Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Mary, Mother of God, Year C
January 1, 2016
Num 6:22-27, Ps 67, Gal 4:4-7, Lk 2:16-21
The recorder malfunctioned today and therefore there is no audio recording of the homily.
The following text guided what was preached:
From Chronos to the Fullness of Kairos
On this first day of the new civil year, we naturally think about the passing of time, in this case from 2015 to 2016. When we were kids, most of us looked at the new year as a sign of hope, as a new beginning, wondering with eager anticipation what the new year would bring. As we age, we begin to look at the transition as an indication that we have one year less on our earthly duration and an occasion for us to prioritize what’s really important before the sands of the hourglass run out. The Church, however, wants us to think about something different. Instead of focusing on chronos — or what the Greeks called “chronological time” — it wants us to ponder kairos, the word the Greeks would use to refer to a “special time,” to a propitious occasion. Specifically the Church wants us to meditate upon the “fullness of time” about which St. Paul speaks to us today in the epistle.
St. Paul says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” He goes on to say that the Holy Spirit would be sent so that we would be able to relate to God in the wonder of divine filiation, cry out, “Abba, Father!” and live no longer as slaves, but sons and heirs, heirs of God, heirs of grace, heirs of all his blessings. This morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis celebrated the first of two Masses today, and in his homily he that we need to see this fullness of time “from God’s standpoint.” It happened “when God decided that the time had come to fulfill his promise.” It’s not world history — and what some looked at as the fullness of time in the coming of Octavius Caesar and the “whole world being at peace” — but salvation history. Christ’s “coming into the world enables history to attain its fullness,” Pope Francis said. “For this reason, the birth of the Son of God inaugurates a new era, a new computation of time, the era that witnesses the fulfillment of the ancient promise.”
What was that ancient promise? It’s the whole Covenant of promises God had made from Adam and Eve all the way through Zechariah, John the Baptist’s Father, in the temple. All of those promises can be summarized in what we have in today’s first reading and psalm. In the Book of Numbers, God through Moses tells the Israelites that he wanted to bless and keep them, to let his face shine upon them and be gracious to them, to look on them with kindness and give them peace. We saw that prophecy fulfilled when God would take on a human face and raise a little land to bless them.
Our desire for what God wanted to give us is testified to in the Responsorial Psalm, as the Israelites turned to God and begged, “May God have pity on us and bless us; may he let his face shine upon us, so that [his] ways may be known upon earth, among all nations [his] salvation.” All peoples came to know God’s ways and salvation when God, out of the abundant mercy he had for us, sent us his Son to bless us as God-with-us and as God-saves.
These are the truths, we’re told in today’s Gospel, that Mary was keeping and reflecting on in her heart. These are the truths she herself had announced months earlier in her Magnificat, when her soul magnified the greatness of God and her spirit rejoiced in her Savior because “his mercy is from age to age” and he had “remembered his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers.” That Mercy had entered the world and taken on flesh within her immaculate womb and was now wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Pondering with Mary the Face of the Father’s Mercy
So today, on this great Solemnity of Mary’s Motherhood during this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Church calls us to ponder together God’s mercy in the fullness of time. She summons us to look at 2016 from God’s perspective. She helps us to turn to God anew and ask him to let his merciful face shine on us and bless us with his mercy so that we, and others with us, might come to salvation. She beckons our own spirits to rejoice that God’s mercy extends from generation to generation, including our own, and our own souls to magnify God’s constant fidelity to his promise of mercy. And the Blessed Virgin Mary wants to help us, like she helped the early Church in the Upper Room, to ponder this great mystery. She wants to teach us how to treasure this reality, tightly grasping onto it in our hearts. She wants to help us to learn how to sing in time our own Magnificats so that we might sing it with her forever. Today on the Feast of her Motherhood, in this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, throughout this new civil year, she wants to help us grow in our appreciation, intellectual and moral, of the mercy her Son brought in the “fullness of time” in which we’re continuing to live because he continues to live with us.
“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s Mercy,” Pope Francis told us in his Bull of Indiction for this Jubilee Year, which he entitled Misericordiae Vultus or “Face of Mercy.” He said that looking at Jesus as the face of the mercy of the Father, whom we begged to have pity on us, bless us, and let his face shine upon us, “might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. … Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions and his entire person, reveals the mercy of God.”
