Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God & World Day of Prayer for Peace

01 January 2022

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
World Day of Prayer for Peace

Homily

[Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21]

Throughout the months of the pandemic, I’ve grown accustomed to using new vocabulary. Words like COVID, coronavirus, super-spreader, pandemic, and lockdown have become part of regular discourse. Among the terms now commonly in use is something called R-value. Also known as the reproduction number, the R-value describes whether cases are currently increasing, decreasing or staying the same. If the R value is at 1, then an infected person will infect one other person, on average; below 1 means the rate of transmission is decreasing; and above 1 indicates an increase in the rate of spread. This is why many scientists have been worried about Omicron, which in certain regions has had an R-value of 3 or higher.

As we ponder the message that emerges from the great solemnity we are celebrating today, there arises within the Christian heart the earnest hope that it acquire a very high R-value, if you will. We want the transmission of the message to spread far and wide, with great rapidity. The message is simply and astoundingly this: Jesus, born of Mary, is God; he is Emmanuel – God with us. Increasing R-values pertaining to COVID instil fear and foreboding; rapid transmission among all peoples of the truth of Jesus, on the other hand, gives rise to peace and joy.

Indications of early spread are given in the Gospel text. The shepherds went to Bethlehem and immediately initiated the transmission by sharing with Mary and Joseph what had been told them by the angels about the child. Then they returned to their homes, all the while “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen”, doing everything they could to notch up the R-value as they went.

In the passage from Galatians, in fact in all his letters and preaching, St. Paul joins in the effort. He dedicated himself entirely to the spread of the good news, to making known to the world the truth of Jesus Christ. All that he taught flowed from his personal encounter with Jesus, whom he knew to be the Crucified and Risen Lord. As the Holy Spirit guided and shaped his understanding, Paul was led to the truth we hear announced in the second reading, namely, that in Jesus Christ, God has sent to the world his very Son. Based on this and other biblical texts, and led by the light of the Holy Spirit, the Church came to the awareness that, as Son of God, born of Mary, Jesus is truly both human and divine; he is, indeed, God! This truth is implicit in the title by which we honour Mary in today’s mass. Since her son is God made flesh, she is rightly acclaimed and celebrated as the Mother of God.

St. Paul goes on to explain why the spread of this message deserves an exponentially high R-value. Because Jesus, the Son of God, has sent his Spirit into our hearts, we have been made, in Christ, sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. We have become the children of God, and as such live in the hope of an inheritance infinitely more precious and desirable than any earthly legacy, however vast. In virtue of our union with Jesus, the Son of God, we are now heirs with him to eternal life. This is why the truth of Jesus needs to be made known, why the R-value of transmission must be high. In no one else do we have the hope of eternal life. In no one else can we live peacefully and joyfully as children of the Heavenly Father, who assures us always of His love and protection.

Sadly, in many quarters of the world, and even among members of the Church, the R-value as applied to the Gospel has fallen below 1. Recent surveys have demonstrated that, even among Catholics, the rate of transmission has decreased, with many now not knowing that Jesus is God. This trend must be reversed, because real hope can arise in the heart only if we grasp the full truth of the identity of Jesus Christ as God-with-us.

At the beginning of this new year, let’s turn to the Blessed Mother for inspiration. In what we learn about her in the passage from Luke’s Gospel, we see how to get the R-value back up again. We are told that after she listened to the message of the angels and witnessed the amazed reaction of all who heard it, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” This example of the Virgin Mary bids us do the same. As disciples of her son, our call is, before all else, to listen to, ponder, and treasure all that the Gospel proclaims about Jesus, and all that the Tradition of the Church has made known about him. Through our daily stance of quiet and attentive listening to the divine Word, the truth about Jesus as God takes hold, with all that it implies, and we cannot help but want to share it widely and rapidly.

Allow me to suggest that this would be the best of all possible New Year’s resolutions. Daily we receive a vast array of messages that spread with enormous speed as they go viral, that, in this sense, have an R-value too high to calculate. They distract us from what is essential to peace – taking time with God’s Word, which endlessly reminds us that Jesus is God, come from heaven to become one with us and lead us through the troubling trials and challenges of this life to eternal joy in the next. So, particularly on this World Day of Peace, let’s not stop at resolving to get to the gym or begin a healthy diet; of far greater benefit, for us and for the world, is to resolve to do as Mary did: ponder all that is said about Jesus and guard this as our heart’s greatest treasure. He is, indeed, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Knowing, contemplating, loving, and following him is the only way to true and lasting peace.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
January 1st, 2022