Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God
A new year begins—what will it bring for us? None of us can know for sure… We may have a lot of things on our mind as this year starts to unfold: some may face the anxiety of coping with a serious disease, or the anticipated joy of a family wedding, or concerns about employment with rumors of a plant closing, or, in the spirit of this season, expecting a child to be born in the months ahead. But we also know from experience that some things will face us we cannot predict—some will be joyful events, but other things that may try our spirits.
The Church invites us to begin the year contemplating one of the most beautiful realities of our Christian faith—the astounding conviction that the eternal, transcendent God, the all-powerful Word, took flesh in the womb of a young Jewish woman, Mary of Nazareth. As the Gospel selection from Luke tells us, this is what the shepherds, among the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus, discover when they go to Bethlehem and find the mother and her child.
No matter how many times we celebrate the Christmas season, the utter daring of the Incarnation strikes us again: The Word made flesh and dwelt among us. But, not in some otherworldly way—no, in the very human, always touching way, of a young woman bearing a child and giving birth—with all of the earthy beauty and fragility that involves.
The early church in reflecting on Mary’s giving birth to Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, gave to her the paradoxical title: theotokos, a Greek title that literally means, “God-bearer”— “Mother of God.” Those two realities, under normal circumstances, should not stand together but they do in Christian faith: “mother” and “God,” by definition, God cannot have a parent. In Matthew’s account of the conception of Jesus—also read during the Christmas season—we hear that one of the names given to Jesus was “Emmanuel”, God-with-us. This is another way the gospels affirm this fundamental Christian conviction.
So why think about this at the beginning of a New Year? No matter what this year will bring for us, we can take deep courage and hope from the fact that God will never abandon us. God is truly “with us.” We will not walk this year alone. That is the exuberant spirit we find in the other readings for this first day of the new year. The beautiful blessing given to the High Priest Aaron from the Book of Numbers: “The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!”
This same spirit is echoed in the responsorial taken from Psalm 67: “May the Lord bless us in his mercy.” And in the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds his Christians that we are not slaves, but children of God, and therefore we are heirs to God: “As proof that you are children of God, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
The deepest wellsprings of our Christian faith give us the courage and hope to accept with serenity the prospect of another year in our lives.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.