Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
January 1, 2017
I was talking with a parent who has concerns about the direction the life of an adult child is taking. After listening to the details, I could well appreciate why my friend was so distressed. I commented that “parenting” is definitely the most challenging vocation to live out. My friend nodded and replied: A parent can only be as happy as their unhappiest child…and so I’m pretty unhappy right now.
The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, celebrated just seven days after the joyful feast of The Nativity of the Lord, seems to be the perfect way to keep up the thrill and excitement of the season. For example, there is a choice between two antiphons to begin the Mass.
Hail, Holy Mother, who gave birth to the King,
Who rules heaven and earth forever.
Today a light will shine upon us, for
The Lord is born for us; and He will be called
Wondrous God, Prince of peace,
Father of future ages: and His reign will be
Either is entirely fitting to this Season of joy and hope. Through the extraordinary cooperation of Mary, and with the critical support of Joseph, God’s promise of old was fulfilled. Our Savior came into the world. While the secular world continues “the party” Christians rightly hold on to the sense of triumph, knowing that God’s Eternal Word has taken flesh to walk among us. The victory over darkness and sin is something we want to savor. And we do by gathering again, in honor of the Blessed Mother, singing the same songs, continuing to enjoy the poinsettias and beautifully decorated trees. We might even linger in church for a few moments, and do what the Shepherds and Magi did; pay homage the Christ child lying in a bed of straw.
Standing before the crèche, our eyes might wander up to the serene look on the face of the statue of the young woman. But I wonder if that look of wonder and awe that artists strive for in paintings and statues might mask The Blessed Mother’s deepest feelings. When Mary is mentioned in the Gospels, our attention is not directed to the expression on her face. Rather, we are drawn to her heart.
As we celebrate The Blessed Mother today, we most certainly remember the cosmic impact of her willing acceptance of God invitation. But at the same time, we should make an effort to gaze into her heart. The Immaculate Heart of Mary was the living vault into which she carefully secured every detail about the life and mission of The Messiah. From the moment the Angel visited her, to that morning when she stood gazing up into the heavens as her Divine Son, returned to where He had come from, her heart was constantly flooded with an entire range of emotions.
The first words spoken by the angel were: “Do not be afraid Mary!” Still, many occasions followed that unexpected visit when she must have been absolutely terrified. She had to disclose her pregnancy to her intended. They had to travel to a little village far from home and family as her time drew near to deliver the Christ child. And then, in utter terror at the bloody rampage of the murderous King Herod, they fled for their lives to Egypt. After re-settling in Nazareth, she endured the horror of being separated from Jesus, Who had remained behind in the Temple after a family pilgrimage to the Holy City. Years latter, she stood by and looked on as their entire village turned on her Son, driving Him out and threatening to push Him over a cliff. She must have been continually looking over her shoulder each and every time Jesus was confronted and challenged by religious leaders, too vein and foolish to comprehend that they were debating and challenging God’s Son. Still, nothing could compare to the raw emotions that tore her heart apart as she followed Jesus to Calvary on Good Friday.
All of this misery was stored within her heart, mingled with and tempered by the pride of watching Him grow in strength and wisdom. Her heart must have burst with joy as she looked on as He miraculously fed a famished crowd…nourishing their bodies with bread and fish, and their spirits with The Good News! There is no word to capture what The Blessed Mother felt when she first looked upon the Risen Christ.
As a loving parent, Mary could only be as happy as Her Divine Son, when He was unhappy…and there were times when the Lord was definitely unhappy. Repeatedly, He was moved with compassion and pity as he encountered the sick and suffering. He wept with those grieving the loss of a loved one. He was saddened by the cruel and unforgiving way people treat one another. He was outraged by the manner in which His Father’s House was used as a place of business. Mary felt all of this pain and took it into her heart.
But at the same time, as a good and loving parent, Mary’s heart was overflowing with the joy that Jesus experienced by walking this earth and encountering us…God’s most excellent creatures. Because in spite of our failings, we do bring God great joy.
All of this is what we celebrate, when we set aside a day of the Christmas Season to honor the Blessed Mother; her Immaculate Heart a tapestry of sorrow, joy and glory.
We live in very troubled times. As we begin this new year, it’s very important that we keep all of these things we know about the Blessed Mother in our hearts. As we await the joys we hope for, and weather the unavoidable sorrows that the next 365 days will bring, we will find comfort in the angelic message that sustained Mary: Do not be afraid…you have found favor with God.
Happy New Year!