The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Homily: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God - January 1

Readings: Num 6:22-27; Ps 67; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21

1,600 years ago at the Council of Ephesus (431) the Church gave Mary a title: Theotokos, which means God-bearer. In bestowing this title on Mary, the Church confirmed that, as the Mother of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, she is truly the Mother of God. This is the feast we celebrate today: the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

Her title has its Scriptural roots in the story we all know – the story Luke tells in those early chapters of his Gospel.  We’re all familiar with it. The Annunciation by the archangel Gabriel in Nazareth, and how the young Mary agreed to bear the Son of God, the Savior of the World. Yes, Luke describes Mary’s role vividly and leaves us with words we can never forget: “Let it be done to me according to your word” [Lk 1:38].

And then Mary, filled with the Spirit and carrying the Son of God in her womb, leaves immediately to make the long trek to Judea to visit Elizabeth. By visiting Elizabeth Mary really visits all of us. She carries Jesus to young and old, to the unborn John and to his aging parents. She carries the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. And she proclaims this wonderful news in her song of praise and thanksgiving, the Magnificat:

“He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation…He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” [Lk 1:50, 52-53].

Yes, Mary, the first Christian evangelist, spreads the Good News, telling the world of God’s mercy and justice. And thanks to Luke and the Holy Spirit we receive this Word of God.

The Shepherds of Bethlehem
Because it’s the living Word of God, you and I are truly present there in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth listening to Mary as she praises God and thanks Him not just for herself, but for all of us. We are there, just as we are present months later in the rolling hills outside of Bethlehem. When the angelic host appear to the shepherds, we are there among them to hear the Good News proclaimed from heaven itself.

Indeed, this is exactly what the angel reveals. Listen to his words, the words you’ve heard so many times:

“Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you Good News of a great joy which will come to all people” [Lk 2:10].

This isn’t a message just for a few shepherds. No, it’s the Good News of Jesus Christ, a message for all people. As Mary proclaimed, all of this happened according to God’s promise “to Abraham and to his descendants forever” [Lk 1:55].

We, brothers and sisters, are these descendants of Abraham, our father in faith; for God promised him that he would be the father of a multitude of nations. It’s a universal promise, a catholic promise. And because we are there with Mary, the shepherds and Abraham, this revelation places a demand on us. Just as the shepherds went on to glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen, we too are called to do the same.

It’s really not something we should put off; for throughout these first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel, we detect a sense of urgency. When Gabriel reveals that Elizabeth will also bear a son, Luke tells us that Mary set off in haste [Lk 1:39].

Mary and Elizabeth
Our Blessed Mother didn’t delay in carrying out this dual mission of hers. For not only was she the God-bearer, the carrier of the Good News deep within her, but she also carried God’s love to someone in need. Both acts were of such importance that neither could be delayed.

Yes, Mary set off in haste; but she wasn’t the only one. How did Luke describe the shepherds’ response in the passage we just heard?

“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” [Lk 2:16].

Moved by what they had seen and what they had heard from the angels, they could do no less. How blessed they must have thought themselves, for they would be the first to set eyes on the Messiah so long awaited by God’s people. Is it any wonder that they left “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them” [Lk 2:20]?

We too have received the Good News, brothers and sisters. We are all called to carry it to others, not in word alone, but in deed as well. Yes, Mary is the God-bearer who brought Our Lord into the world and presented Him as the Father’s gift to all of humanity. The shepherds of Bethlehem received that gift with joy and willingly and openly carried it to others.

What a remarkable gift it is! It’s a gift of love, arising from God’s hope that we will turn from our sinfulness and accept Him into our hearts. It’s a gift of divine forgiveness, of His outrageous mercy, a gift that will trump the power of sin and overcome all hatred, violence, revenge, addiction…It’s a gift of Jesus Christ Himself, a gift we receive in a most special way.

When we receive the Eucharist today, when we receive the Real Presence, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, you and I also become God-bearers, carriers of this gift. But what will we do with it? Will it change us, as it changed Mary, as it changed the shepherds?

Just as Mary carried Jesus to the world, we are called to carry Him to all the others in our lives. As the shepherds proclaimed the Good News of salvation, we are called to proclaim this message of hope to a world too often sunk in despair.

As we look forward to the beginning of a new year, let’s learn from both Mary and the shepherds, and follow their example. Worshiping here together on the vigil of this feast of Mary, the Mother of God, let’s join her in a prayer for peace: peace in the world; peace in our country; peace in our cities and communities. Pray for peace in our homes; but most importantly, pray for peace in our hearts. Pray that the darkness of sin will be overcome in this world and that the light of love — the way of Mary’s Son — will take hold in our hearts and the hearts of all.

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