In his 2002 homily for today’s feast, Pope John Paul II said: “If Jesus is Life, Mary is the Mother of Life. If Jesus is Hope, Mary is the Mother of Hope. If Jesus is Peace, Mary is the Mother of Peace, Mother of the Prince of Peace. Entering the New Year, let us ask this holy Mother to bless us. Let us ask Her to give us Jesus, our full Blessing, in whom the Father blessed all history once and for all, making it become the history of salvation.”
He identified in these few words the relationship between Mary and Christ for what it is, the axis of our salvation. He is God-made-man and she is the woman that God made to be the Mother of his Son here on earth. She is the sinless one who could say “yes” to the whole of God’s plan and open up all of the possibilities that this contains, while we usually fight it.
This tension is beautifully sustained throughout all of the mysteries of the Rosary, especially now that John Paul II has added the Luminous Mysteries (Baptism in Jordan, Marriage at Cana, Proclamation of the Kingdom, Transfiguration, Institution of the Eucharist). These fit between the Joyful Mysteries (Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation, Finding in the Temple) and the Sorrowful Mysteries (Agony in the Garden, Scourging at the Pillar, Carrying of the Cross, Crucifixion, Death) in the events of the life of Jesus himself.
The events of Jesus’ life are the history of our salvation that then continues in the Glorious Mysteries (Resurrection, Ascension, Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption, and the Coronation of Our Blessed Lady). All through these mysteries, we are praying two scriptural prayers the Our Father, taught us by Christ Himself, and the Hail Mary, based on the appearance of the angel Gabriel and the words of Mary’s visit with Elizabeth.
The whole purpose of this beautiful cycle of prayer is to walk with Jesus as his mother did. This is not following a hero, like admiring a basketball player. This following means cooperating with the Spirit of Christ in his Church so that we become like him. Vatican II said: “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”
In walking with Jesus we come to our full humanity which is humanity united to God and living out that unity day by day. Mary exemplified this life of unity.
The Virgin in Prayer by Giovanni Battista Salvi (c. 1645)
We celebrate Mary under the title of Mother of God at the beginning of the calendar year as a way of firmly establishing the Christian coordinates as the map for our whole life during the coming year. The map does not come from materialism (I gotta have more this year!), from Thomas Hobbes (I must dominate more people this year!), or from self-indulgence (Life is about indulgence!). This map comes from the one who created us and so may be trusted to know what best elevates us to our fullest existence.
This full existence starts here in the Church community because, “the baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (Vatican II)
The Feast of Mary Mother of God clearly founds the year, so to speak, as a time of growth in following Jesus Christ in his community, since of course we cannot go it alone. This is an exercise in the virtue of hope, the grace of Christian hope. In Benedict XVI’s words: “Paul reminds the Ephesians that before their encounter with Christ they were ‘without hope and without God in the world.’” (Eph 2:12).
Of course, Paul knew they had had gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were “without God” and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future.”
Now that we have received the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we have the coming year to immerse ourselves in Jesus’ life. This is not some “dark future,” this is a year of grace, given to us as a gift.
This grace is not some kind of ho-hum nice feeling. It is the expanding of the spiritual envelope of our life. John Henry Newman explained something in one of his meditations on Mary:
How great a holiness was Mary’s, seeing she could endure the presence of an angel, whose brightness smote the holy prophet Daniel even to fainting and almost to death; and secondly, since she is so much holier than that angel, and we so much less holy than Daniel, what great reason we have to call her the Virgo Admirabilis, the Wonderful, the Awful Virgin, when we think of her ineffable purity!
This is the transforming power of grace. This makes for a Happy New Year.