Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
[Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21]
Yesterday we awoke to the sad announcement that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had died. I cannot allow this moment to pass without speaking of the example of Christian witness he has left for us all. Yet, in doing so, I am keenly aware that the late Pontiff would insist that a homily must have as its focus not him but the Word of God. Accordingly, the thoughts I offer this morning regarding Pope Benedict will serve, I pray, to underscore the message conveyed to us today by the sacred texts just proclaimed.
I take as my starting point the passage from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. On a day when many people are talking about New Year resolutions they plan to undertake, the Apostle speaks in the second reading of a point in time when God’s own resolution approaches completion. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son…” From the beginning, God had resolved to save His people from their sinfulness and reconcile them to Himself forever. This resolution came to fulfilment when the eternal Son of God, having himself resolved to obey the will of the Father, assumed human nature, died on the Cross, and rose triumphant from the grave.
As we hear of this divine resolution, we learn at the same time of a human one to accompany and serve it. “When the fulness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…” The woman, of course, is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, from the moment of Gabriel’s annunciation to her, resolved to be faithful to her unique participation in God’s resolution to save the world. Her famous response to the angel, “Be it done to me according to thy word,” echoed throughout her life. As she pondered the message of the angel, as she treasured in her heart all that the shepherds said of her newborn son, and ultimately as she stood by his Cross, her resolution never wavered. God was acting in Jesus to save the world, and she knew that her entire life was determined by the call she received to serve the divine resolution.
Here Mary shows us the essence of the Christian life: to have Jesus Christ at the centre and be interiorly resolved to serve God’s saving purpose accomplished in him. Mary herself is the perfect exemplar. Even her august title, Mother of God, refers us to Jesus. She is Mother of God because Jesus is Himself God. Mary teaches us that, for the Christian, there can be only one abiding point of reference, and that is her son, Jesus, the Eternal Son of God.
This brings me to the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. The resolution that shaped his life was to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. In my estimation, he offered his own summary statement of everything he lived for when in his first homily as the Successor of Saint Peter he said this: “There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.” As priest, theologian, professor, Bishop, Cardinal, and finally Pope, Benedict XVI was entirely focussed upon encountering the living God in the person of Jesus Christ, and sharing with everyone the joy that springs from that encounter. The span of his life and ministry coincided with an era in which thoughts of God and religion were eclipsed by widespread secularism, the necessity and uniqueness of Jesus questioned by unbridled relativism, and the truths of the faith undermined by theological error. This only strengthened his resolve to speak and elucidate the truth of Jesus, and to manifest the unsurpassable beauty of life in Christ by his own personal witness.
The text taken this morning from Luke’s Gospel tells us that the shepherds went quickly to Bethlehem to see the infant Jesus for themselves and, having seen, made known the message they had been told. Throughout his long and extraordinary life, Pope Benedict XVI did the same: he sought to see and know Jesus Christ, and to make known to the world not only all that he had been told about him in the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church but also what he had come to know of the Lord from his personal encounter with him. Like Mary and following her example, his deep and abiding resolution was to serve the one and only Saviour by whom God had resolved to save the world.
So, too, must it be for us as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Whether or not we are pondering resolutions for the New Year, there is one resolution that we cannot avoid making at all times, and that is to know, love and follow Jesus Christ. In service of this resolution, both the sacred texts and the legacy of Pope Benedict suggest some directions for us: like Mary, shall we make time to ponder and treasure all that is said of her son Jesus by a regular reading of Sacred Scripture; as she did, shall we keep Christ and his every word as the compass directing our lives; like Pope Benedict, shall we seek Christ as not only our Lord but also our friend, and make use of every opportunity to tell others of the beauty of this friendship; after the example of the late Pontiff, shall we, in the midst of widespread confusion, doubt and anxiety, find peaceful refuge in the truth of the Gospel and doctrine of the Church?
Resolutions, we know, often last only a short while. Without the help of God’s grace, such will be the fate, too, of our resolve to live an authentic Christian life. In this Eucharist, then, may we receive the grace we need to stay true to our inner resolve to follow Jesus Christ. Aided also by the powerful intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, may we find new ways to share with others the joy and beauty of our friendship with the Lord.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
January 1st, 2023