Homily for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

‘May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.’

Today is so many things. It’s

  • the beginning of the calendar year, the day when we ask God’s blessing on the year ahead, a day of hopes and good wishes and resolutions;
  • the octave (8th) day of Christmas, a second Christmas, a replay, with the shepherds before the manger;
  • the day when, according to Jewish custom, Jesus was circumcised and named and became a son of Abraham;
  • the feast of Mary’s motherhood, the feast under the title given her by Christian tradition from early times and confirmed by the Council of Ephesus in 431, Theotokos, Deipara, Mother of God. As Pope Francis said in his homily today, ‘to celebrate Mary as Mother of God and our mother at the beginning of the new year means recalling a certainty that will accompany our days: we are a people with a Mother; we are not orphans’. We’re not orphans. We have a mother! We have the same mother as Jesus!

All these themes are in the readings. ‘When the fullness of time had come, says St Paul, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.’ ‘Born of a woman’, that’s Christmas. ‘Born a subject of the Law’, that’s today, the day of his circumcision, the sign in a boy’s body that he was a child of the Covenant. And all of this was to bring us the freedom of the children of God, free us from slavery, give us life in the Holy Spirit and the hope of inheriting heaven.

It’s suggestive that the liturgical year, the Church’s year, begins a month before the calendar year, the civil year. It’s as though we’re given lift-off already, as if we’re a bird that has taken advantage of a thermal and is air-borne already. We’re given the head-start of faith. Indeed, Christ is our head and we are his body. He is born and we are reborn. The renewal of his birth at Christmas renews our spiritual birth through faith and baptism. So as the New Year opens, please God, our sins are already forgiven again. Our faith is already rekindled. Christ is already within us. And, as St John says, ‘this is our victory over the world, our faith.’ Perhaps it’s like golf. We may be poor players, but Advent and Christmas have already given us a good handicap. Or we’re like an old-fashioned steam engine: the fire’s already lit, the water is boiling. Faith is revived, our baptism alive. We’ve already left the station. We have an inner momentum.

Today we look ahead. We wonder what the year will bring. Brexit, the changes in the USA and elsewhere: what will they mean? What can we hope for? Certainly, peace will be high on the list: the resolution of conflicts already raging and avoidance of new ones. Here in Aberdeen, we hope the economy will revive, jobs return, and the haemorrhaging departures end. When we’re young, we ‘can have the hope of a great and fully satisfying love; the hope of a certain position in [a] profession, or of some success that will prove decisive for the rest of [our] lives’ (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi 30). When we’re older, we have hopes for our families and friends. We hope our health will hold up. And perhaps at this time we make resolutions accordingly. As Pope Benedict said, ‘we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow on us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain…God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety’ (SS 31). Yes, Christmas is not just for Christmas; it’s for life, it’s for this coming year. And Christmas is God with us, and the best hope we can have in our hearts as Christians is that we will always be with him.

‘May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.’ ‘O God, be gracious and bless us / and let your face shed its light upon us.’

Today we’re shown the face of Mary and the face of Jesus. And the face of Jesus is the human face of God, the face of the Father’s mercy. If we look at statues or paintings or icons of Mary and her child, we see how often their heads and faces are differently arranged. Sometimes, they are looking at each other. Sometimes, Jesus’ face is against Mary’s cheek, and Mary is looking at us. Sometimes, they are both looking out at us or beyond us. Sometimes, Mary is looking at us and the Child in a different direction. Sometimes he is foreseeing the Cross, his death and resurrection. Look at our Lady of Aberdeen, and see the pattern of the faces.

Today’s liturgy is showing us Jesus and Mary. It’s saying: first of all, look at Mary, look at Jesus. Not at ourselves, our desires, our fears, but them. In the English phrase, they’re ‘looking out’ for us, ‘looking after’ us. They are looking at our future, looking at our well-being. They see more than we see. Their look enfolds us. And, as we look at them, we can enter into their looks. We can look with Jesus at Easter, at his Passover, at the Father’s will. That’s our hope. And we can look at Mary looking out over the world, and pray with her.

‘May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.’ ‘O God, be gracious and bless us / and let your face shed its light upon us.’

So, let’s put prayer first. Let’s try and pray more. It’s what we’re trying to do in this Cathedral, with Perpetual Adoration: looking at Jesus, learning to look with him. ‘Whatever good work you begin, says St Benedict, first of all ask him with most earnest prayer to bring it to completion.’ If we’re looking for a New Year resolution, let’s choose that. Let’s choose prayer and lift our hearts to meet his gaze.

(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 1 January 2017)


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