Sunday, January 1, 2012

Gifts and Graces

Icon of the Mother of God Hodigitria
Readings for Sunday, January 1/ Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God:
Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 67:2,3,5,6,8
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:16-21

As the Christian faith began to spread throughout the nations in the first centuries after the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Our Lord, many questions began to arise. Things that most of us take for granted or might not think to ask were brought up: Is the Holy Spirit God? Is Jesus God? Is He also a man? How does that work? Are the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Father all the same or are they different? How can we have one God and yet say these three are God? These are just the high points of thousands of questions that began to be asked as the Church began to grow in understanding of the Scriptures and the God of the Universe. 

Of course, as these questions arose, they had to be dealt with. As we gather here today to celebrate this Solemn Feast of Mary under the title of Holy Mother of God, we are really celebrating a belief of the Church that was clarified 1600 years ago at an Ecumenical Council in Ephesus, in current-day Turkey. There the Church pronounced that since Jesus Christ is the Word of God and Word made flesh, it is right to say that He is fully God and thus that it is proper to say that Mary is the Holy Mother of God, or more true to the Greek theotokos – the God-bearer.

With this definition of Mary as Mother of God, Mother Church showed that in knowing about the Lord Jesus we could also come to know about Mary. This colors the other teachings about Mary that were believed since the earliest of times and which were clarified throughout the centuries: Mary’s perpetual virginity, that she never sinned, that she was immaculately conceived in her mother’s womb and assumed into Heaven at the end of her life, that all grace passes through the hands of Mary, and that she is the Mother and Queen of us all. While such descriptions or titles can often seem a bit far-fetched or overly-pious, the fact that she had the specific blessing of bearing God Himself in her own womb makes these other titles understandable and almost a given. But beyond all of these titles and theological terms, there is something for us here today to really pause and reflect upon.

Let us look for a moment at the life of Mary. She was blessed with these special gifts and graces not just because God the Father wanted to do so. She was blessed with these gifts because the Lord had a plan for her, He had created her and guided her throughout her life so that when the time came, she would be able to say yes to the angel Gabriel and ultimately gain for us the gift of salvation.

As we come here today to celebrate this Solemn Feast and begin the New Year, it seems to me that rather than, or in addition to, making a resolution for ourselves, why not spend some time in prayer and ask the Lord what He wants of us? All of us have gifts, and even weaknesses, that the Lord desires to work through to continue to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and the gift of Salvation. The challenge is to find those gifts, to say yes to the Lord’s desires, and to pray for the courage to put them into action. May God grant us all of these graces.