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The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
Gospel Reflection for January 1, 2023 - Lk 2:16-21
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.
What an honor it is to write the first Gospel Reflection of the year of Missio Dei! It is especially meaningful to me because it is the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. I think that most “cradle Catholics” have at least a fondness for the Blessed Mother. Many have strong devotions to Our Lady. Being a convert to Catholicism, most of y’all could never imagine how foreign this was to me, coming from a Southern Baptist background. The charge, “Catholics worship Mary, not Jesus - they are not really Christian,” was said so commonly while I was a student at Liberty University that it was taken as assumed fact without question. Well, as you may have guessed, I did begin to question and found that to be entirely untrue. Eventually, I became convinced that the only true Christian Church is the Catholic Church… but it took time to understand and accept several aspects of dogma and practice.
The first time I became aware of a devotion to Mary was through William F. Buckley Junior’s book, Nearer My God, an Autobiography of Faith. Strikingly, the verbose and eloquent Mr. Buckley made no attempt to explain his devotion to Our Lady. He merely mentioned it as if it was the most natural thing for a Christian. Buckley’s book was my first exposure to Catholicism, and although there was much in that book that I did not understand, I knew him to be such a brilliant man that I had to explore the faith that was so important to him. I began reading the Early Church Fathers, which led me to conversion as their writings agreed with and embodied the words of the Bible in a perfect way that no other church could claim. I also began reading Pope John Paul II, as I had developed a special fondness and respect for him through his battle against communism. It was through this Pope, whose devotion to the Blessed Mother was so deep and rich that I began to understand.
As the writings of the early Church made clear, Our Lady is truly the Mother of God. Simply put, she gave birth to, nurtured, and raised our Lord. She was the most special person in the history of humanity, chosen before all time to be the Ark of the New Covenant. Only she would carry within her the Word of God made flesh. Only she was “full of grace” even before grace entered the world through Jesus Christ, her son. In life, no one was closer to Our Lord. In Heaven, she advocates for all humanity as a saint - but her role is unique. Just before dying on the Cross, Jesus said, “Man, behold your mother, mother behold your son.” God made His mother our mother and, through her, made us his brothers and sisters. Mary is a spiritual mother to all humanity.
Thousands of years earlier, the very same Word of God commanded, “Honor thy father and thy mother…” Jesus also said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Catholics honor His mother. Those who believe in Jesus Christ but who insult His mother offend Him greatly. I never had a problem with the Catholic devotion to Mary, but I did not understand it. Now, having been Catholic since 2005 and praying the Rosary daily, I begin to understand.
Catholics love the Blessed Virgin Mary because she is our mother. We trust in her to pray for us as a mother who prays for her child. We feel her love and comfort, especially in hard times. She, who is more alive in heaven than we are on earth, not only hears our prayers but loves us more perfectly than we are able to love or understand. She was the first person loved by Our Lord in His earthly life and the one He loved as one can only love a mother. When our Blessed Mother prays for us, it is not our faces, flawed with sin and confusion, that are presented to Our Lord. It is the face of His immaculate and most holy Mother tenderly asking her son, perfecting our prayers just as she arranged the roses of Juan Diego. With motherly affection and care, she says, “My child, let me help you present a more perfect prayer,” just as our earthly mothers taught us the Our Father, teaching us to order and pronounce the words.
Today, we also remember Pope Benedict XVI, who died yesterday. He was Pope John Paul II’s “right hand man” before he became Pope. He was known as “God’s Rottweiler” as he was intelligent, logical, and forceful in correcting the errors of modernity and communism. He was the third man of my era who convinced me of the truth of Catholicism. He, too, had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother. Although the last few years of his life were sorrowful for those who love him due to his illness, the timing of his death is perfect. Yesterday, he went to sleep in this world. Today, he is in the embrace of the Queen of Heaven, who said to Our Lord, “I am so proud of your brother; he has come home to be with us for all ages!” We are sad that he has passed from our world, but truly Heaven rejoices!
Let us pray for “the Grace of a Happy Death”, asking the one who was assumed into heaven, “Mother of God, my mother, pray for us!”