Happy New Year! As everyone on our calendar celebrates this first day of 2014, the Church marks January 1 as the Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord and also, especially, the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Let’s notice: this is a great way to start our New Year! We continue to celebrate the Incarnation, the Word Made Flesh, Jesus, and we honor Jesus’s mother, our Blessed Mother.
We need this woman – throughout the year! Just think of all the honor and prayers offered to Mary through the two millennia of Christian faith, the images, the titles, the pious practices, the special doctrinal pronouncements in the last two centuries in Roman Catholicism that she is the Immaculate Conception and was Assumed into Heaven. Sinless (but otherwise entirely human like us) and Queen of Heaven, she hears our prayers; though she does not judge or save or heal herself, she prays for us. She is Advocate, Mediator, Guide, Role Model, Comforter, and always a real Woman, Mother and even Sister and Friend to us, throughout our lives, and as the “Hail Mary” says, “at the hour of our death.” Other feast days celebrate her in the liturgical year, but today we begin our year by venerating her as Mother of God. I notice today that her Motherhood is the heart and reason for all our attention to and claims on Mary through the centuries.
We need this woman! A few weeks ago, in conversation about TIME’s selection of Pope Francis as “Person of the Year,” a young woman of feminist leanings joked, “We should have a WOMAN as head of the church ABOVE the Pope,” and two of us immediately tossed back, “We have her! — Mary, Mother of God, she’s above the Pope in the Church!” Further, our human nature needs a womanly figure to honor and pray to. I noticed this, if not for the first time, when learning about the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West in order to teach excerpts from its abridged version in English titled simply Monkey. The character of the female Bodhisattva Kuan-Yin, who advises and guides Monkey and his companions on their pilgrimage to get sacred Buddhist texts, is wise compassionate, admonishing, supportive – and beautiful. In short, she is “like” the Virgin Mary – not “same as,” but “like,” revealing a basic human need across time and cultures for a motherly female figure.
As Mary’s child is obviously different from any other hero in history and literature, so she transcends as well as fulfills our need for Mother, Mediator, or Queen – and also for a real woman who is personal, intimate Mother, guide, model, and friend. Now celebrating the Mother of the Word, I notice the words of our readings for today, and particularly that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” I want to follow her example, reflecting on the Gospel narrative, St. Paul’s teaching, the blessing that the Lord taught Moses, and the prayer sung in the Psalm.
And I notice, as if new in this New Year, the exact words of the most obvious “Hail Mary” prayer. I’m noticing that first we “hail” her, then praise her, stating the obvious: that she is “blessed” and so is her child. Then we ask her to pray for us sinners – and not only in this moment of reciting the prayer, but at the time of our death. Death — the usually not noticed part of life! We need this woman now, each day, and to the certain end of “now.”
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, NOW” – in all of 2014 – “and at the hour of our death.”
(Adapted from Mary Haynes Kuhlman)