Immersed in Christ: January 1, 2021
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
The Old and the New
May God bless us in his mercy! (Psalm 67)
How do you feel about the New Year? Do you connect it with Mary being “Mother of God”? Are you inspired to make any “New Year’s resolutions”?
Recognizing a New Year is combining the old and the new. The length of the year is not arbitrary; we didn’t decree it. We figured out that it takes 365 days for the earth to revolve around the sun. Because the orbit is elliptical, the distance from the sun varies, giving us hot and cold seasons that make what we call a complete year. Because the earth’s axis is tipped over about 23.5° from vertical, the seasons vary in different areas of earth, depending on how direct their exposure to the sun is. This state of things is old! It has been going on for about 4.5 billion years. Every time we say, “Happy New Year!” we are acknowledging an objective order in the universe determined, ultimately, by God billions of years ago. We measure time by it.
At the same time, we know nothing remains the same forever, particularly where human beings are making choices that change the conditions on earth for everyone: for better and for worse. So we hope that the changes during this new year will be happy ones. And we act to make them so, praying: May God bless us in his mercy!
Numbers 6: 22-27 echoes this prayer: “The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!” We look forward to the New Year with hope. The Responsorial Psalm specifies: “So may your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation.” Christians are always aware that we have a mission to the world. We cannot rest until everyone on earth knows God’s way and follows it into the joy of salvation. But this is not cut-and-dried.
We ourselves must be constantly learning God’s way, constantly trying to understand and follow it better. We define ourselves as a “pilgrim Church.” We know where we are going, but we are constantly correcting our course. If we ever think we “have all the answers” and need do nothing more than “keep the rules,” we have succumbed to the virus of Phariseeism. Jesus said, “Everyone who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven... brings out... what is new and what is old.” To settle for what we already know is to reject the unfolding truth of God. 1
Mother of God
Luke 2: 16-21 shows Mary responding to something so new we hardly grasp it. She was invited to become the “Mother of God.” This just doesn’t fit into any rational categories. A creature cannot be the mother of the Creator. Or give life to God. To understand this we have to get into another orbit of knowledge. God’s own orbit.
In Jesus, God the Son became human. He was conceived in Mary’s womb, not through human intercourse, but by the “overshadowing” of the “Most High.” Therefore he is called “the Son of the Most High.” Jesus is the Son of God, and Mary is the Mother of God.
Creatures begin to exist when God says, “Be!” And we continue to exist only as long as God “holds the note.” But when God the Son took flesh from Mary to make it his body, he stopped giving that flesh created existence by his “Beee,” and made it, and all of Jesus’ human nature, exist instead by his own eternal, infinite, divine Act of Being. In Jesus the voice of God is not saying, “Be!” It is saying, “I AM.” The human nature of Jesus does not exist because it was created, but because God is within it, saying, “I AM.” And yet, that human nature came from a creature. Jesus was conceived, not just “in” Mary, but “of” Mary. The flesh he took was human flesh. That is why he is truly and completely human, while at the same time truly and completely divine. And Mary is the Mother of “Jesus”; that is, of all he is.
This is a “mystery,” which means “a truth that invites endless exploration.” For Mary, everything about Jesus was this. After his birth, when the shepherds “made known what had been told them about the child,” the Gospel tells us “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She was always trying to enter into new understanding, new appreciation of the mystery of her life and God’s. And that is what we are called to do. To imitate this in Mary would be a good resolution for the New Year.” 2
In Galatians 4: 4-7 the mystery is extended. Mary, by her “Yes,” became the Mother of God. We, by our “Yes” at Baptism, become the body of Christ and “in him” children of the Father:
God sent his Son, born of a woman... so that we might receive adoption as children. 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.
It is as shocking to say we are true “sons and daughters of God” as to say Mary was the “Mother of God.” They both depend on the same mystery of the divine and human being united: first in Jesus, who was “Son of God” because he existed by God’s divine life; then in us, who are “sons and daughters in the Son,” because we share in that divine life by incorporation into his body.
This is not something we can understand by being taught the right words in catechism. Or just by repeating them at Mass during the Profession of Faith. Our being, the life we live, the life with which we begin this New Year, is a mystery. Our own life is a “truth that invites endless exploration.” It is the life of God in us, Jesus’ own life that he is sharing with us. To understand ourselves, we must “treasure all these words and ponder them in our heart.” We need to keep ourselves aware that our life is a mystery to enter into.
The sad truth is, judging from appearances, at least, most Christians are not bent on entering into the mystery, either of their own lives or of God’s. We learned on the first day of catechism that God made us “to know him, to love him, and to serve him.” We tend to equate “serving” him with just keeping the Commandments, and few spend any time at all getting to “know him” after the obligatory religious instruction required to receive the sacraments. We should find it hard to claim we “love him” even as much as we love our intimate circle of friends. Whom do we think about more often? In whose interests do we sacrifice ourselves more? With whom do we spend more time?
All that we do for and with our friends could be something we do for and with Jesus, of course. If only we have that awareness of what we are doing that converts it into a mystical experience. This is the value of saying the WIT prayer all day long.
So how about New Year? This would be a time to ask myself very deeply—and very honestly—“Am I really trying to grow in knowledge. love and service of God? If so, what is my plan?”
Most people have no plan for spiritual growth. That is why for centuries we taught that the vowed life in religious orders is the only “way of perfection.” They have a “Rule,” a specific way of living designed and approved by the Church as an authentic way to grow into deeper union of mind, will and heart with God. They have a plan. Laity don’t. But everyone should.
“To fail to plan is to plan to fail.” Be honest: if you have no plan for spiritual growth you have chosen not to be a fully authentic Christian. Your religion is to affirm Catholic doctrine (mysteries that invite “endless exploration,” but which you are not exploring); to keep “in bounds” by obeying the rules; and to maintain a certain level of devotion by observing the Catholic “practices” of attending Mass (probably without “full, conscious, active participation), receiving the sacraments in a way that is not a mystical experience, and saying some prayers. If you read Scripture you are an exception. But you need a plan.
Does the New Year invite me to revise my way of living? Does God?
Give a clear “Yes” or “No” to embracing a plan of spiritual growth.
1 See Vatican II, The Church, chapter 7; Matthew 13:52. 2 Cp. Confessions of Sr. Augustine, Book 10, “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new....” See also Luke 2:51. 3 Matthew 25:40. The WIT prayer is, “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me.”