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Mother of God

Sr. Patricia Bruno, OP

Mother of God

293rd Edition January 2024

January 1st is the Feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. This title was the first to be celebrated and affirmed by the Council of Ephesus in 431. After the declaration of the Council, there was a flourishing of icons that portrayed Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos) in regal images. The Byzantine and Syrian Church began celebrating the Feast of Mary, Mother of God in the 6th Century. They chose December 26th to commemorate the Feast. Islam also has titles for Mary: She who believes sincerely totally and the Mother of the One who is Light. Mary has been honored with a variety of titles: Morning Star, Our Lady of Sorrows, and Our Lady of Guadalupe which means the one who crushes serpents. However, since the Second Vatican Council, January 1st has become the designated date for this Feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It is also the day that is dedicated to praying for World Peace. What a wise choice.

As we look around our world, peace is scarce. War and violence abound. Even on Christmas, many places of worship grieved the reign of terror that encompasses too many countries to name. Yet, at a recent liturgy, we began to name them. Gaza and Ukraine were at the beginning of the list. Each day that list continues to grow as we hear of other conflicts developing in the Middle East and geographic areas most of us have never visited.

The daily feasts we have celebrated during our Eucharistic liturgies between Christmas and New Year’s Day have made a particular impression on me this year. It is not hard to think of modern-day stories that parallel the saints and martyrs we meet in scripture. On December 26th we remembered St Stephen, the first martyr. Stephen was a man filled with wisdom and grace. His works and words brought healing and peace. Yet, those “great wonders and signs among the people” led to his death (Acts 6:8, 7:58).

Friday, December 29th, we memorialize the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the Cathedral of Canterbury. Becket was appointed as Lord Chancellor by Henry II. Later, Becket was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury until he died in 1170. Despite their friendship, King Henry, the King of England, and Becket had many conflicts. The final one was over the rights and privileges of the Church. This disagreement led to Becket’s death in 1170.

Standing up for the truth is risky, whether it is against a crowd as in Stephen’s life, or a supreme ruler as in Becket’s martyrdom. When the tensions are high and the opposition is violent, it takes great courage and faith to continue standing on the side of truth. If we are not well grounded, fear can paralyze the truth that needs to be spoken. Most of us do not have to face the fear of death at the hands of a tyrant, but other fears plague us. Fear of losing our reputation or a job, fear of the anger that the truth might evoke, fear of weakness or embarrassment in the face of rebuke. All of these and more can silence us. Can you think of a situation when you or another person spoke the truth in the face of opposition? To whom or what do you attribute your or their courage?

On December 28th, Matthew’s Gospel reminds us of the horrific massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem. You know the story. After hearing of the birth of the newborn king, King Herod ruthlessly slaughtered all of the baby boys under two years old so that his power would not be threatened. Matthew quotes from the Prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing in loud lamentation: Rachel weeping for her children and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”

Those words and feelings they evoke bring tears to our eyes. The Feast of the Holy Innocents continues to have relevance in our world today. One way to destroy a nation is to attack the youth. We sometimes get numbed by the number of children whom we have lost through drugs, violence, and war. Christmas is a time when we pay special attention to the children in our families and around the world.

At a recent baptism, I was reminded of the careful choice of the baby’s name. Often nowadays children do not have conventional names, at least according to some of their in-laws. I think of these new and often creative names as initiating a modern babies’ name book: Saints Names For Newborns! As I was driving home from the baptism, I reflected on the careful preparation for the sacrament, the joy of the family members, and the uniqueness of the baby’s name, Woods. It is the family name of a beloved grandparent the parents wanted to honor. Later in the day, I was struck with horror when I heard the report regarding the children murdered in Gaza. At the time of writing this article, over 10,000 children have lost their lives. What are their names? How will they be remembered? Will love overpower the families’ grief? Will the “lost ones” be honored in their families at baptisms, religious services, and family gatherings? We can’t afford to let their names and histories be lost

On December 30th, the Gospel shifts direction. After the stories of martyrs and saints, the Gospel at Mass tells us of a faith-filled woman whose name we do remember. It is Anna, the daughter of Phanuel. She was eighty-four years old, a widow who after her husband of seven years died, spent her days in the temple praying and fasting. Each day she entered the temple with discerning eyes and a yearning heart expecting to see the One she was waiting for, the One who would be peace and bring justice to the world. Even though she never saw the fullness of that promise, her trust in God–the Promise Keeper–filled her with joy and her mouth with prophecy. “She gave thanks to God and spoke of the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:40).

We too have not seen the fullness of God’s promise, a promise that was proclaimed from the beginning and witnessed in Jesus’ life. That is why in our daily lives, like Anna, we will continue to fast and pray. We will stay awake and discern as we walk through each day of this new year. We, like Anna, will name and witness the promise being fulfilled in small and large ways: when reconciliation heals old wounds, when respect replaces fear in our neighborhoods, and when grace in the form of justice surprises us in a world that is struggling for wholeness.

It’s a new year. It is time for recommitment to what is important in our lives. Whether it is in temples, mosques, synagogues, churches, or the great cathedrals of our forests and ocean-lined beaches may we light candles, sign our names in the sand or place a rock in the highest peak of a hill and pledge ourselves once again to be peacemakers: those who pray for peace and work for justice. Blessings.

Preachers of  Truth • Love • Justice