The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying,
Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, 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.
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
At the Council of Ephesus (451), the mother of Jesus was solemnly proclaimed as Mother of God or Theotokos, acknowledging the Godhead of her Son, Jesus Christ. Under this noble title she is still honoured by most Christians around the world, and today's feast invites us to place our hopes and plans for the new-starting year under her motherly care. We can entrust to her our personal concerns and those of our era, the conflicts the glaring injustices, the unequal wealth and opportunity, the war in Syria and Iraq; in short, all that troubles peace and fairness in our world at this time.
In spite of everything, we can enter this new year of 2016 with a sense of wonder and trust. Somehow we can share in the spirit of Saint Peter at the Transfiguration of Christ when he said, "Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here." Such wonder and reverence was typical of Mary, our Mother in the faith, the first believer in our great Christian family. But Mary was also a flesh-and-blood woman of her times, a hard-working girl from Nazareth, cheerfully willing to be of service to others. It would be illusory to imagine her as a Christmas-card Madonna, set serenely against a golden background with hovering angels. Such a figure is simply not true to her life-story as told in the Gospels. The real Mary from Nazareth knew no riches or privelege in her lifetime. Nobody has ever lived, suffered and died in greater simplicity, marked by a strong and simple faith.
As she saw herself, Mary was the handmaid of the Lord, trusting in Providence and sustained by the goodness of God. Indeed, she stands out among the Lord's anawim, the humble hearts who confidently trust that God has everything in hand (Lumen Gentium 55). In the first four Christian centuries, Church writers emphasised Mary's faith rather than her divine motherhood. As St Augustine put it, "She conceived Jesus in her heart before conceiving him in her womb." Also venerated as Mother of Good Counsel, Our Lady can be our guide and counsellor in the area of faith. She wants to beget faith in us, to be our Mother in faith. That is why, in the gospel of John, she is present at the beginning and the end of Christ's public life.
John is the only one to record Mary's presence at Calvary, as in the terse statement, "Near the cross of Jesus stood his Mother" (Jn 19:25). When all the miracles of Jesus seemed a delusion to many, his mother stood there faithful to him to his last breath, still believing in God's power to save. Her faith did not need astounding miracles, but rested on childlike trust in the mysterious ways of God our Father. Nor did her role as mother cease then, for in his dying hour Jesus gave it a new focus when he said to John, "Behold your Mother." The mother of Jesus will henceforth be the mother of all his disciples, sharing with us her strong and simple faith.
Today on the feast of the Holy Mother of God we see Mary marvelling at what has happened, treasuring the events of Christmas in her memory, and pondering them in her heart. The image is that of the contemplative woman who ponders the marvels the Almighty has done for her and for all people. She ponders in response to what the shepherds said to her. Those simple, humble shepherds had preached the gospel to her, repeating what had been told to them by the angels, "Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." It is this good news, this gospel, that she treasured and pondered over.
The same gospel has been preached to us, and we are invited to treasure it, to ponder on it and to respond to it, as Mary did. Today, New Year's day, is a day when many feel drawn to make good resolutions. What better new year's resolution could we make today than that of adopting Mary's stance before the grace of God? Today's feast invites us to share in Mary's sense of awe and wonder before God's merciful love, made known to us in Christ, her son. As we look towards the new year, which begins today, we ask Mary to help us to treasure the gospel as she did, so that Christ might come to others through us as he came to us through Mary.