Mary, Holy Mother of God 2023 – Year A

1 January 2023

Numbers 6:22-27                         Galatians 4:4-7                         Luke 2:16:21
Theme:   The Love of a Mother

This Christmas many of you may have watched as I did, perhaps for the umpteenth time, the popular children’s movie, ET. It’s a heart-warming movie classic and a Christmas favourite. Its producer and Director, Stephen Spielberg, was once asked why he chose to create ET the stranded extra-terrestrial creature befriended by Elliot and his family – rather ugly instead of cute. He replied that he wanted ‘a creature only a mother could love’. This tells us a lot about mothers and their love for their children. They are invariably seen as the embodiment of that total and unconditional love which is God’s way of being. The great English novelist, William Thackeray, wrote that ‘Mother is the name for God on the lips and in the hearts of little children’.

Today we honour the most famous mother who ever lived: Mary, the mother of the incarnate Son of God, the Mother of God. Mary was probably a teenager when she received and accepted God’s invitation, through the angel Gabriel, to become the mother of his Son. In the words of the Second Advent Preface, she carried him ‘in her womb with love beyond all telling’. She gave birth to him in a stable. In the family home in Nazareth, she nursed him, taught him how to walk and talk, to read and write. With the help of her husband, Joseph, she reared him from infancy to manhood. When she could not understand some of the things he said and did, she ‘pondered them in her heart’ (Lk 2:19). Jesus lived with her for 30 years, in other words, for most of his life. We are told by St Luke that, during this time, Jesus ‘increased in wisdom and stature and favour before God and people’ (Lk 2:52). When the time came for her Son to leave home, she let him go. And, when her Son made the supreme sacrifice of his life on Calvary, she stood in silence beneath the Cross as he lay dying in unspeakable agony.

Mary’s role as Mother began the moment she said ‘yes’ to God’s Word. Her  response to the Angel, ‘May it be done to me according to thy word’ (Lk 1:38) was the perfect response of obedience to God. Standing in contrast to the disobedience of the first Eve, it established Mary as the new Eve, the mother of all those born again through Christ. The poet, Denise Levertov, highlights another important quality of Mary’s yes that we sometimes overlook – courage:

‘We are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage …
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered.’

Mary is the mother of God’s Son, and she is our mother too. As he lay dying on the Cross, Jesus gave Mary to the Church. It is no surprise that she was with the Apostles when the Church was born on Pentecost day. She continues to mother our growth in Christ. As the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it in his lovely poem, The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air we Breathe: ‘She mothers each new grace that does now reach our race’. Mary’s work is not finished. She continues, as Hopkins reminds us, to let God’s glory shine through our humanity, ‘God’s glory which would go// Through her and from her flow// Off, and no way but so.’ 

As we enter another Year in a broken world still living ‘in the shadow of darkness’ (Is 9:2) and lurching from crisis to crisis, we surely need the embrace of Mary’s loving care, perhaps more than ever. In the words of Pope Francis, ‘We need her maternal gaze: the gaze that frees us from being orphans; the gaze that reminds us that we are brothers and sisters, that I belong to you, that you belong to me, that we are of the same flesh; her gaze that teaches us that we have to learn how to care for life in the same way and with the same tenderness that she did – by sowing hope, by sowing a sense of belonging and of fraternity’. We need the reassurance of Mary’s healing touch to release us from our fears of an uncertain future and awaken us again to God’s dream of a world remade in the image of his Jesus Christ, her Son: a more just and equal world; a world free from the cancers of war, aggression and hate; a world in which the dignity and equality of all God’s children is respected; a world where the threat of catastrophic climate change is replaced by respect and care for the gift of creation; a world where the ‘shalom’ of Christ reigns supreme. And we need the encouragement of Mary to continue striving with all our hearts to create such a world. I will end this homily with a New Year prayer.

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it:
a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, in your name. Amen

Happy New Year!

Michael McCabe SMA, Cork

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