On this first day of the New Year, at a time when we remember the past with a sense of thankfulness (or relief!) and look forward to the future with renewed joy and hope, the Church, in her wisdom, draws our attention to Mary, the Blessed Mother of God and the perfect symbol of our relationship with Christ—past, present, and future.
When you love someone with all your heart, with the depths of your soul and with all your being, when you love someone with a love that is selfless and pure, you are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the other. This is what the Father has done for us through the Blessed Virgin Mary: God has given us the gift of Himself in and through His Word, Jesus Christ, someone who would give his life so that we may have life in Him.
God has shown both the depth of his love and his abiding respect for the dignity of our human nature by becoming one of us. By becoming enfleshed in the womb of Mary, God wants us to know that He understands what it’s like to live in the depths of poverty. God wants us know that He understands what it’s like to experience great sadness and humiliation, unbelievable pain and suffering, and even the darkness of death itself. God wants us to know we are not alone and shows us through the Blessed Mother that when we humble ourselves before our Loving God, open our hearts to His holy will, and devote ourselves completely to discipleship in Christ, then we too, by Mary’s perfect example of what it means to be fully human, can share in the divine life of the Trinity and participate in God’s saving plan for the destiny of all humanity.
Both men and women are made in God’s image and likeness (see Genesis 1:26-27) but, as Pope John Paul the Great stated so beautifully, women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that the man—even though he shares in the parenting relationship—always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth and in many ways he has to learn his own fatherhood from the mother (see Mulieris Dignitatem, 18). It is in Mary’s fiat, in her “Yes” to the gift of motherhood—to the gift of life in cooperation with the Holy Spirit—that makes possible the sincere gift of fatherhood in Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-32).
A man, in his way of imaging God, points to God’s “otherness” and transcendence, whereas a woman, in her way of imaging God, points to God’s immanence and “withinness” since motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life as it develops in a woman’s womb. In general, a woman’s sexual and personal identity are more interior, intimately linked to her being and “bodiliness,” whereas a man’s sexual and personal identity are more exterior, more closely associated with his actions and how he understands himself in relation to the external world.
The relationship, then, of “motherhood” in God is analogously related to the interior “withinness” of the Divine Persons, the intimate relationship and exchange of love and life between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Blessed Virgin Mary participated in an intimate, life-giving relationship with God in an interior, bodily way that only a woman could. In becoming one with the child in her womb, she became one with God Himself. Like the Mother of God, the Church herself becomes “pregnant” with the Word Made Flesh each time we receive Jesus Christ Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.
“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Having received the Eucharist, how do we give birth to God’s love and truth through this great gift of His Son? How well do we bear the labor pains of ridicule from a society that mocks us because of our Catholic faith? How do we give life and meaning to our faith amidst a culture of sin and death? Mary shows us the way. The Blessed Mother not only gave birth to God in her body but also through her example of quiet prayerfulness, deep humility, patient obedience, unwavering trust and enduring love. She is, in a real sense, Mother of the Church and epitomizes for her sons and daughters the virtues we must make part of our own lives if we are to become the persons who God created us to be.
Therefore, it is with the heart and mind of the Virgin Mary, in completed obedience to the Father’s will, that we make resolutions for the New Year. This way of thinking and being goes beyond resolving to lose weight, getting a new job, or going back to school (which are all very good things!) The deeper question is: How is my life going to be a blessing to Christ this year? Here are six suggestions:
1. Get to know Jesus more intimately: Read the Gospels for 15 minutes a day every day this year.
2. Spend personal time with Jesus: Spend one hour per week in the classroom of silence, that is, in Eucharistic Adoration.
3. Help Jesus with His work in the Church: Increase tithing by 5%.
4. Overcome the power of sin in your life: Monthly Reconciliation; daily Rosary; prayer and fasting!
5. Promote and foster vocations: Are we encouraging our children to consider vocations to the priesthood and religious life? The most important question we can ask is not, “What do you want to be when you grow-up?” but rather “How did God speak to you today?” or “How did God use you today?” By creating a prayerful atmosphere at home where we display holy objects and pictures, and actually pray with our children, we encourage them to cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit they have received in Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist.
6. Understand the teachings of Christ more deeply: Take time to learn what the Church teaches and why. To assist you in making a deeper connection between the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and your every day life, I have written an e-book (along with a brand new CD and DVD) entitled, The Mass in Sacred Scripture.
The Mass in Sacred Scripture was inspired by the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and its desire that “the treasures of the bible be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 51). The Mass in Sacred Scripture walks the reader through a brief history of the liturgical changes at Vatican II that led to the 2010 Roman Missal revision in English, provides the approved English text of the Roman Missal alongside the Scripture passages from which the Mass texts were derived, and shows the intimate connection between the Mass and the Bible. The book ends with a short question and answer section designed to root what happens at Mass within the fertile soil of our every day lived experience. The Mass in Sacred Scripture clearly shows that, without a doubt, the Catholic Church fosters great reverence and respect for the Word of God, and recognizes the vital role Sacred Scripture plays in the lives of the Church and her children.
How is my life going to be a blessing to Christ this year? In short, by becoming more like Mary, “the woman through whom was born the Son and who acquired divine sonship for us by His suffering. But because we are God’s sons and daughters, ‘God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls Abba! (Father!)’ If we did not have the Spirit and the attitude of the Son, we would not be children of the Father. It is this Spirit who permits us to shout to the Father gratefully and enthusiastically: ‘Yes, you really are our Father.’
“But let us not forget that this Spirit was first sent to the Mother and overshadowed her. […] Her rejoicing at this event, a joy that never ceases throughout the history of the Church, rings forth in Mary’s Magnificat: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior’” (Light of the Word, 32).
Mary’s prayer of praise is exactly how we can be a blessing to the Lord this year.