Sunday, January 1, 2017

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

Roman Catholics observe New Year's day as a solemnity (even when it doesn't fall on a Sunday): the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. For the past 50 years, at the instigation of Bl. Pope Paul VI shortly after the Second Vatican Council, Catholics have also observed New Year's Day as the World Day of Peace. Sadly, until the Lord returns in his glory, we will always need to pray and work for peace. This is what followers of the Prince of Peace, the one who said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matt 5:9) do, make peace.

From the very first World Day of Peace, the Roman Pontiff has delivered a message of peace, not only to Catholics, but to all people of good will. In his message for this year, to which he gave the title Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace, Pope Francis called on everyone to recognize that each person is created in God's image. It is this recognition, he averred that enables us "to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity" (par. 1). Citing his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, being bearers of the divine image constitutes "our 'deepest dignity" as human beings (par. 1). This is fundamental, the Holy Father insisted, for making "active non-violence our way of life" (par. 1).

Citing Bl. Paul VI's message for the very first World Day of Peace (1 January 1968), Pope Francis noted: "Peace is the only true direction of human progress – and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order." the Holy Father pointed out that Paul VI "warned of 'the danger of believing that international controversies cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces'" (par. 1). To be peacemakers, that is, children of God, we must first cultivate peace in our own hearts.

Immaculate Heart of Mary

Speaking from my own experience, I am incapable of making peace within myself all by myself. I require both divine and human assistance. I need God's grace as well as my relationships with other people, especially those to whom I live in closest proximity. In addition to making use of the opportunities my human relationships provide me to bring about peace (bearing wrongs patiently, one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, and seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when I do something wrong), I must make use of the ordinary means of grace God so lovingly puts at my disposal: prayer and the sacraments, as well as sacramentals. In terms of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, her Most Holy Rosary is a way of praying with a sacramental (a blessed Rosary is a sacramental). As we learned from Our Lady during her appearances at Fátima, Portugal (2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Fátima), praying the Rosary is a powerful way of making peace in ourselves, in our families, and in the world. Since peace is about reconciliation, the Sacrament of Penance is indispensable as well. There is no peace without mercy, none whatsoever. This is fundamental to Christianity. Of course, nothing is more important for bringing about God's peaces in ourselves, in families, and in the world than frequent and active participation in the Eucharist.

In Christ Jesus, "The LORD" has looked kindly upon you in order to "give you peace" (Num 6:26). Because God has looked kindly on you through Christ, you are to gaze kindly on others, seeing them "as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity" (Pope Francis 2017 Message for the World Day of Peace, par. 1). Like the shepherds, who, when they beheld the God of the universe wrapped in rags and laying in an animal's feeding trough, we, too are sent forth to make "known the message that had been told them about this child" (Luke 2:17). What is the message? It is what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14).

In Christ, by power of the same Spirit St. Paul tells us God sent "into our hearts," the Spirit of adoption, God wants everyone to call him "Abba, Father!" (Gal 4:6). If through Christ by the power of his Spirit we call God "Abba, Father," it is by also by the power of the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son that we call the Blessed Virgin Mary our Mother, to whom we, Eve's poor, banished children plead- "pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."

May Christ, through the constant and loving intercession of his mother and ours, the Blessed Virgin Mary, give you peace in 2017. May you, in turn, become an instrument of his peace, which is what will make you a herald of his Father's kingdom.

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