In this New Year, embrace the Virgin Mary as your mother and your guide

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Mary, the Holy Mother of God: January 1, 2012
Num 6:22-27; Ps 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

“When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus.”

The Church has the practice of celebrating the octave of certain important feast days. Rather than just letting them slip away after one day of celebration, we return to celebrate them again on the eighth day, as a sort of echo. Or we celebrate all eight days, stretching one day into eight. And so it is that we currently celebrate the Octave of Christmas and the Octave of Easter.

And we have a natural reason to do this in the case of Christmas since, as we heard, on the eighth day after his birth, our Lord was circumcised and given the name Jesus.

  • And so today we celebrate the feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. Oh, no we don’t, although some of you probably remember when we did, up until the year 1960.
  • Instead, we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. No, we don’t do that today either; but that was celebrated by different places and different orders on various dates within January, and now on January 3.

Instead, we have returned to the earlier practice, in several earlier centuries in Rome, of celebrating the divine motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary on this day—one of the four Marian dogmas.

But why celebrate a dogma about the Virgin Mary within the Octave of Christmas? Doesn’t that take our attention away from celebrating the birth of Jesus? No indeed: for every truth about the Virgin Mary, and every devotion, rightly understood and rightly celebrated, points us to her Son. And this is especially clear in the case of this doctrine.

From at least as early as the 200s, we find the term “Theotokos” being applied to her—in Greek, “God-bearer,” or “Mother of God.” And this came to be used widely by the Christian people. Until, in about the year 428, the Patriarch of Constantinople, named Nestorius, started to object to this publicly; and he did so upon the basis of an error that he was making about Christ. He and his followers believed that Christ was not one person but two: a Divine Person dwelling inside of a human person. And so they objected to calling Mary the Mother of God, because they saw her as mother of the human person but not the Divine Person.

But what the Church defined clearly in the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon is that our Lord Jesus Christ is not two persons, but one Person with two natures. And that one Divine Person—the Word, the only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, true God from true God, consubstantial with the Father—this Person also took on our true human nature and was born again, as it were, in time, with the Virgin Mary truly his mother. And so, since the Virgin Mary really is the mother of this one Person, Jesus Christ, who is God, it is quite appropriate, the Council of Ephesus said in 431, to say that she is the Mother of God.

This affirmation helps us in two ways. First, in that it points us to the truth of Christ’s Person and the implications of this. For our Lord Jesus Christ, born on Christmas Day, is not just one more saint with a good relationship with God; not just one more teacher, one more prophet, one more spiritual guide. But he is the only Son of God made man; true God made truly one of us. And as such he stands out from every other human being who ever walked to earth, and from every philosophy or religion or way of life. Who he is and what he does for us is unique and irreplaceable.

And that leads to the second point. For, as St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that man might become God.” When we are in Christ—when we are immersed in Christ and united with him in baptism—then we are adopted in him, as St. Paul writes in the second reading. Then we are adopted as sons and daughters—of God the Father as our father, and of the Virgin Mary as our mother. This is why he came. This is the transformed life he wants to draw us into.

And this is a good point to reflect upon as we begin this New Year of 2012. Each of us, if we have been baptized in Christ, have been adopted as sons and daughters of the eternal God. Do we live like it? Imagine, if you were adopted at a young age by an earthly king or president or other very prominent person, what a difference that would make in the life you led and what was expected of you! Well, you have been adopted by God the Father! Do you live like that? Do you live with the same relationship to the Father that Jesus had? The same obedience; the same love; the same total concern for doing the Father’s will?

As Pope John Paul II wrote, “Become what you are!” This is what you are by baptism. Become what you are!

And you have been adopted by the Virgin Mary as your mother. Do you resemble her? Do you have her faith; her complete trust; her quiet readiness to say yes to whatever God asked of her? Do you have her concern for others? Her humility? Her habit of reflecting upon all these wonderful things in her heart?

As we enter this New Year, may we truly become ever more what we are, what we have been made to be through baptism—truly sons and daughters of God, and of Mary, letting that identity shape our priorities, our actions, our entire lives. With the Virgin Mary as your companion and guide, become what you are!


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