Homily by Archbishop Patrick C. Pinder, S.T.D.
at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral
Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2015
Eight days ago we gathered here in the middle of the night as we do now. Then it was to celebrate Christmas. There are those who say that for all the preparation, all the decoration, all the effort, Christmas is just one day.
Well, that is not quite true. Christmas Day, December 25th, is just one day. But the Feast of Christmas, like Easter, is spread over eight days. We call it the Octave of Christmas. It extends from December 25th to January 1st. That is the Octave of Christmas. The Christmas Season extends beyond that. It goes up to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year the Baptism of the Lord is January 11th. So if you feel inclined to keep your Christmas decorations up until then, you have every right to do so.
Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation. What does that mean? It means this: God who is infinitely different from us, who is all powerful, while we are weak mortals, God who is all loving, while we are so poor at showing love, God who is all good, while our record for goodness is mixed, at best, God who is infinitely different from us and infinitely distant from us, drew intimately close to us. He shared our world. He shared our life. He shared our nature. He shared our flesh. He knows our concerns. He knows our temptations. He was born one of us. He became like us in all things but sin.
The first chapter of the Gospel of John is read twice within the Octave of Christmas. It informs us that: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) Then in the fullness of time, “…, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. From His fullness we have all received.”(John 1:14-16)
Our God shared our flesh and shared our nature and thereby gave us a dignity which cannot be measured and cannot be taken away. That is the meaning of Incarnation. That is what we celebrate so joyfully at Christmas.
Our God, then, is not just an idea, but a person: Jesus Christ. Every person has a mother. Jesus is no different. Today is the feast of his mother, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.
In Jesus Christ, not only did God share our life, God shared family life as well. We get a glimpse of it in the Gospel, which is one of the infancy stories preserved by St. Luke.
“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:16) That is the picture of Christmas and the picture of Christmas is a picture of a family.
Now each of us belongs to a family. When we think of our family these thoughts may evoke feelings of pride or anger or regret or guilt or issues unresolved. Ours may not be the family we want or the family we like or the family we hoped for, but it is the family we have. Through that family which is ours, with its bad and its good, its light and its shadows, God’s grace comes to us.
So at this time let us keep in mind and in prayer the relatives we love and those we find it hard to love, those we often see and those we seldom see, those we love to see and those we would rather not see at all. Let us remember those who are alive and those who have died, those who are well and those who are ill, those who are successful and those who may have failed. This is the time to extend a gesture of aid, where it is needed, a word of forgiveness where it is needed and a word of love which is always needed.
The first reading for the last day of the year comes from the First Letter of St. John. It begins with the sobering words, “Children, it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18) This takes us back to the first Sunday of Advent when we heard Jesus say: “Be watchful, be alert. You do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33)
We are now thinking, not of the end of time, but the beginning of a New Year. The very first thing we face in the New Year is the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT). This places a new level of accountability and discipline upon us as a nation and as individuals. This may well be the time for us to be more disciplined in our personal finances. Budget your money and live within that budget. That may not be a bad New Year’s Resolution for many.
I remind you that: We are all people of intelligence and free will. We are capable of knowing what is good for us and choosing to do it. There is true happiness in doing what is good.
There is a prayer attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas which is well worth praying as we stand on the threshold of a New Year.
“Grant me, O Lord my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you
and a hope of finally embracing you.”
For many of us, the beginning of a new year represents a clean slate, a fresh beginning. We make resolutions for the coming year, some of them we actually keep. We feel, rightly or wrongly, that a new calendar year will bring with it new possibilities. Most importantly, we invite the blessing of God upon us and our endeavours during the year ahead.
As we begin this New Year, let us pray for our country and resolve to be better citizens. Let us pray for our families and resolve to be better family members. Let us pray for our Church and commit to growing in the knowledge of our faith.
Then let us place our efforts in God’s hands and make our own, the priestly prayer of Aaron and his sons:
“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.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
May we all enjoy the Blessing of this New Year!