1 January 2020Mary Holy Mother of God

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Mary Holy Mother of God
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God - Cycle C
Luke 2:16-21

Do you recall the story? Jesus was taking His morning walk through heaven. He met there nasty people who should be in the other place. Angrily He went to the front gates to bawl Peter out. In his defense, the apostle said, "Lord, when the unworthy come here, I chase them away and tell them to go to hell. But then they go to the back door, knock softly, and your mother sneaks them in." The Christ smiled and apologized to Peter. He promised to go fishing with him soon. Then He whistled softly as He went off to have lunch with Mozart and Bach.

Fulton Sheen gave a talk to priests in 1974. He began by quoting a professor from the University of California. The professor claimed that whenever one hears a good word about the Blessed Virgin Mary, one can be sure the author is a Protestant. Also he said if one reads a bad word about the Mother of God, one may suspect the author is a Catholic.

The memorable archbishop conceded that this was an exaggeration. But in the next breath he mentioned that "it must be said that two of the best books on the Blessed Virgin were written by Protestants." The first was called a Treatise on Mary by the monks of Taize. The second was Meditations on the Rosary by Methodist minister Neville Ward.

I leave you to your own judgment on the university professor's point and Sheen's reaction.

But what is certain is that our American bishops said that a recent August 15 Feast of the Assumption was not a Holy Day of obligation. It fell on a Monday. Accordingly, very few Catholics took themselves to Mass to honor this extraordinary woman. The parishes about me had but one Liturgy and that sparsely attended. Somehow I felt the only mother God ever had, in the words of Vincent McCorry, deserved much better.

Ironically, though, in that same month and year an edition of that most secular of magazines, The New Yorker, did not ignore the Virgin. The weekly in a full page piece alluded to a book The Jewish 100: a Ranking of the Most Influential Jews of All Time. The author is a Jewish gentleman, Michael Shapiro. Predictably he placed Moses as number one. And Jesus was second. But what was surprising to The New Yorker editor was that Mr Shapiro listed Mary in his top 100.

The New Yorker speaks. "We put the question to Mr Shapiro: Why the Virgin Mary? 'She made the church user- friendly,' Mr Shapiro explained. 'She made it into a softer place.'"

Ironically enough, as Fulton Sheen might tell us, once again a non-Catholic was kind to our remarkable Mary. On the other hand, many of her own kinsfolk are very shabby to her.

Very few of us I wager would quibble with the on-target insights of Mary's fellow Jew, Michael Shapiro. She surely has made the Church user-friendly and a softer place. As Elizabeth Johnson has put it, "Mary embodies the female face of God. She does this as a merciful mother who will not let one of her children be lost." We are all in her debt for that dimension of her character in the now and here. Many of us may even be more in her debt at the time of our death.

But in fact Mr Shapiro is simply reminding us of an old concept. Artists of the medieval period often painted the Virgin with a voluminous cloak. Their inference was that all of us could get under it. There, if necessary, we could hide and seek sanctuary and support from her. She would be our own back door into Heaven.

I heard a preacher speak of a mother who goes each visiting day to spend time with her daughter in a psychiatric hospital. The daughter has been estranged from her for years. She refuses in the rudest way possible to meet with her mother. Still the next visiting day finds the mother back again hoping to speak with her child. The preacher wisely compared this mother to Mary who never gives up on anyone of us no matter how wretched we are.

Sheen said whenever there is a decline in purity or the sanctity of marriage, there is a decline in devotion to Mary. He says it falls on us to revive that devotion by reviving it in our lives. Would anyone quarrel with his conclusion?

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Mary Holy Mother of God

There are three aspects to this feast that I wish to focus on, which, I hope, you'll find intertwined.  Briefly the feast celebrates the Jewish origins of the Lord, secondly, it celebrates Mary, a Jewish girl whose faith resulted in the world having a special presence of God, and thirdly, the feast calls us to be firm in our resolution to make this child present in our worlds.