And it’s Mary who helps us to enter into God’s self-revelation in Christ. Toward the end of Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis wrote: “My thoughts now turn to the Mother of Mercy,” as he prayed that the sweetness of her face would watch over us in this Holy Year “so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness.” He noted that no one has “penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh. The Mother of the Crucified and Risen One has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy because she participated intimately in the mystery of His love. Chosen to be the Mother of the Son of God, Mary, from the outset, was prepared by the love of God to be the Ark of the Covenant between God and man. She treasured divine mercy in her heart in perfect harmony with her Son Jesus. Her hymn of praise, sung at the threshold of the home of Elizabeth, was dedicated to the mercy of God that extends from ‘generation to generation’ (Lk 1:50). We too were included in those prophetic words of the Virgin Mary.” He went on to ponder her participation on Calvary, when she who had been chosen by God the Father to be the Mother of his Son, “mercy made flesh” was given to us by that very Son to be our mother.” At the foot of the Cross,” Pope Francis said, “Mary, together with John, the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness spoken by Jesus. This supreme expression of mercy towards those who crucified him show us the point to which the mercy of God can reach. Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception.”
Those are extraordinarily powerful words. It was on Calvary that Mary shared in the fulfillment of her Son’s rescue mission, as she gathered St. John and all of us at the food of the Cross as his side was pierced and an ocean of mercy gushed from his heart in blood and water as a font of mercy for us. Pope Francis built on the insight of how Mary participated in and manifests continuously the limitless power and breath of mercy during his second important Mass today, at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, dedicated to Mary’s motherhood, where he opened the special Jubilee Door. “At the foot of the Cross,” Pope Francis said, “Mary sees her Son offer himself totally, showing us what it means to love as God loves. At that moment she heard Jesus utter words that probably reflected what he had learned from her as a child, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (Lk 23:24). At that moment, Mary became for all of us the Mother of forgiveness. Following Jesus’ example and by his grace, she herself could forgive those who killed her innocent Son. For us, Mary is an icon of how the Church must offer forgiveness to those who seek it. The Mother of forgiveness teaches the Church that the forgiveness granted on Golgotha knows no limits. Neither the law with its quibbles, nor the wisdom of this world with its distinctions, can hold it back. The Church’s forgiveness must be every bit as broad as that offered by Jesus on the Cross and by Mary at his feet. There is no other way. It is for this purpose that the Holy Spirit made the Apostles the effective ministers of forgiveness, so what was obtained by the death of Jesus may reach all men and women in every age (cf. Jn 20:19-23).”
The Beginning of Mary’s Mission of Mercy
But this Mission of Mercy that Mary shares in to the full as a co-redeemer and calls us in the Church to participate in with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, began well before Calvary. Back in 1984, in a Catechetical address, St. John Paul II spoke about how Mary’s cooperation in her future Son’s mission of mercy was foretold at the beginning of time when, after the original sin of our first parents, God prophesied her and her Son’s inextricable collaboration. In Genesis 3:16 when God told the serpent, “will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel,” we see that Mary was the one “destined to become the ally of God in the fight against the devil, that she was the one to be the mother of the One who who would strike at the enemy’s head.” St. John Paul II added that when the proto-Gospel was given, no one could have anticipated that the Son who would stomp on the devil’s head would have been anything other than a man. But in the fullness of time, when that prophecy would be fulfilled, St. John said, “the strict alliance from the beginning between God and the woman would assume a new dimension. Mary enters into this Covenant as the Mother of the Son of God. To respond to the image of the woman who had committed sin, God prepares the perfect image of woman, and she receives a divine maternity.” Her spiritual maternity, in other words, is totally bound up in her mission of mercy, to be the mother of mercy in the flesh and to help us to enflesh that greatest of all divine blessings.
Mary’s School of Mercy
St. John Paul elaborates even more extensively on Mary’s maternal role in Jesus’ becoming “Mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled” (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing) in his beautiful encyclical on Divine Mercy (Dives in Misericordia, 9) when he described how she received that mercy in its fullness and continues to let it overflow toward us. Since she is the one who knows the mystery of God’s mercy the best, she is the greatest one to help us to enter into that same mystery.
