Mary, Mother of God
A story is told about a small group of children who roamed around the streets of Jaro to carol. Passing by the cathedral, they stopped to enter and visit the Belen inside. They were filled with such delight and excitement as they identified and pointed at the different characters in the nativity scene. They left the cathedral with faces radiating pure joy. Outside, they found a Christian church just across the street. They also went in to visit the Belen. There the scene was different for they found the child Jesus alone, without Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds or the Magi. The atmosphere was somber, and the mood changed. They could not tell why they felt a sudden sadness in their hearts, until one of them pointed to the Baby and said, “Looy ila bata, waay iloy .” (Poor child, he has no mother.)
I heard this story from the Venerable (soon-to-be saint) Teofilo Camomot during one of his homilies. I don’t know if it is a true story, or if he told it as a parable. The lesson, however, is simple. There is no child without its mother. Likewise, there can be is no Christmas without Mary.
Hence, today, the Church fittingly ends her weeklong (octave) celebration of Christmas with the feast Mary, the Mother of God. As we thank God for sending us his Son, we also thank him for choosing Mary to be his mother. Because of her and her obedience to God’s will, Jesus was born into our world and became one of us.
Providentially, the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, is also New Year’s Day. At the start of every year, we all ask for God’s blessing. Thus, the choice of the first reading could not be more appropriate. In the reading, God instructs Aaron and his sons how to bless the people. Often called the Aaronic blessing, the rite is the oldest blessing found in the bible, and perhaps even in antiquity. It is interesting to note that in the short blessing formula, the image of God’s face is repeatedly invoked. “May the Lord let his face shine on you… may he look upon you with kindness.” What is the meaning of this?
The Israelites believe that their suffering and distress in life is often caused by their sin. Because they abandon God, they think that God also abandons them and hides his face from them. (cf. Dt 31:18). Thus, to long for the “shining” and “uncovering” of God’s face is to seek his favor and good will.
To seek God’s face then is to seek God’s blessing. But God has no face. He is pure spirit. Here we enter into the deep meaning of what we are celebrating. The face of God is Jesus, “the Word made flesh,” (Jn 1:14) “the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) When Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus lamented, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9)
Jesus is the face of God. He is God’s blessing par excellence. In him and through him we receive fulness of life and every heavenly blessing, “grace upon grace.” (Jn 1:16)
This is made possible because “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” (second reading) Indeed, while Jesus is God’s ultimate and fullest blessing to mankind, such blessing came through Mary who brought him into the world.
I always love to gaze on the statue of Our Lady of Shenzhen, which depicts Mary as raising the baby Jesus high in a gesture of presenting him and giving him to the world. But it also reminds me of the solemn benediction wherein the priest raises the Eucharist and blesses the people. In truth, it is Mary who shows the face of God and bring his blessing to his people.
A Blessed New Year to one and all!