Homily for New Year’s Day – Mary Mother of God


Glenstal, Friday, 01 January, 2021. Num 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21

WE sing of a maiden that is matchless. 

King of all kings for her son she chose.

Mother and maiden there was never ever one but she; 

Well may such a lady God’s mother be.

Listening to today’s readings on the principal feast of Our Lady we may be a little puzzled by the clear focus of these readings on Jesus her Son, on the angels and the shepherds and not on Mary herself. In fact, in the gospel reading from St Luke, she is mentioned by name only twice: once as being with Joseph and the infant Jesus in the stable and again – and perhaps more importantly – she is mentioned as treasuring in her heart all the things that had happened and pondering them – or, perhaps a better translation would be that she ‘ kept with concern all these events ,interpreting them in her heart.’ So, on Mary’s major feast one might have expected a more prominent mention. She does indeed feature more prominently in the chants and prayers of the Mass, but, as in all Eucharistic liturgy, the primary focus of the scriptural readings is on the person of her Son, on the unfolding and reality of the mystery which he is and which he offers and opens to us. 

In the Orthodox Churches – and to a lesser extent in the iconography of the Western Church – Mary is frequently shown pointing towards her Son. She is the one who is showing, smoothing, knowing, the way to that Son. Having restored this feast on 1st January some years before, Pope Paul VI said in 1974 about Mary, ‘…she is held up as an example to the faithful for the way in which in her own particular life she fully and responsibly accepted the will of God, because she heard the word of God and acted on it, and because charity and the spirit of service were the driving force of her actions. She is worthy of imitation because she was the first and most perfect of Christ’s disciples.’

Aware of the greatness conceded to her by God, Mary recognizes her littleness before him. She is not, however, humiliated by the greatness of God, but recognizes Him as the almighty One, merciful to all. The merciful goodness he has shown to her is a favour to us all.

Jesus says ‘Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful’. We are called to become aware of the great things that the grace of Christ does to and in us. We are called to cry out, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, for he has seen our lowliness and has placed us in service of the Kingdom.’ Because of Mary we are made able to transform the suffering of a people by crossing from an individualistic, privatized religion to faith capable of transforming the structures of a world perverted by evil.

It was this same evil that corrupted Eve in the Garden of paradise, this same evil that was destroyed to its very core by the woman Mary who never tasted the fruit of sin but allowed to grow within her the fruit of the tree of life, Jesus himself. In glory, Mary continues to be the handmaid of the Lord, helper of all the people of God. She is constantly, as at Cana, repeating, ‘They have no more wine!’ She continues to be attentive to the afflictions of, the persecutions suffered by a suffering humanity, which are, in fact afflictions and persecutions aimed at her Son. She is persecuted by the Dragon, and thus becomes the symbol of the Church persecuted in the world by so many dragons. But, clinging as we do to the cliffs of the heart we believe and hope against hope that these will come to an end and evil will finally be overcome.

Whatever Mary was and is flows solely from the merits of Christ. It was in view of these merits that she was conceived without sin. It is impossible to separate any of Mary’s roles and realities from the Resurrection. Mary’s life, her death, her Assumption, are grace-filled confirmations of the certainty that Christ has conquered death not only for Himself, but for everyone. Christ’s Resurrection is the guarantee of our own resurrection.

Mary’s true greatness is to be found in her faith, which caused her to ‘conceive first of all in her heart, before ever in her womb…’ ‘Blessed is she who believed…’ Indeed, when she accepted the message given her by the angel she accepted as well all the consequences it implied. St Ambrose tells us: ‘…You too, who have heard and have believed, are blessed. Every soul who has believed both conceives and generates the Word of God and recognizes his works. Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you to magnify the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you to exult in God. According to the flesh one woman is the mother of Christ, but according to faith, Christ is the fruit of all men. Every soul, indeed, receives the Word of God…The soul who has been able to reach this state magnifies the Lord, as Mary’s soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her saviour.

But, Mary, alone of our race, has arrived at that final state of glory for which we are still yearning and striving, she alone can sing as one who has experienced the fullness of the reality:

Finish then Thy new creation.

Pure and spotless let us be;

Let us see Thy great salvation,

Perfectly restored in Thee;

Changed from glory into glory,

Till in heaven we take our place,

Till we cast our crowns before Thee,

Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

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