Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Online Homily Series for the Year of Faith
January 1, 2013
Today, as we begin a new civil year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and the World Day of Prayer for Peace. The Church does this intentionally.
No matter how many times we will exchange with others the words, “Happy New Year,” none of us has any idea what the new year will bring, whether it will bring happiness or loss, great success or failure, prosperity or poverty, health or sickness, peace of war.
As we venture into the unknown, the Church give us, on this New Year’s Day, a feast in honor of Mary, the Mother of God because our Blessed Mother shows us how to live this year in a way in which, no matter what occurs to us, it will be a truly blessed one.
St. Paul writes in his beautiful letter to the Romans, “Neither death, nor life, … nor present things, nor future things, … nor anything under all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39), and the Blessed Virgin Mary shows us how to unite whatever happens to us to God and to his saving plan.
It’s important for all of us in this Year of Faith to learn from Mary how to live by faith, how to entrust everything with confidence to God, no matter how humanly propitious and adverse.
Mary is a unique icon of faith. While still in her teens, Mary was asked by God to venture into an unknown future, filled with suffering, the purpose and end of which she could not possibly understand in advance. We think of the angel’s message to Mary — that she was to be the mother of God’s Son —as something wonderful. To Mary, however, it meant being an unmarried mother in a little village, where everyone would talk. To her it meant a possible rejected from St. Joseph. How could he understand that she was impregnated miraculously and had never been unfaithful to him or to God? It likely meant lots of questions from her parents Joachim and Anne and so many others. But she said “yes” to God with courage regardless. And that was just the beginning. There was suffering and poverty at his birth in a stable. There was great confusion when he was presented in the temple and Simeon prophesied that he would be the cause for the ruin and resurrection of many in Israel, a sign to be contradicted, and that her own heart a sword would pierce. There was great danger in their escape to Egypt when Herod sought to murder him. There would be great pain when the people of Nazareth would try to kill her Son, throwing him off the cliff on which Nazareth was built. There was indescribable sorrow when she would witness her Son die a criminal’s death on Calvary.
Did she understand everything that was happening? The answer is a clear and emphatic no. In the Gospel for Mass on Sunday’s Feast of the Holy Family, when Mary and. Joseph found Jesus in the temple after three days of a frantic search and Jesus said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house,” St. Luke tells us very clearly that Mary “did not understand Jesus’ words. Even though she didn’t foresee these events or even understand them when they occurred, however, she responded to them with faith.
The Church sets Mary before us today because we, like her, need faith to journey into the unknown and her faith can inspire us.
But we have to ponder more deeply how it is that she lived by faith. Today in the Gospel of the visit of the Shepherds to Bethlehem, after Mary had heard all that they had told her about what the angels had said to them, St. Luke tells us that she kept all of these things, reflecting on them in her heart. We heard the same words on the Feast of the Holy Family, that after finding Jesus the temple, his mother “kept all of these things in her heart.” It’s a very important expression of how her faith worked, and how we’re called to live by faith in this New Year and Year of Faith.
In his 2008 apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict said that, “ever attentive to God’s word, [Mary] lives completely attuned to that word; she treasures in her heart the events of her Son, piecing them together as if in a single mosaic.”
That’s a very important expression that renders into English what the Greek used by St. Luke conveyed in the expression “kept all these things in her heart.” Mary pieced all of the events of her life, including the great challenges, into a much larger mosaic, in a masterpiece puzzle God was making in her. That’s what she did in her Magnificat (Lk 1: 46-55), interweaving so many threads from the Old Testament and applying them all to her own circumstances. That’s what the Jews would often do, as we see in Psalm 136, seeing how all God’s former actions are sings of how “his love endures forever,” something that helps us to remember his love when various difficult “puzzle pieces” need to be integrated into this understanding of the whole. Mary shows us how to respond to all that we confront with faith, piecing together all of the events of our life to the events of Jesus’ life and to understand our ups and downs within God’s plan of salvation.
Back in the early 1980s, in a book called Seek What is Above, the future Pope Benedict plumbed the depths of what we can learn from Mary’s contemplative heart:
“Memory, he wrote in a passage that I encourage you to read and re-read many times, “requires more than a merely external registering of events. We can only receive and hold fast to the uttered word if we are involved inwardly. If something does not touch me, it will not penetrate; it will dissolve in the flux of memories and lose its particular face. … Understanding depends on a certain measure of inner identification with what is to be understood. It depends on love. I cannot really understand something for which I have no love whatsoever. So the transmission of the message needs more than the kind of memory that stores telephone numbers: what is required is a memory of the heart, in which I invest something of myself. Involvement and faithfulness are not opposites: they are interdependent.
“In Luke, Mary stands as the embodiment of the Church’s memory. She is alert, taking events in and inwardly pondering them. Thus Luke says [literally] that she ‘preserved them together’ in her heart, she ‘put them together’ and ‘held on to them.’ Mary compares the words and events of faith with the ongoing experience of her life and thus discovers the full human depth of each detail, which gradually fits into the total picture. In this way faith becomes understanding and so can be handed on to others: it is no longer a merely external word but is saturated with the experience of a life, translated into human terms; now it can be translated, in turn, into the lives of others. Thus Mary becomes a model for the Church’s mission, that is, that of being a dwelling place for the Word, preserving and keeping it safe in times of confusion, protecting it, as it were, from the elements.
“Hence she is also the interpretation of the parable of the seed sown in good soil and yielding fruit a hundredfold. She is not the thin surface earth than cannot accommodate roots; she is not the barren earth that the sparrows have pecked bare; nor is she overgrown by the weeds of affluence that inhibit new growth. She is a human being with depth. She lets the word sink deep into her.
“So the process of fruitful transformation can take place in a twofold direction: she saturates the Word with her life, as it were, putting the sap and energy of her life at the Word’s disposal; but as a result, conversely, her life is permeated, enriched and deepened by the energies of the Word, which gives everything its meaning. First of all it is she who digests the Word, so to speak, transmuting it; but in doing so she herself, with her life, is in turn transmuted into the Word. Her life becomes word and meaning. That is how the gospel is handed on in the Church; indeed, it is how all spiritual and intellectual growth and maturity are handed on from one person to another and within mankind as a whole. It is the only way in which men and mankind can acquire depth and maturity. In other words, it is the only way to progress.”
This is the type of progress God wants to do in us during this Year of Faith and through us in our families, parishes, communities and beyond.
Today, as we begin a new year, we turn to Mary, our great mother, model and master of faith, and we ask her to teach us and intercede for us that this new year may be the most faithful year of our life, regardless of what comes, so that it may be a truly happy and blessed year leading us one step closer to eternal life.