Year A: Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God

Luke 2: 16-21

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think Mary is considered a model disciple? What about her most appeals to you?
  2. When you reflect back on your journey in faith this year, what stands out for you as moments of God’s presence? How does reflecting on these experiences help you connect more to the present moment?
  3. At the beginning of this New Year, what new resolutions might you be considering for your spiritual life?
  4. In what specific ways is The Word we discuss each week, becoming the “Living Word” in your life?

Biblical Context

Luke 2: 16-21
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

With this reading we revisit the Gospel we heard on Christmas morning. In keeping with the feast of Mary the Mother of God, we look to what Luke says about her and what that reveals about us and our life. The key line is “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

Luke presents us with various responses to Jesus’ birth. The shepherds, having seen the child, become evangelists, revealing what they had seen to an unidentified public who were amazed. Those two responses, proclamation and amazement, anticipate what we will hear throughout the story of Jesus. Some see him and become so convinced that God is working through him that they begin to evangelize, spreading good news that they don’t fully understand. As a result of their proclamation, others respond with “amazement,” or we might say with great curiosity and interest. When the people are amazed, they acknowledge that something is happening, that it might even be something that comes from God, but there’s no commitment involved. They may take a good look but will be quite reluctant to make a public statement about it. As Darrell Bock explains it, “The report tickles the crowd’s ears but it may have missed their hearts” (Luke: Baker Books, 1994).

The last person about whom we hear is Mary, the mother of Jesus. When she was first visited by the angel she did not hesitate to give herself to God’s plan. Now that God’s Word has literally taken flesh through her, it is too much to comprehend. Like Thomas Aquinas who composed the hymn Tantum Ergo to prayerfully acknowledge that reason cannot grasp the ways of God, Mary understood that the mystery taking place was greater than she could explain, much less proclaim. All she could do was ponder as she immersed herself in the daily nurturing of God’s child. Whether or not Mary was the source for Luke’s narrative, Luke presents Mary as the contemplative in action. The word for keeping these things in her heart is syneterei, a multivalent term that implies that she tried to comprehend disparate events together, that she held interior conversations about it all, that she could treasure all that happened even if she couldn’t explain it. That was an emotional and intellectual response that was both faith-filled and humble. It demonstrated her acceptance of the prophetic teaching that God’s ways are not human ways. Mary strove to believe that God was in charge of it all; lack of comprehension would not keep her from her daily work.

Celebrating this feast renews our observance of Christmas. Celebrating the Mother we celebrate the Son. Celebrating the Son, we celebrate what he offers us: nothing less than the opportunity to share divine life. That’s the mystery that we, like Mary, must ponder deeply and proclaim with joy.

Making Mary’s Heart Our Own

Ted Wolgamot

January 1 has an almost carnival-like atmosphere to it. To celebrate it, we do all sorts of things: watch football games, drink champagne, toast new beginnings, wear crazy hats, set off fireworks, kiss and hug old friends, travel to visit extended families.

It’s the time of year when we roll out the old and bring in the new – even to the point of dusting off the treadmill in the corner that has become nothing more than a resting place for dusty potted plants. It’s the time for making new resolutions, new promises to ourselves.

But in the midst of all this excitement and hope comes a reminder: a baby lying in a manger – a baby whose birth, and life, so amazed not just a scraggly group of shepherds, but billions of people down through the ages who’ve been brought to their knees by the sheer, wondrous beauty of his birth.

That child, Jesus, causes us to call time out on the field, if you will, and spend a few moments in the midst of our various celebrations to make perhaps the most important resolution of all: the resolution to become reborn and renewed.

Luke’s Gospel asks us to do it this way: in the midst of all of our new year resolutions, remember Mary who treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

“All these words” certainly changed Mary. Consider what she had to ponder: an angel telling her she would to bear God’s own son; a census causing her to travel to Bethlehem on a donkey’s back; a manger filled with straw intended only for animals; a group of shepherds who are “amazed.” She had to be asking herself: “What does all this mean?” “How will I cope?”

In her heart, Mary’s ultimate answer to these questions was singular: Trust. Trust in the God in whom she fully believed. Trust that the angel’s message was true: Rejoice, O highly favored one, the Lord is with you.

In the “Hail Mary” prayer, we use the words “full of grace” to describe Mary. But the Greek word used in Luke’s original writing actually means “favored to the greatest possible degree” – the strongest of all conceivable words to show how much God loved Mary and treasured her openness and her willingness to trust.

Abiding in such trust, Mary became the ultimate disciple, the epitome of what it meant to follow Jesus. She is the one who surrendered her ego, who quieted her fears, who made the decision to trust – even though she had little knowledge of what was going on. In her wildest dreams, this poor, humble woman could never have imagined how significant her “yes” would be in human history.

In the language of New Year’s celebrations, Mary made a resolution – the resolution to open her heart to the amazing, enlivening fullness of grace; theresolution to voice a wholehearted “yes.”

In today’s Gospel, Luke challenges us to do the same.

Luke asks us to make our hearts like Mary’s … to resolve to notice the angels that appear in our lives; to resolve to welcome the shepherds of today – the poorest of the poor; to resolve to open our hearts to new possibilities, new beginnings, new dreams.

On this first day of the New Year, let us resolve to make the heart of Mary our own. Let us promise ourselves that we will clean out a room in our hearts so there will always be space for God to be wrapped in the swaddling clothes of our love and our trust – a space within us in which the child Jesus can be re-born.