What better way to begin a new calendar year that to celebrate Mary, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church? Yes, our mother as well. Each of us and all of us together.
We look to Mary who loves us, embraces us and leads us to her Son Jesus. Just yesterday we celebrated the feast of the Holy Family – silent Joseph obedient to God’s will whenever asked; Mary, whose “yes” brought forth in a singular, unique way the birth of the Savior of the World, the Son of God, Jesus.
I want to offer a few simple reflections on this most holy feast. First some history.
In 325, the first Ecumenical Council was called by Emperor Constantine. Bishops gathered in Nicaea in present day Turkey to discuss the theological claims of Arius, bishop of Alexandria that affirmed that Christ was not divine but merely a created being.
Arius was condemned and the Nicene Creed that we pray every Sunday and will pray today, was formulated as the doctrinal summary of the Christian faith.
A century later, the bishop of Constantinople, Nestorius, taught that the human and divine natures of Christ were separate and not one as defined by the Council of Nicaea. Therefore, he denied the long held teaching and tradition of Mary as Theotokus, Christ-bearer and Mother of God.
He was condemned at the Councils of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that lead to the Nestorian Schism with some churches following him. Our long struggle for unity in the Body of Christ continues until today.
Mary, as Mother of God, does not imply that Mary herself is divine which some of our separated brethren mistakenly think the Catholic Church teaches.
Yet, because of her “fiat” Mary holds the honor of being the first disciple of Jesus by conceiving him in her womb by the unique overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, giving birth to Jesus.
Mary is also present as the first faithful disciple of Jesus even through his Passion, death and finally the glory of his resurrection and ascension. This is why we honor Mary and pray to her for her intercession for us.
So let’s pray. Hail Mary…
Such a beautiful prayer that speaks so much to all of us and blesses us.
“Hail Mary, Full of grace, the Lord is with Thee,” meaning that Mary was overflowing with the life of God, that her being was one with God’s plan for her. Mary was living fully, unlike us, who she was created to be by God.
“Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” Blessings upon blessings that God gave her and through her to us. We are blessed because of her “yes” to God just as we bless others when our lives are in accord to God’s plan and not selfishly our own.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
We proclaim who Mary is “holy and Mother of God,” as well as her role of intercessor on our behalf.
When I was praying with these words this morning, my heart was filled with gratitude and thanksgiving for Mary’s role in my life – praying for me, watching over me in my priesthood, guiding me back to her Son over and over again.
Beyond that, I so want Mary praying for me, interceding for me not only at the hour of my death but through the entire process of my dying however that might be for me.
Mary wants to be there for us. She wants to journey with us just as she journeyed with her Son in his Passion and Death. She won’t give up on us.
So, on this first day of this new year of God’s grace, I want to pick up on a theme that Fr. Cody has been sharing with us during Advent and Christmas – “be the first to love”
I want to expand that a bit.
As a parish community we define our mission as: Place God First in All Things. So…
Place God is first in everything in 2018.
Do this by being the first to love that is, willing the best for the other.
Be the first to make prayer a priority everyday, if only 5 and 5.
Be the first to pray at home with your spouse and your children.
Be the first to say, “I’m sorry,” admitting when you hurt God or someone else through your words or deeds.
Be the first to forgive, letting go of hurts and disappointments that can lead to resentment and bitterness.
Be the first to live our six elements of discipleship each day in 2018.
Be the first to grow in holiness by praying each day.
Be the first to worship making all Sundays sacred and participating consciously and actively.
Be the first to serve at home and in some ministry in the parish and the community.
Be the first to give, making a financial commitment as first fruits of your budget returned to God for the work of the Church, and not merely the leftovers.
Be the first to connect with others through genuine hospitality at home, school, the workplace and the parish.
Be the first to share you Catholic faith with others, not being embarrassed or ashamed to witness to the truth, beauty and goodness of our Catholicism.
Be the first, like Mary. What better model can we have?
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”