God love you!

The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen opened one of his New Year’s broadcasts with this greeting:

God love you! That is the way I shall conclude my broadcasts, and that is the way I shall begin them today. I want the first word on the air of this New Year to be God. It is God who makes us happy. It is Love, which makes old things new. It is you who count the years in terms of God’s abiding love. Combining all three we have “God love you,” which is but another way of saying, “Happy New Year.” —The Relevance of God

God is the author and the subject of every single day, and it is no coincidence that we devote to God the first day of the calendar year. You may scratch your head and say, “What do you mean?” January first is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. While God is mentioned, isn’t the New Year really about Mary?”

"Virgin of the Green Cushion, " by Andrea Solario, 16th century

“Virgin of the Green Cushion, ” by Andrea Solario, 16th century

Any Marian feast is about her Son, and specifically, about our salvation. For example, the Mysteries of the Rosary—Mary’s Prayer—are, essentially, a meditation on God’s salvific acts, of which His Mother is central.

What is it about Mary that makes her so special? Surely, her complete and unreserved surrender to God’s will makes her special, but we can point to many saints who, as Mother Teresa said, gave themselves to God in “Total Surrender.”

Catholics, however, acknowledge Mary to be above all saints because of her Immaculate Conception—conceived without sin. Catholics also admit that Mary, like any human being, is saved by the grace of God, but unlike us, God graced Mary in an inimitable and extraordinary manner, making her the first to be redeemed. Mary’s soul was transfigured into the image of Christ in this life; thus, for us, she becomes a compass of sorts, pointing true north to Heaven: “to Christ through Mary.”

Integral to her purity of heart and unreserved assent to God’s will, Mary gave us Christ’s human nature, and, above all, this is why we give Mary our highest honor above every great saint who ever lived. God could have redeemed us in any manner but, as Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us, the most fitting way was to become Incarnate: God-made-man. Because God shared in our lives, utterly and truly, we know that God wants us to share in His Life, that is, to be transformed into the image of His Divine Son. The Incarnation is the transfiguration of humanity. Saint Athanasius said, “God became man that man may become god,” that is, full of grace—divinized. Or, as Saint Paul put it, “It is no longer I who live but Christ in me.”

At heart, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, is about the Incarnation—about the human nature that she freely gave to her divine Son: “Let it be done to me according to Thy Will.” Christ is born of a woman, true man and true God, and this woman, Mary, is the Mother of God.

On January first, the Byzantine Rite and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite celebrate the Octave of the Nativity of our Lord, which is the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision. The Nativity of Christ is, of course, a Marian solemnity as well, for we never can view the baby’s birth apart from his mother. Noting Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day (the octave), the Church unequivocally claims Christ’s human nature, truly born of a woman, and at his circumcision, our Lord bled for the first time. We cannot help but wonder at the stirrings in Mary’s maternal heart, as she heard her newborn Son cry in pain and shed His blood on the octave of His birth and as she pondered the magnitude of God’s love expressed in such a tiny and vulnerable vessel.

God love you!

Patricia Sodano Ireland is Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Program Director of Online Theology Programs at Saint Joseph’s College.

Mary’s Prophetic Witness as Our Model

Worth Revisiting Wednesday – This post originally appeared on September 10, 2014.

This work week begins with our September 8 liturgical celebration of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We may echo the words of her divine Son in the Gospel of John (18:37) and apply them to His Mother: the Virgin Mary came into the world to bear witness to the Truth, to Jesus Christ.  All who are on the side of truth listen to His voice—this is Mary’s directive to us, also: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).

100_0107(rev 0)The Virgin Mary and her prophetic mission really resonate with today’s September 10 readings.  The first reading from 1 Corinthians begins with St. Paul’s reference to virgins and ends with his assertion that “the world in its present form is passing away.”  The Virgin Mary’s detachment from worldly attractions, and her focus on “what is above” (Colossians 3:1-2)—on embracing God’s will (Luke 1:38)—underscore the transiency of this world.  Today’s Responsorial Psalm, drawing from Psalm 45, addresses the “king’s daughter.”  The high Christological tone is obvious: the king above kings is God, and His God has anointed Him (45:7-8).  The name of the king’s daughter will be renowned through all generations (45:18): Mary’s Magnificat alludes to this—“from now on all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).

The Blessed Virgin certainly embodies the teaching of Jesus in His Sermon on the Plain, imparted through the Gospel reading according to St. Luke.  Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.”  Mary is blessed by being poor—materially poor, yes (e.g., Luke 2:24, offering the poor person’s sacrifice), but more importantly, spiritually poor, or humble.  She demonstrated her humility so profoundly by embracing God’s will in all things, including accepting the humbling, humiliating, and devastating circumstances that befell her.

Mary of Nazareth had to place her newborn Son in a manger because there was no room for the Holy Family in the inn.  She lived in the Nazarene community in which citizens—some of whom Mary probably knew quite well—rejected her only Son and disdained Him enough to try to hurl Him down the brow of the hill upon which Nazareth was built. (Luke 4:29).  Not too long afterward, the leaders of His own people delivered Him to betrayal, torture, and execution.  Mary was there.  She felt His pain and shared in His rejection.

The Virgin Mary fulfilled Simeon’s prophecy: “And a sword shall pierce your own soul, too” (Luke 2:35).  Simeon seems to prophesy about Mary in continuity with and in partial fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10: “And I will pour out on the House of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  And they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a first-born son.” [This is my own translation from Biblical Hebrew into English.  Notice, from the Hebrew translation, the identity of the object pronoun—“they shall look upon me”!  Many translations change the pronoun from first masculine singular to third masculine singular.]  As Jesus, the first-born and prophesied Shepherd (Zechariah 13:7-9) is struck and pierced by the sword/lance as a sign of contradiction, so too Mary’s soul is pierced by the sword, metaphorically.  Her pain, in union with her Son, is emotional and spiritual.

In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.  Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude and insult you…on account of the Son of Man…your reward will be great in heaven!”  The Blessed Virgin exemplifies this blessed and exalted one of whom Jesus speaks.  Her fidelity and obedience to God’s will in her life is our standard for authentic discipleship and prophetic witness.  With the Virgin Mary’s example and powerful intercession for divine grace, we may be light in darkness, love in a world gone cold, setting the earth ablaze by the love of Christ!

Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College.