit of the shepherds to the manger scene in Bethlehem. As the shepherds made known the message they received from the angel, St. Luke writes that Mary kept all these things and reflected on them in her heart. Mary continues to follow God’s will, to reflect on His divine plan and willingly trusting her very life and that of her family in God’s hand.

That’s what we all need to take home with us today. This is what should replace all those silly New Year’s resolutions. Yes, we all can resolve to be better; to improve our health or do something for others in the year ahead. But using Mary, the Mother of God, as our model, we can simply resolve to do God’s will, to reflect more deeply on God’s plan for us in this life and the life to come and follow that plan. And while the journey may not always be easy, like Mary we can keep all these things in our heart. We can be comforted by God in tough times and joyful with God at all times. Just like Mary’s motherhood gave flesh to Jesus, God made man; we too can give flesh to Jesus in our lives and our personal relationship with Him. Mary is our model. We can respond to God with our yes, we can give flesh to our faith life by more devout prayer, responding to the sacraments and being present to our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we can ponder these things, and keep them in our heart, all year long.

Go ahead and make that New Year’s resolution; down that cabbage and black-eyed peas. But resolve to follow God in the year ahead by following Mary’s example with your most sincere yes.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

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