31 December 2009
Mary and the New Year
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God (C)
Readings: Nm 6:22-27; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21
Today we celebrate Mary as Mother of God.
This feast is already celebrated in Rome on January 1 even before the 7th century. However, for much of the Universal Church and for centuries, the date of this feast falls on October 11. January 1, the Octave (8th day) of Christmas, was the celebration of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, since traditionally Jewish children are circumcised on the 8th day of their birth. The circumcision of Mary’s Child is also the occasion when He is formally given the name Jesus.
In 1974, following the reforms of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI replaced the Feast of the Circumcision with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The title Mother of God is the highest honor given to Mary. It is a rough translation of the Greek “Theotokos”, which literally means “God bearer”.
Theotokos is how the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) describes Mary, a logical conclusion to the doctrine of faith that Christ is fully human and fully divine. If Jesus Christ is God then Mary is the Mother of God.
There is also something to be said about celebrating Mary in her highest title at the start of the civil year.
1. Mary as Mother of God is spiritual Mother to us all.
In the novel “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd, one of the main characters, August Boatwright, narrates the story of Our Lady of Chains, and the extraordinary devotion to her among the slaves of South Carolina and their descendants:
"Back in the time of slaves, when the people were beaten down and kept like property, they prayed every day and every night for deliverance. On the islands near Charleston, they would go to the praise house and sing and pray, and every single time someone would ask the Lord to send them rescue. To send them consolation. To send them freedom.
One day, a slave named Obadiah was loading bricks onto a boat that would sail down the Aisley River, when he saw something washed up on the bank. Coming closer, he saw it was the wooden figure of a woman. Her body was growing out of a block of wood, a black woman with her arm lifted out and her fist balled up.
Obadiah pulled the figure out of the water, and struggled to set her upright. Then he remembered how they’d asked the Lord to send them rescue. To send them consolation. To send them freedom. Obadiah knew the Lord had sent this figure, but he didn’t knew who she was.
He knelt down in the marsh mud before her and heard her voice speak plain as day in her heart. She said, ‘It’s all right. I’m here. I’ll be taking care of you know.’
Obadiah tried to pick up the waterlogged woman who God sent to take care of them, but she was too heavy, so he went and got two more slaves, and between them they carried her to the praise house and set her on the hearth.
By the time the next Sunday came, everyone had heard about the statue washing up from the river, how it had spoken to Obadiah. The praise house was filled with people spilling out the door and sitting on the window ledges. Obadiah told them he knew the Lord God had sent her, but he didn’t know who she was."
The storytelling is punctuated with almost everybody in the room chanting over and over: "Not one of them knew".
"Now the oldest of the slaves was a woman named Pearl. She walked with a stick, and when she spoke, everyone listened. She got to her feet and said, ‘This here is the mother of Jesus’.
Everyone knew the mother of Jesus was named Mary, and that she’d seen suffering of every kind. That she was strong and constant and had a mother’s heart. And here she was, sent to them on the same waters that had brought them here in chains. It seemed to them she knew everything they suffered.
And so the people cried and danced and clapped their hands. They went one a time and their hands to her chest, wanting to grab on to the solace in her heart.
They did this every Sunday in the praise house, dancing and touching her chest, and eventually they painted a red heart on her breast so the people would have a heart to touch.
Our Lady filled their hearts with fearlessness and whispered to them plans of escape. The bold ones fled, finding their way north, and those who didn’t lived with a raised fist in their hearts. And if ever it grew weak, they would only have to touch her heart again.
She grew so powerful she became known even to the master. One day he hauled her off on a wagon and chained her in the carriage house. But then, without any human help, she escaped during the night and made her way back to the praise house. The master chained her in the barn fifty times, and fifty times she loosed the chains and went home. Finally he gave up and let her stay there.
The people called her Our Lady of Chains. They called her that not because she wore chains…"
The people in the room chanted: "Not because she wore chains..."
"They called her Our Lady of Chains because she broke them."
The image of Mary as mother evokes blissful feelings generated by memories of the goodness and generosity of mothers everywhere, multiplied a thousand times and more, for after all she is the Mother of God.
Because she is the Mother of God, she plays a part in our redemption. Because she is the Mother of God, she becomes a sacrament of grace. Because she is the Mother of God, she is mother to us all and companion in the way, especially in the darkest parts of the journey.
2. Mary reminds us that we too carry Christ in us.
Mary carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. She also kept in her heart all the things that were happening around her Son. She was Theotokos in so many senses of the word.
Her feast now reminds us that we too carry Christ in us. Gal 4,6 (in the Second reading) says: “As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”
The shepherds, the wise men and all who came to gaze upon the baby Jesus, left carrying with them not just a memory to keep but a good news and spirit to share. Christ’s spirit is in us, and like Mary, the shepherds and the wise men, we are tasked to share Him with others as well.
As we begin this new year, let us renew our commitment to grow closer to Jesus and share His presence and good news to others. May we be less cynical and more at peace, less angry and more forgiving, less self-absorbed and more passionate at helping others.
The popular Christmas carol goes: “Bagong taon ay magbagong buhay nang lumigaya ang ating bayan. Tayo’y magsikap upang makamtan natin ang kasaganahan!”
As we go about this task, our celebration of Mary as Mother of God on this very first day of the year, assures us of her maternal and constant protection and guide.
A blessed New Year to all!