“Mary,” he wrote, “is the one who obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way, as no other person has. At the same time, still in an exceptional way, she made possible with the sacrifice of her heart her own sharing in revealing God’s mercy. This sacrifice is intimately linked with the cross of her Son, at the foot of which she was to stand on Calvary. Her sacrifice is a unique sharing in the revelation of mercy, that is, a sharing in the absolute fidelity of God to His own love, to the covenant that He willed from eternity and that He entered into in time with man, with the people, with humanity; it is a sharing in that revelation that was definitively fulfilled through the cross. No one has experienced, to the same degree as the Mother of the crucified One, the mystery of the cross, the overwhelming encounter of divine transcendent justice with love: that ‘kiss’ given by mercy to justice. No one has received into his heart, as much as Mary did, that mystery, that truly divine dimension of the redemption effected on Calvary by means of the death of the Son, together with the sacrifice of her maternal heart, together with her definitive ‘fiat.’ Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is. In this sense, we call her the Mother of mercy: our Lady of mercy, or Mother of divine mercy; in each one of these titles there is a deep theological meaning, for they express the special preparation of her soul, of her whole personality, so that she was able to perceive, through the complex events, first of Israel, then of every individual and of the whole of humanity, that mercy of which ‘from generation to generation’ people become sharers according to the eternal design of the most Holy Trinity. … Through her hidden and at the same time incomparable sharing in the messianic mission of her Son, [Mary] was called in a special way to bring close to people that love which He had come to reveal. … In her and through her, this love continues to be revealed in the history of the Church and of humanity. This revelation is especially fruitful because in the Mother of God it is based upon the unique tact of her maternal heart, on her particular sensitivity, on her particular fitness to reach all those who most easily accept the merciful love of a mother. This is one of the great life-giving mysteries of Christianity, a mystery intimately connected with the mystery of the Incarnation.”
John Paul finished that meditation on Mary’s “incomparable sharing” in her Son’s mission of mercy by indicating, with the words of the Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium that that mission will not cease until the end of time. “The motherhood of Mary in the order of grace,” he said, quoting the Council, “lasts without interruption from the consent which she faithfully gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without hesitation under the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. In fact, being assumed into heaven she has not laid aside this office of salvation but by her manifold intercession she continues to obtain for us the graces of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she takes care of the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home.””
A School From Which Mary Never Ceases to Teach
We see how she has continued that mission in a particular way over the last 500 years. When she appeared to St. Juan Diego in Tepeyac in 1531, she said to him, “I am truly your merciful Mother” and said that she wanted a teocalli, a shrine, built where she could “hear [her sons’ and daughters’] weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.” When she appeared in Lourdes to St. Bernadette in 1858, she identified herself as the fulfillment of what God had prophesied at the beginning of time, saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” I am, in other words, the one free from sin. She asked St. Bernadette to join her in praying for mercy saying, “”Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!” And as St. John Paul II commented in 1983 when he went to Lourdes to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the apparitions, “The Virgin without sin brings help to sinners.” And when she appeared to Blessed Jacinta, Blessed Francisco and one day Blessed Lucia in Fatima in 1917, she asked them to join her in praying and sacrificing for the conversion of sinners to receive her Son’s mercy, to pray that they be “saved from the fires of hell” and that “all soughts be brought to heaven, especially those in most need of [God’s] mercy.” She asked them to have everyone consecrate themselves to her Immaculate Heart so that their heart might be like hers full of mercy, full of grace, and enter into her own fiat and triumph. Her mission of mercy continues!
And the Church never ceases to call upon her in that mercy. When we sing the Salve Regina, we turn to her as “Mother of Mercy!,” we invoke her as “O Clemens,” we beg her to turn her, as our “most gracious advocate” her “eyes of mercy toward us” and “after this our exile” to “show us the blessed fruit of [her] womb, Jesus,” who is the enfleshment of God’s mercy.
When we pray the Hail Mary, which most of us do more than 50 times a day, we cry out for her merciful intercession, imploring, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” confident that at no moment of our life will she not be praying for mercy for us sinners.
