+ AMDG +
From the Gospel today, it would seem that it is Christmas all over again. And, really, it is. Christmas is one of the two great feasts of the Church’s year that is celebrated not just for one day, but for eight – an octave, eight days of celebration. On the eighth day we have basically a repetition of the feast, and so it is that we revisit the events of Christmas. In doing so, we are imitating Mary, who, the Gospel tells us, “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” This is what we are called to do as well – to continue to reflect on the mystery of Christmas.
In addition to “the octave of Christmas,” this day has another name: The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a title added to this feast in 1970, but celebrating a mystery known from the ancient days of the Church: that our Lord’s being born as man yet remaining God means that His Mother ought also to be honored as the Mother of God. So when the sacred liturgy looks today to recapitulate, revisit, sum up, the mystery of Christmas, we cannot help but look to Mary, who experienced the events of our Lord’s birth and early childhood in a way that only a mother could.
In the second reading, Paul affirms that Christ was “born of a woman … so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Christ has a human mother, Mary, so that we might be adopted as sons and daughters of God the Father. He who was divine from all eternity became man in time. He who is so far above us, so far beyond us, became one of us and took a human mother so that we might become sons and daughters of God, who is so far beyond us. This is a beautiful and mysterious paradox.
The first reading, though, seems like the odd man out. In this reading, God teaches Moses a blessing for the people of Israel, and the words are probably rather familiar to us: “The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” What does this have to do, though, with God becoming flesh and taking Mary as His Mother?
I think that what the Church is proposing to us here is that Christ, through Mary, is the fulfillment of this ancient blessing. In Christ, the Lord has let His face shine upon us and has been gracious to us, because God has taken on a human face, the beautiful face of an innocent child, and will redeem us from our sins. There, already in the cradle, is God’s greatest blessing to us: the promise of redemption.
It is not only Christ, though, who is this blessing to us, but also Mary, His immaculate Mother. Human nature is ennobled, made greater, by God taking it on in the incarnation of Christ. But it is also great ennobled by Mary, who, in the words of the archangel Gabriel that we repeat every time we pray the Hail Mary, is full of grace. If Christ is God’s greatest blessing to us, the greatest fulfillment of His promise to bless humankind, then Mary is His second greatest blessing, and the greatest blessing who is a creature like us.
God’s blessing in Mary should evoke two responses from us: Firstly, we should honor Her. We cannot live our lives as Catholics without constantly imploring Her maternal help and protection. We should constantly be calling out to Her throughout the day, asking for Her help and guidance. Imagine a small child. He is constantly looking for his mother, constantly asking for her, constantly needing her help. These days of the Christmas season invite us to consider Jesus as a young child, and that is exactly what He did – constantly call out for His Mother, just like any young child. So when we are constantly calling out to Mary for help in whatever we experience each day, we are imitating Christ in calling on that same Mother who protected and helped Him and now is able to do the same for us as well since She reigns as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
The second response we ought to make to recognizing Mary as God’s blessing to us is to imitate Her. St. Luke twice tells us in his Gospel that Mary reflected on all the events of Christ’s early childhood in Her heart. We should do this as well. We have all seen Christmas decorations coming down and life going back to normal – the stores are probably already getting their Valentine’s Day displays out. But Christmas is not over! After its octave concludes, the Christmas season continues with the celebration next week of Epiphany. We should not move on so quickly – such a great mystery as God becoming man deserves more of our time carefully to contemplate this incredible mystery that we have beheld.
For families, it is so important that you take the time to discuss the mysteries of Christmas with your children. Give them the chance to articulate in their own words what these celebrations have meant. It is not enough for them merely to hear from you or from their teachers the meaning of these mysteries. They need to express them themselves, they need to make them their own. Take them to the nativity scene, explain the figures to them. Help them to realize what it meant that Jesus was born, what it means that the little baby in the manger is the same Jesus they see on the Cross.
For those of us who are older, imitating Mary’s contemplation of the mysteries of Christmas means can also mean finding times of silence to consider the difference that Christ coming into the world has made in your life. Ask yourself: was I focused on Him during this Christmas season? Did I truly lead others, especially my children, to Him? Have I been like the angels, announcing the good news of His birth? Have I been like the shepherds, willing to leave aside my worldly concerns and search for Him? Have I been like the wise men, seeking for a truth that I might not yet really understand, but still being willing to draw closer to that great mystery?
In all these ways, it is our Blessed Mother who shows us the way. She was attentive to God through prayer and through knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, and so She accepted God’s plan that She become the Mother of God, even though it would mean great sacrifice and possibly even risking Her life. She was attentive to the Christchild, placing Him at the center of Her life, and She stayed by Him even in the His darkest hours.
Today we ask that Mary might intercede for us, that we might be as devoted to the Christchild as She is, and we re-commit ourselves to our devotion to Her, so that we might follow where She has lead.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Fort Wayne
In circumcisione Domini, A.D. MMXVII