Homily for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (New Year) By Fr. Munachi Ezeogu, CSSp
Numbers 6:22-27, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:16-21
On the Gospel, New Year Resolution with Mary
The name “January” comes from the Roman god Janus, the god with two faces, one looking to the past and the other looking to the future. This is indeed a time to look back at the year that has just ended and to look forward to the new year ahead of us. How did I spend this one year of my life that has just passed? Did I use it to advance my goals and objectives in life? Did I use it to enhance the purpose of my existence? Could I have done better last year in the way I invested my time between the demands of work, family, friends and society, and the demands of my spiritual life? What things did I achieve last year and what did I fail to achieve? How can I consolidate the achievements of last year while reversing the failures and losses in this new year? Through soul searching questions like these we find that a review of the past year naturally leads to setting goals and resolutions for the new year.
There are people who tell you that there is no point making new year resolutions. Do not believe them. We must set goals and make resolutions as a necessary conclusion to our review of the past year. And we do need to review our lives from year to year because, as Socrates says, the unexamined life is not worth living.
Today’s newspapers are full of individual and collective new year resolutions. Most of those, however, are not resolutions at all but only wishes. What is the difference between a resolution and a wish? A wish identifies a goal one wants to reach, a resolution specifies the steps one will take to reach it. A wish says this is where I want to be, a resolution says this is the road I will take, this is what I will do to get there. The wishful person says “I want to pass my exams this year” and the resolved person says “I will devote an extra hour to my studies everyday in order to pass my exams.” The wishful person says “I will have more peace and love in my family this year” and the resolved person says “I will spend more time with my family at table instead of rushing off to the TV, so that we get to know and understand ourselves better.” The wishful person says “I will live a life of union with God this year” and the resolved person says “I will set aside this time everyday to pray and hear God’s word.” The difference between wishing and resolving is: are we prepared to do what it takes to make our dreams come true, are we prepared to pay the price?
The gospel today presents Mary to us as a model of that new life in Christ that all of us wish for ourselves in the new year. There we see that Mary was prepared to do something to realize this goal. What did she do? We read that the shepherds, when they went to adore the Child Jesus in the manger, told all that the angels had said to them. “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Again after the boy Jesus was found in the Temple, we are told that “His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Mary was a woman who valued the word of God, who treasured it and made time to meditate and ponder it. It is true that the holiness of Mary is attributed to the grace of God, but this should not make us forget that she needed to make an effort in order to cooperate with the grace of God. She pondered the word of God in order to discern what God was saying to her at every stage in her life as the handmaid of God.
The two examples above of Mary pondering the word of God, namely, after the visit of the shepherds and after the finding in the temple, show that Mary found the word of God both in divine revelation (the angels’ words to the shepherds) and in her own experiences (her encounter with her son in the temple). Similarly God speaks to us today through divine revelation (e.g. the Bible, the teaching and preaching of the Church) as well as through our personal experiences, if only we made time to reflect on them as Mary did.
Whatever the situation in which we find ourselves – a hardship, a disappointment, a decision to make – God has a solution, an answer that is right for us. We tell God about it in prayer but we also listen to what God has to tell us about it. Prayer is a conversation with God but sometimes all we do is pick up the phone, read out the list of our problems to God and drop the phone without listening to hear what God has to say to us. Let us today resolve to listen more to the voice of God, to treasure God’s word and ponder it in our hearts. Then shall we be able to realize our new year resolution of a new life in union with God.
On the Epistle, The Old Order Changeth,
Giving Place to New In all cultures, the passing of the old year and coming of the new is marked by a two-fold celebration. The first phase of the celebration, on the last night of the old year, is marked by noise-making, drunkenness and disordely behaviour. In it humanity re-enacts the primordial chaos that enveloped the world before creation. The second phase of the celebration, as the first day of the new year dawns, is, very different. It is marked by calmness, sobriety, and orderly behaviour. In it humanity reenacts creation, the triumph of order over chaos.
African Christians often ask why there is no feast of the creation in the church’s liturgical calendar. They ask why there is no feast dedicated to God the Father, when we have feasts dedicated to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. One reason for this omission is because the early Christians were more concerned about the new order of grace that came through Jesus and Mary rather than the old order of nature that came through Adam and Eve. Today’s second reading, taken from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, dwells on this new order which began with God sending us His son and continues with God sending us His Holy Spirit.
There are two parts to the reading. The first part dwells on the incarnation, the mystery of the Son of God becoming human (verses 4-5). The second part dwells on sanctification, that mystery whereby God sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts to make us God’s own children (verses 6-7).
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children (Galatians 4:4-5).
Paul sees the entire order of nature, from creation up to the coming of Christ, as a preparation. In the fulness of time, when the preparation was complete, then the real thing happened. God sent His Son. Paul points out the contrasts between the new order in Christ and the old order in Adam.
Jesus was God’s Son whereas Adam was only God’s creation.
Jesus was born of a woman, Mary, whereas the woman, Eve, came from Adam.
Jesus was born a loyal subject of the law whereas Adam would not obey God’s law.
Jesu brought us redemption, Adam brought us the Fall.
In Jesus we regain the dignity of being God’s children, in Adam we lost it.
In other words, the incarnation is a new creation. It is God’s fresh attempt to realize the original purpose of creation, which our first parents failed to abide by. In the incarnation God gives humanity another chance. We can, therefore, say that God sent His Son to become human like us so that we could become God’s children like he is.
And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God (Galatians 4:6-7).
God’s first attempt to make us His children through creation failed. God would not want the new creation to be a failure also. To ensure that this does not happen, God sends “the Spirit of His Son” into our hearts to teach us and empower us to be and feel and live as God’s children. This indwelling Spirit helps us to know God as our loving Father and address God with familiarity “Abba! Daddy!” This Spirit helps us to know ourselves as God’s beloved children, not as fearful slaves who have to do God’s will under fear of punishment.
As the new year begins, let us see this year as another chance given to us to get it right, to grow in familiarity with God our loving Father, and to grow in our awareness of ourselves as God’s beloved children, all of us, beloved children of the same loving Father.