During this Season of the Year in which we celebrate Advent and Christmastide through the Feast of the Presentation, the whole Church sings to her the words of the Alma Redemptoris Mater, in which we invoke her as the “Sweet Mother of the Redeemer,” the Mother of the One who rescues us through Mercy. We beseech her, “Sucurre cadenti surgere qui curat populo,” “Hasten to aid your fallen people who strive to rise once more,” knowing that she will never turn a deaf ear. And at the end of this beautiful hymn, after pondering the mysteries of the Annunciation and Birth of Jesus, we simply say, “Peccatorum miserere!,” “Have mercy on us sinners!” This clement Mother, who prays for us always, who hastens to our side like she rushed to her cousin Elizabeth’s, who constantly in our exile from heaven seeks to show us her Son and help lift us up like a mom lifts up her baby who has fallen, does have mercy on us always!
In his homily at St. Mary Major Basilica today, Pope Francis focused on another beautiful 11th century Marian hymn, which many Catholics don’t know, but many priests and religious do, on account of its beautiful lyrics and melody. Salve, Mater misericordiae, Mater Dei et Mater veniae, Mater spei et Mater gratiae, Mater plena sanctae laetitiae, O Maria! “Hail, Mother of mercy, Mother of God and Mother of Forgiveness, Mother of hope and Mother of grace, Mother, full of holy joy. O Mary!” Pope Francis commented, “With this invocation we turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary. … Composed by an unknown author, it has come down to us as a heartfelt prayer spontaneously rising up from the hearts of the faithful. … In these few words we find a summary of the faith of generations of men and women who, with their eyes fixed firmly on the icon of the Blessed Virgin, have sought her intercession and consolation. … It is most fitting that on this day we invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary above all as Mother of mercy. … She is the Mother of mercy, because she bore in her womb the very Face of divine mercy. … Mary is the Mother of God who forgives, who bestows forgiveness, and so we can rightly call her Mother of forgiveness. … [She is] ‘Mother of hope and Mother of grace, Mother of holy gladness.’ Hope, grace and holy gladness are all sisters: they are the gift of Christ; indeed, they are so many names written on his body. The gift that Mary bestows in offering us Jesus is the forgiveness which renews life, enables us once more to do God’s will and fills us with true happiness. This grace frees the heart to look to the future with the joy born of hope.”
The Face of Mercy Shining on us and blessing us from the Altar
Today on this Great Solemnity of Mary’s Motherhood during this Jubilee of Mercy, we Mary as our Mother of Mercy, Mother of Forgiveness, Mother of Hope, Grace and Holy Jesus.” As she hastens to pick us up, we hasten to greet her in Bethlehem, to receive her as our mother on Calvary, and seek to live our whole life being raised by her to treasure in our heart the mystery of mercy of her Son that she experienced more than anyone in history and wants to help each of us undertand, appreciate and live more. It’s here at Mass that Mary shows us mercy in a special way. It’s here she turns her merciful eyes toward us and wants to show us the same blessed fruit of her womb that she showed the Shepherds in today’s Gospel. As our Mother of Mercy, she is interceding for us right now that now that we will receive the blessing of her Son, who lets us face — his misericordiae vultus — shine on us from the altar, who seeks to shed his blessing upon us, to fill us with his peace, to ransom us, and to make it possible for us to receive adoption as sons and cry out with him, “Abba, Father!” and receive not because of merit but mercy our full inheritance as beloved sons and daughters. It’s here that we receive Mercy incarnate, as we consume the very Body and Blood the face of mercy took from his Mother, in the fullness of time, when the proto-Gospel because the “good news of great joy for all the people.” Mary, Mother of Mercy, Mother of God and our Mother, pray for us!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 NM 6:22-27
“Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them:
This is how you shall bless the Israelites.
Say to them:
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!
So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites,
and I will bless them.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
Reading 2 GAL 4:4-7
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law,
to ransom those under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
As proof that you are sons,
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
crying out, “Abba, Father!”
So you are no longer a slave but a son,
and if a son then also an heir, through God.
Alleluia HEB 1:1-2
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets;
In these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 2:16-21
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.