Sunday, 1 January 2012
Our Lady: Mary, Mother of God, Shaftesbury
Today is a day of new beginnings. On one hand, today is New Year’s Day. But, for the Church, today is also a day of new beginnings because of the feast of Our Lady that we celebrate today. And this connection is not accidental.
It's very rare for this feast date for Sunday, once every seven years, and so this is a rare opportunity for the whole of our normal Sunday congregation to be together to focus on the symbolism of this feast.
Today's feast of Our Lady, of her as "Mary, Mother of God", is a very ancient feast. One of those feasts that is so ancient that scholars struggle to be certain when in the early centuries it began to be celebrated. Today's feast celebrates "the part played by [Our Lady] in [the] mystery of salvation" that we celebrate at Christmas (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus). And that part was the part of being the Mother.
But we celebrate this feast of Our Lady today not merely because of the proximity of Christmas but because of the symbolism of the start of the New Year. Our Lady is the one who brought the One who is "new life" itself into the world, and so in celebrating her divine motherhood we celebrate her role in bringing new life not merely into the world 2000 years ago, but through her ongoing role of maternal intercession, praying for us POWERFULLY in heaven, we celebrate her ongoing role in bringing the new life of grace into our souls.
But if we wind the clock back before Christmas we can see that there is yet another reason to think of Our Lady as the one we associate with the new life -because she's the one in whom the new life of grace was FIRST manifested. The Archangel Gabriel hailed her as "full of grace" because grace was already operative in her, in a special anticipation of the merits that Christ would win (for her and for us) on the Cross. She lived a life free at every moment from sin, free from sin because the new life brought by Christ was operative in her already. And in her sinless perfection we see manifested the new beginning for redeemed humanity that WE can all hope for.
She is therefore the "new dawn", THE sign of the hope of new life that redeemed humanity can aspire to.
I want to draw this together by seeing how what was shown forth in the Mother of God can be applied to ourselves, applied to ourselves in terms of making a new beginning, especially at the start of this New Year. In three simple points:
First, as I have already indicated, Our Lady is the new beginning because she was "full of grace". This is a sign to us that whenever we seek to make a new beginning we must seek to do it not by our own strength, but by the strength that comes from the Lord, that comes from grace. And the triumph of that grace in Our Lady is a sign that grace can be powerful in us too.
Second, Our Lady shows us that if we wish to make a new beginning we need to do so by cooperating with God's plan for us. The Lord had a plan for her, a plan for her to be the Mother of God, a plan that led to her glory even though it also took her to suffer at the foot of the Cross. The new beginning and the new triumph that we see manifested in her were not by herself but by her cooperation in the plan the Lord had for her, “Let it be done to me according to your word"(Lk 1:38). For ourselves, that means that in all of our working and striving we need to be seeking to cooperate with His plan, we need to be seeking His Will for us. And, like Our Lady, we need to trust that He does have a plan for each one of us.
Thirdly, and finally, Our Lady shows us that cooperation with God's plan also involves ACTIVITY on our part –“letting God act” does not just mean sitting back and doing nothing. The first thing Our Lady did when the angel left her was to head out to visit and take care of her pregnant cousin Elizabeth -activity.
I mention this aspect of activity particularly today on New Year's Day. Today is a day when people across our land will be making many new resolutions, and this is a good practice for us to take part in also. Keeping special times, special seasons, and special resolutions, like New Year’s Resolutions, is a very sacramental thing, a very Catholic thing. So, if you've not made a resolution yet I'd encourage you to do so, and to do so thinking of the new beginning manifested in Our Lady.
To sum up. New Year’s Day is a day of new beginnings, and this is what we see in Our Lady, the Mother of new life, the Mother of God, the mother of us.