A reflection on the readings for January 1, 2023, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
A familiar moment from the life of St. John Paul II invites us to reflect on the divine motherhood of Mary, who is our mother, too:
It was to this monastery that, after the death of his mother in 1929, nine-year-old Karol Wojtyla was taken by his father – a train journey of 15km from the apartment they rented in Wadowice. His father took little Karol into the monastery, pointed to a portrait of the Virgin Mary and said: “Your mother is dead. This is your mother now.
From the Cross on Calvary, Jesus uttered the same words to the beloved disciple, “Behold, your Mother” (John 19:27). Jesus freely shares the greatest treasure of His life, His Mother, with the Apostles and now with us. The early Church recognized Mary as the Mother of God, Theotokos, and formally defined her as such at both the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon in the fifth century. The Church has celebrated today’s Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God since January 1, 1968, after it was instituted by St. Paul VI, who was inspired by St. John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris.
Who is this mother, whom we celebrate today?
Mary, most likely born in Nazareth, was called Miriam, after the sister of Moses. She spoke Aramaic and, although illiterate, was probably exposed to Latin and Greek because of the Romans and the Greeks. This is the Mother of God.
She was a peasant, the “poorest of the poor.” Ninety percent of the population in her time and place were peasants. No amount of income was sufficient for this group. They had to pay heavy taxes to Rome, Herod the Great, and the Jerusalem Temple. The taxation of the poor supported the Roman state and the privileged class.
A poor woman of Nazareth: this is the Mother of God.
Like any other peasant woman, Mary spent almost ten hours a day on domestic chores and caring for Joseph and Jesus. Far from fragile, as many portraits would have us believe, she was strong of body and mind. At the age of 14 or 15, she walked to the hill country of Judea to meet Elizabeth, covering about 90 miles while pregnant. Without giving a second thought, just like any teenager, she said “Let it be done to me according to your will.” Her attitude was “bring it on”—and would be considered foolish today.
Strong, sturdy, and robust: this is the Mother of God.
Mary was brave enough to give birth to Jesus in a cave—amidst animals and with only the help of her husband. After only eight days she would go to Jerusalem to offer Jesus in the Temple. She was surely not a blue-eyed, blond-haired, and gorgeously dressed Madonna. She never portrayed herself as a damsel in distress.
Brave and persevering: she is the Mother of God.
Pregnant before marriage, Mary faced a possible death sentence. Her husband-to-be, Joseph, decided to divorce her quietly so she would not be exposed to shame. Later, the Holy Family had to run from their native land to Egypt, only to return years later after the death of King Herod. There was nothing romantic in being the Mother of God.
A nomad and refugee: this is the Mother of God.
Finally, nearing the age of 50, she stood under the Cross and received the body of Jesus. The only support she had in the world was gone. Now she was a childless widow and alone. In her flesh and blood, she experienced poverty, oppression, violence, and the execution of her son.
She is the servant of Yahweh, yet she is the Mother of God.
Her life was filled with confusion, chaos, and catastrophe. Yet today’s Gospel says, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary did not understand all these events of her life; she pondered them. Nothing seemed all right; yet, she believed in the blessings of Yahweh through the Angel Gabriel, “Hail Full of grace. The Lord is with you… You have found favor with God” (Luke 1:28-30). She was rooted in the blessing of God, and believed that she is the most blessed among women. That’s why Elizabeth said, ”Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43).
Mary, the Mother of God, can share with us the blessings God promises us, too, even in the midst of chaos, confusion, and catastrophe. In today’s Covid world, amid natural calamities, financial issues, political turmoil, an unprovoked war in Ukraine, and our own personal problems, we can feel we are stepping into a new year of chaos and catastrophe. Yet, as we enter into 2023, the Father blesses each of us through Moses and Aaron, “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). We may face storms like Mary, the Mother of God. But also like her, may we walk into this new year never forgetting or letting go of God’s blessings.
Fr. Fredrick Devaraj comes from India. He was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists of Bangalore Province. Now he is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri, serving at St. Alban Roe Catholic Church.