Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Solemnity of Mary: Mary Holds the Savior
There are three aspects to this feast that I wish to focus on, which, I hope, you'll find intertwined. Briefly the feast celebrates the Jewish origins of the Lord, secondly, it celebrates Mary, a Jewish girl whose faith resulted in the world having a special presence of God, and thirdly, the feast calls us to be firm in our resolution to make this child present in our worlds.
First of all, the gospel reading speaks about the circumcision of the Lord. In fact, years back this feast used to be called the feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. The medical, physical aspects of the procedure aside, circumcision was a statement that a person was in a covenant relationship with the God of Israel. The covenant, the strongest promise known to the ancient people, was simply that God would be present for the circumcised person as a caring and loving Father. The circumcised person, in turn, would live as a member of God's people. How about women? Women through marriage became one flesh with their husbands. They participated in the covenant without having to have the sign of the covenant.
Back to the guys. The gospel notes that Jesus was circumcised to point out that the Lord was in the heart of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. He was not some sort of fringe outsider. Jesus was thoroughly a Jew, and, thoroughly the Jewish Messiah. Next Sunday we will celebrate the Epiphany emphasizing the invitation to the world to come and share in the presence of the Savior. Today, though, we celebrate the particular Jewish ancestry of the Lord. The meaning this has for us is that Jesus is the Promised One of Hebrew Scriptures. He is the very Word of God who gives meaning to Hebrew scriptures.
This leads to the second point, this is the feast of Mary, Mother of God. Mary was a Jewish girl, in the heart of the Jewish tradition that the will of God must be the driving force of her life. Her reaction to the angel, “Let it be done unto me according to God's will,” demonstrates this. She was the perfect person to be the mother of God. She continually turned to the Lord, making God present not only physically, at Bethlehem, but spiritually wherever she was. To meet her would be to understand the quality of love the Lord was bringing to the world.
The paintings and statues of Mary that I like best are those that depict her as a young mother, holding up her baby for him to bless the world. As a man, I can never fathom what it must be like to hold in your arms the child that lived inside you for nine months. Does a mother see her husband, the baby’s father, in the infant? Does she see herself? I’m sure she see a unique individual that came from her yet is not her. A mother must experience love of a different type than she ever has experienced before. She also must experience love to a greater degree than she ever fathomed she could have.
What must have it been like for Mary to hold Jesus? Did she see herself? Did she see her family traits, her father’s eyes, her Uncle Solomon’s cleft chin? Did she see the baby’s Eternal Father, the First Person of the Trinity? Did Mary see in Jesus the Mercy of God, the Peace of God, the Compassion of God for his people, a people that struggled to get by in the darkness of a world that had rejected its Creator? How much did Mary love this child? Certainly, she loved him as much as every mother loves her child. But she must have loved him even more than this. She must have loved this child with, as the second preface for Advent says, a love beyond all telling. She loved the child created within her, and she loved the Creator whom the child perfectly reflected.
It is reasonable to depict Mary holding the child up for him to bless the world, to bless us. Her resolve to fulfill God’s plan for her and for all people resulted in our Savior becoming one of us. Mary is the only person in scripture to be present in every aspect of Jesus’ life--from his birth to his death. She is always there, saying to us: Look here is your Savior, my son.
Just as Mary was resolved to make God present in the world through her faith and obedience, we are called to make God present to the world. Even though the beginning of the Church year is the first Sunday of Advent, and even though we concentrate during Lent on those areas of our lives that need spiritual refining, it is still proper for us to consider New Year's resolutions regarding our faith. It is proper for each of us to consider, "What do I need to do to manifest a clearer presence of the Lord in the world." How can I utilize my own unique reflection of God, my own personality, in such a way that I, like Mary, can bring God to others? This is a good time of year to consider methods of fulfilling our obligations as Christians, the responsibility we took on when we were baptized, to make Jesus present to the world.
Joseph and Mary pondered in the hearts the mysteries of the presence of the Lord. You and I need to begin this year considering the mystery of Jesus’s presence in our lives. We need to search for ways to bring this presence to others. Like Mary, we have to hold Jesus up to a world that seeks His blessing, that yearns for His salvation.