First of all, the gospel reading speaks about the circumcision of the Lord.  In fact, years back this feast used to be called the feast of the Circumcision of the Lord.  The medical, physical aspects of the procedure aside, circumcision was a statement that a person was in a covenant relationship with the God of Israel.  The covenant, the strongest promise known to the ancient people, was simply that God would be present for the circumcised person as a caring and loving Father.  The circumcised person, in turn, would live as a member of God's people.  How about women?  Women through marriage became one flesh with their husbands.  They participated in the covenant without having to have the sign of the covenant. 

Back to the guys. The gospel notes that Jesus was circumcised to point out that the Lord was in the heart of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith.  He was not some sort of fringe outsider.  Jesus was thoroughly a Jew, and, thoroughly the Jewish Messiah.  Next Sunday we will celebrate the Epiphany emphasizing the invitation to the world to come and share in the presence of the Savior.  Today, though, we celebrate the particular Jewish ancestry of the Lord.  The meaning this has for us is that Jesus is the Promised One of Hebrew Scriptures.  He is the very Word of God who gives meaning to Hebrew scriptures.

This leads to the second point, this is the feast of Mary, Mother of God.  Mary was a Jewish girl, in the heart of the Jewish tradition that the will of God must be the driving force of her life. Her reaction to the angel, "Let it be done unto me according to God's will," demonstrates this.  She was the perfect person to be the mother of God.  She continually turned to the Lord, making God present not only physically, at Bethlehem, but spiritually wherever she was.  To meet her would be to understand the quality of love the Lord was bringing to the world. 

The paintings and statues of Mary that I like best are those that depict her as a young mother, holding up her baby for him to bless the world.  As a man, I can never fathom what it must be like to hold in your arms the child that lived inside you for nine months.  Does a mother see her husband, the baby’s father, in the infant?  Does she see herself?  I’m sure she see a unique individual that came from her yet is not her. A mother must experience love of a different type than she ever has experienced before.  She also must experience love to a greater degree than she ever fathomed she could have. 

What must have it been like for Mary to hold Jesus?  Did she see herself?  Did she see her family traits, her father’s eyes, her Uncle Solomon’s cleft chin?  Did she see the baby’s Eternal Father, the First Person of the Trinity?  Did Mary see in Jesus the Mercy of God, the Peace of God, the Compassion of God for his people, a people that struggled to get by in the darkness of a world that had rejected its Creator?  How much did Mary love this child?  Certainly, she loved him as much as every mother loves her child.  But she must have loved him even more than this.  She must have loved this child with, as the second preface for Advent says, a love beyond all telling. She loved the child created within her, and she loved the Creator whom the child perfectly reflected.

It is reasonable to depict Mary holding the child up for him to bless the world, to bless us.  Her resolve to fulfill God’s plan for her and for all people resulted in our Savior becoming one of us.  Mary is the only person in scripture to be present in every aspect of Jesus’ life--from his birth to his death.  She is always there, saying to us: Look here is your Savior, my son.

Just as Mary was resolved to make God present in the world through her faith and obedience, we are called to make God present to the world.  Even though the beginning of the Church year is the first Sunday of Advent, and even though we concentrate during Lent on those areas of our lives that need spiritual refining, it is still proper for us to consider New Year's resolutions regarding our faith.  It is proper for each of us to consider, "What do I need to do to manifest a clearer presence of the Lord in the world."  How can I utilize my own unique reflection of God, my own personality, in such a way that I, like Mary, can bring God to others?   This is a good time of year to consider methods of fulfilling our obligations as Christians, the responsibility we took on when we were baptized, to make Jesus present to the world.

Joseph and Mary pondered in the hearts the mysteries of the presence of the Lord.  You and I need to begin this year considering the mystery of Jesus’s presence in our lives.  We need to search for ways to bring this presence to others. Like Mary, we have to hold Jesus up to a world that seeks His blessing, that yearns for His salvation.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Mary Holy Mother of God

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Mary Holy Mother of God

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Mary Holy Mother of God

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