Even though we are still in the season of Christmas within the Church, our secular society has already moved on – to New Year’s, marking an end of the ‘holiday season’. And one of the longstanding secular traditions in our culture and many others, is to make ‘resolutions’ as we enter into a new year.
We might resolve to lose weight, eat healthier, to take up a new hobby. Maybe to start or complete a project – to eliminate a bad habit or to adopt a good habit; but as Christians we need to seek and identify the motives for these resolutions. If a resolution is solely for our own satisfaction or our own possessiveness, then held up in the light of the Gospels, it means nothing.
Whatever we resolve to do – no matter how well-intentioned we may think it is – if it is not somehow for the glory of God, for the love of God, if it is not a reflection of God – then it is value-less – meaningless. To be closer in union with God; this is what each of us was ultimately born for; to seek out ways to respond to that call to ‘holiness’ – to wholeness in the One who loved us into existence that’s the reason each of us is alive.
We are called to be people who are deeply in love with God – perhaps even using the expression, ‘head over heels’ in love with and for God; if our resolution is to do something with our lives or our hearts that will bring us closer to, or help us become more open to the working and presence of God in our lives, then that is the standard as Christians, that we would judge whether our resolution has true value or whether it should even be pursued.
When we read today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, which begins with the shepherds reporting what they have seen, and then departing the manger in Bethlehem after seeing Christ, they don’t proclaim anything wonderful about themselves having a privileged position in receiving angelic messages – it says they set off glorifying and praising God; they weren’t promoting themselves; they were proclaiming the great and wondrous thing that God had invited themto witness – the entrance of God into our humanity as one of us, in the person of Jesus.
And perhaps the best example of proclaiming the great and wondrous working of God in a human’s life is the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, in this passage, the prayer posture of Mary is in the very centre, literally and figuratively. When she hears what the shepherds tell everyone at the stable, unlike the others (whoever they may have been) she isn’t ‘amazed’. It says, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
To ponder doesn’t mean to give a fleeting thought to something and then continue on to the next order of business. To ponder is to go over and over the details of that which is revealed – to think about it yes, but to go even further; to move the details and the events from a mental ‘remembering’, to consideration and meditation in the heart; to seek the deeper meanings and to glory and revel in that which is revealed.
When we are deeply in love, we don’t simply give a fleeting thought to the one who is the object of our devotion; we ponder everything about them; we not only think of each detail of their physical appearance, but we consider and reflect and even meditate on everything about them, their likes and dislikes, their personality, sometimes even becoming overwhelmed and lost in that depth of emotion and affection that we have for the other.
Mary’s life, what little is recorded for us directly in the Gospels, is nothing less than a picture of that absolute devotion; that ‘head over heels’ love for God – completely surrendering her own life, will and desire to what God invited her into; from the moment of her ‘fiat’ before the angel; ‘behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word,’ to this deep reflection on the witness of the shepherds , to her eventual surrender of her Son to fulfill God’s plan of salvation by his passion, death and resurrection; Mary becomes the model for each of us in a lived ‘love affair’ with God, holding nothing back from Him, always putting the Other ahead of her self.
The Church’s honouring her on this feast day, ‘Mary, Mother of God’, in truth says more about Jesus than it even says about Mary – and again, here we see the one in love putting her Beloved ahead of herself; if we repeat, as some would hold, that we should simply call her Mary, the mother of Jesus, then that presumes that Jesus was simply another created human being. (this was the essence of a heresy which was condemned by the early Church)
In calling Mary, “Mother of God” we emphasize the true nature of Jesus, that He is God – fully human and fully divine. The fact that the Church Council promoted this title for Mary as doctrine in the 4th century at Ephesus, only speaks to the fact that this belief was held from the very earliest times of the Church.
This is not about worshipping Mary.
No, this feast is about paying Mary the respect and honour due to one who lived such a magnificent example for the rest of us to follow, in her complete and total surrender to God.
If this feast day is about worshipping anybody, it is about worshipping God who does such wondrous things in all of our lives, if only we take the time, like Mary to treasure and ponder these wondrous things in our own hearts.
Mary does not request that we pray to her to have her provide for us, for our intentions and petitions and needs; she requests that we invoke her aid as her children, and that like any loving mother she takes our needs and presents them to God who provides for us, on our behalf. She takes our prayers to the God with whom she is so much in love, always praying that we too will be as open to being just as in love with God as she is.
Perhaps then, as we enter into a new year, we can begin with this simple resolution; that we can take time to ask Mary to pray for us, that like her we can open our hearts to the stirrings of love for our God, so that whatever we do, and wherever we do it – in word or action in the coming year – that we will do everything for the praise and glory of God.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!