Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2020
A new year dawns—what will it bring? There is a lot of uncertainty in our country, for sure: the impeachment of the president; the continuing violence in our streets; the growing threat of climate change now being felt everywhere, the chronic chaos in the Middle East, the birthplace of Jesus himself; the sharp polarities in our public life and even in the church itself. Add to these our own personal concerns about our health, how to make ends meet, about the well-being of our children. Each of us has our own list as we usher in this new moment in time.
The church puts New Years Day under the banner of Mary, the Mother of God. Curious, perhaps in some ways, but deeply comforting most of all. On this octave of Christmas, among the many titles ascribed to Mary, the church highlights her unique and astounding role as “Mother of God.” There in one paradoxical phrase, the mystery of the Incarnation, celebrated at Christmas, is raised up again for our contemplation.
Motherhood we know—the nearly miraculous process by which a woman bears a child, brings it to birth, and out of love will nourish that fruit of her womb for all the days of her own life. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a human mother, too.
But the daring affirmation of our faith is that the child she brings to life—Jesus of Nazareth—is also suffused with the Divine Presence. Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ, the Savior of the World. Mary gives birth to Jesus in his entirety—fully human, fully divine. And thus the church from its earliest days defends the unique and wondrous title of Mary as “the Mother of God.”
Whatever concerns or questions we might have—as individuals or as a society—as the New Year 2020 begins, our faith reminds us that beneath our tensions and our anxieties there is a strong and enduring basis for hope. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son… not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). The human portal for that unconditional act of saving love was the womb of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God. When all is said and done, the basis for Christian hope does not reside in human prowess but in God’s faithful love for us and our world.
Trust in God’s love does not mean we are indifferent to the challenges our world faces. Pope Francis consistently reminds us that we should shake off a “culture of indifference” and chose instead a “culture of engagement”—using every opportunity, no matter how small, to sow gestures of love and justice in our world. The outcome of a strong faith in God’s love enables us to face our problems and challenges with courage and perseverance.
All through this Christmas season, the church lifts up the figure of Mary. A sign of God’s unimaginable love for us as well as an example on Mary’s part of a courageous “yes” to the unanticipated challenges that come our way. Happy New Year!
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.