Put on the new self

Listen to mp3 file
The Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord:
Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God:
January 1, 2013

At the Holy Hour
Eph 4:22-24, 4:30–5:2

We stand upon the brink of a new year. 2012, with all that it meant, is receding into the past: all its joys, all its sorrows, all of our choices and actions that we are proud of, all of those that we wish we could do over; all now behind us. And ahead of us, at our very feet, opens the vista of 2013: untrodden, unknown, open, full of possibilities.

On Christmas Day in 1939, King George VI of England quoted from a poem in his radio message. He read:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!”

We enter into the new year, as we do every year, as we reach the octave day of Christmas. As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…” (Gal 4:4)  In the fullness of time, something utterly new; the Word made flesh. And not just any flesh, not just any age of manhood: the newness of a baby. He was the Second Adam, the New Adam; the beginning of a new human race, in himself; and soon the firstfruits of the Resurrection; the beginning of the New Creation.

He came to bring about the “new heart” and the “new spirit” promised by the prophets. He came to give “newness of life.” He established the new and eternal covenant in his blood. And how many of us—surely all of us present tonight—have been washed clean by that blood in the waters of baptism, making us a new creation. St. Paul wrote, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor 5:17)

And yet we know that not everything since the day of our baptism has breathed that newness. We know that, even in the past year of 2012, there was too much that was stuck in the old ways: sordid, cramped, weak, enslaved. There was not enough of Christ’s newness in us in 2012.

He knows this. The saints know this. Our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, knows this. They know that some of the remnants of original sin have been left within us, so that we may share in the dignity of battling them together with Christ: of battling them and overcoming them. They know that the saint is not one who has never fallen; but the one who never stopped Christ from picking him back up, for a new start. And so they urge us, this great cloud of witnesses, as always, to put our hand into the hand of God.

And so St. Paul cheers us on, to put away the old self as we begin this new year:

  • to put away falsehood and speak the truth;
  • to be angry but not sin;
  • to no longer steal but do honest work and share with those in need;
  • to let no more foul language come out of our mouths, but rather impart grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:25-29)

In short, to put on the new selfand live in love, as Christ loved us. For love is always the new commandment. As St. John wrote, love is not a new commandment but an old commandment that we have had from the beginning; and yet it is a new commandment. (1 John 2:7-8) Love is always new. Sin and pride are always old and haggard; love is always new.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict told us at his inauguration Mass:

The Church is alive… And the Church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future… The Church is alive—she is alive because Christ is alive…

And Christ is here before you; hidden, in disguise; but pouring forth the newness of life that he offers; just as sweetly as when he lay in the manger in Bethlehem; just as powerfully as when he appeared risen to his disciples. He touches your heart with the newness of his love, and beckons you to put your hand into his, and discover with him who he wants you to be in 2013. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

At the Mass
Num 6:22-27; Ps 67; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

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

This eighth day, this Octave Day of Christmas, has, at some times in the past, commemorated the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus, which occurred on this day; or it has honored the Holy Name of Jesus, which was officially given to him, just 8 days old, on this day. But in our current era, we have returned to an even earlier practice in Rome, of celebrating on this day the divine motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And it is fitting that we should conclude these eight days in this way, for by doing so we better unfold the truth and the reveal the mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus Christ are so closely connected that every truth about her fits into a truth about him; and indeed every form of devotion to her, when rightly understood and rightly practiced, points us to him. And so it is in this case.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of God: this is one of four defined Marian dogmas. And this Greek title “Theotokos”—meaning “God-bearer” or “Mother of God”—was spoken of her from at least as early as the 3rd century. But this was not without controversy. Indeed, in the 5th century, in the year 428, the Patriarch of Constantinople, named Nestorius, objected that it was wrong to call the Virgin Mary “Mother of God”; and he did so because of a serious error that he was making about Christ. For he and his followers believed that Christ was not one person but two: a Divine Person dwelling inside a human person. And they objected to calling Mary the Mother of God because they saw her as the mother of the human person but not of the Divine Person.

But they were wrong about Christ; and so they were wrong about Mary. In response to this heresy, the Church defined clearly at the Council of Ephesus and the Council of Chalcedon that our Lord Jesus Christ is not two persons, but one Person with two natures. And that one Divine Person—God the Son, born of the Father before all ages—also took on our human nature and was born again, as it were, in time, making the Virgin Mary truly his mother. And so, since the Virgin Mary is truly the mother of this one Person, Jesus Christ, who is God, then it is appropriate and correct to affirm that she is the Mother of God.

And she is truly his mother, with all that that entails: all the tenderness; all the sacrifice; all of the close knowing; all the teaching; all the giving; all the sharing; all the love; his Sacred Heart and her Immaculate Heart beating so very much alike in that warmth of love and holiness.

She knows him so well. And he has given her to us to be our Mother. For by our union with him in our baptism, we were adopted, as we heard in the second reading from St. Paul. We were adopted as children of God the Father; and we were adopted as children of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Behold, your mother,” he said to the beloved disciple as he hung upon the cross (John 19:27); and he invites us to take her into our home, even as St. John did, even now, as we prepare to enter the new year of 2013.

And how much it will bless us to do just that this year. For she knows exactly what it is like to put your hand into the hand of God; she knows what it is like to live the newness of life that he offers; the newness of life that is nothing but pure love. In her we recognize the beauty and the blessedness of faith and trust, of kindness and humility, of quietness and hiddenness, of openness and joy. She is the very picture of the new heart and new spirit he wants to form within us

Say yes. Do whatever he tells you. (John 2:5) “Become what you are.” (Pope Bl. John Paul II) Put your hand into the hand of God. In this new year, open yourself to the joy of saying: “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

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