Today, the first day of the year, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Motherhood of Mary. Attached to this feast are two other aspects of our faith—the need to pray for peace in our world and the need to bless ourselves and bless one another.
1. On Christmas day, the central message underlines the fact that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, who is TRULY GOD AND TRULY MAN. He is divine, and not just some prophet like Mohamed, Buddha or Baha-ola, or some human being of fame like Karl Marx, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or any other figure from history. Today, taking off from there, the Church teaches us that Jesus is also SON OF GOD AND SON OF MARY. Mary is the Mother of God!
The whole question of who Jesus is as well as the importance of understanding His divinity gave rise to the great theological statement that He is the Son of God as well as the Son of Mary. His nature, what He is, is both God and man. His person, who He is, is the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He has only one Person, one ‘Who’. Therefore, the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 449, Mary, although herself a human being, is also the Mother of God. Through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Mary conceived within herself the second person of the Holy Trinity. And so we pray, “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” and we celebrate this today, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.
2. Today is the world day of prayer for PEACE. Today, at exactly midday, Rome time, the Holy Father will deliver his message of peace to the world – ubi et orbis (cf. EWTN channel). In that message, the Pope underlines the need for peace in the world—beginning with ourselves, our families, our homes, our parishes and our country. Jesus, born at Christmas, is the source of this peace. Jesus is indeed the Prince-of-Peace. “Now in Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far apart from us have been brought very close, by the blood of Christ. For he is the peace between us and has made the two into one and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, actually destroying in his own person the hostility caused by the rules and decrees of the Law” (Ephesians 2:13-14). Yes, we all need peace in order to live happily. We need the peace that comes from God, not the peace that the world claims can give. It is the peace of God that we need. “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.” (John 14:27).
Peace is the right relationship between God and man, and between man and man. This right relation consists in the observance of the Commandments of God. God’s law says that we should love and respect one another. To have peace is to have love. Peace is the art of agreeing. Peace does not mean the absence of trouble. Peace means the presence of good things.
St. Pope John Paul II, in his Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2000, said: “There is no true peace without fairness, truth, justice and solidarity.” Think of the many wars being fought all over Africa and the world. Think of the struggles going in our country today. Where do they come from? They are the fruits of hatred and lack of fairness.
Peace is not a static state which is reached once for all. It is not an immobile tranquility. Peace has to be continually built up; we have to continually work for peace, otherwise the little peace that we think we have achieved will fade away. It is a difficult conquest. It is always threatened by the instability of our human condition. Human beings continually change. With the human being many situations arise because they are free beings. In order to maintain peace, every situation has to be taken care of in its own right. We have to resolve to work for peace among people.
3. Today, we also pray for BLESSINGS. On New Year’s Day, the 1st Reading (Numbers 6:22-27) and the Psalm (Ps 66) speak very much about blessings. In the 1st Reading, we hear Moses instructing Aaron on how to give a blessing. The words are simple:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you!
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace!”
And when those words are spoken, God promises: “And I will bless them”. In the Psalm that we pray after the 1st Reading, we ask God to bless us too: “God be gracious and bless us and let your face shed its light upon us. May God still give us his blessing…”
For God’s people, “the Sons of Israel”, a blessing was something important. Words of blessing had special power, because they brought whatever was spoken. When someone was blessed with certain words, in the name of God, God was expected to carry through what the blessing had said.
We, too, believe very much in the power of blessings. When a father/mother blesses his child before a journey, or when a Christian goes and sees a priest asking for blessing, they trust God’s blessing will bring success and happiness. At the end of the year, and the beginning of a New Year, we thank God for his blessings and we celebrate the Feast of MARY, MOTHER OF GOD. She is the one to whom we say so often: “You are blessed among all women…” These words explain the special call Mary received from God; a call which brought with it a special gift: that of being fully pleasing to God in all she was, and in all she did. Our greeting to Mary goes on to say: “And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”.
4. At the beginning of a baptism ceremony, the priest (or deacon) welcomes the child with a sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead. He then invites the parents and godparents to also mark their child with the same sign of our Savior. During the baptism homily the celebrant always encourages the parents – and godparents – to continue that practice. It is a way of blessing one’s child. This blessing has great power. That is why Pope Francis, on the first day of his pontificate, bowed his head and asked that the people of God pray for him and bless him.
A person who blesses his/her child forms a strong bond between the two of them. That bond can motivate a person to overcome many obstacles. A woman once told a story about the rather miserable conditions she was working in. She had to take quite a bit from her boss and co-workers. But she did not just walk off the job. She had two children who motivated her to make the sacrifice. When she blessed them at night, she knew the sacrifice was worth it. Eventually something better did come along – but even if it did not, she would have supported a lot. She blessed her children every day and saw them as her greatest earthly blessing. Those children also blessed her.
5. As we begin the New Year, I ask you to make this resolution: Bless those who are close to you. At first it may be awkward to do so, but at least begin with a blessing in your heart. When you see your child – or whatever person you live with – say, “The Lord bless you!” Or you can say: “Stay blessed!” Little by little, you can extend that blessing to others: those you work with, your friends, people you meet as you go about your daily business. Bless those you visit on their sick bed with a mark of the sign of the cross. Your blessing will help them – and it will also help you. You can also use this expression in your phone messages.
We are blessed, also, when we welcome God into our lives. That is the meaning of Christmas. Welcoming God, means counting our blessings. At the start of the New Year, we look back and recall the gifts and blessings that God has poured on us. We go from week to week, from January to December, and we remember the good things we have received from the Lord. Many people have offered Holy Mass in thanksgiving for such blessings – the happiness in their homes, the safe journeys they made, the health they enjoy, the rescue from some danger, the success of their work, business, farm, children at school, etc. Each of us can make a list of our blessings.
6. I would like to conclude with the Levitical blessing Moses taught to his brother Aaron:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!
As the New Year begins, we tell God that we need further blessings. We ask him to remain with us and our families. And we pray that we may remain close to him as Mary did all her life, avoiding sin always.
HAPPY NEW YEAR 2021 TO YOU ALL!