(This is the homily given at Holy Redeemer on New Year’s Eve, prior to the Burning Bowl Ceremony)
The name “January” comes from the Roman god Janus, the god with two faces, one looking to the past and the other looking to the future. It is fitting for us, then, to look back over the past year that is about to end and also to look forward to the fresh year that is about to begin for us. How have I spent the past 365 days of my life? Did I use them to advance my vocation in life, have I come to a clearer vision of what it is God wants from me? Did I use them to enhance the lives of those whom God sent me? Was a able to find balance between my bodily needs, my spiritual needs and my intellectual needs? What things did I achieve last year and what did I fail to achieve? How can I consolidate the achievements of last year while learning from the failures? It is only through searching our souls and by asking the hard questions of ourselves that we come to some perspective on ourselves and discover things we need to change as we enter into another year of life.
There are people who tell us that there is no point making new year resolutions because most people just don’t keep them for very long. While that may be the case, there are some who do manage to keep them and part of being human means we have a need to set goals in order to have a life that is satisfying. We also need to review our lives from year to year because, as Socrates says, the unexamined life is not worth living.
Tomorrow’s newspapers will be full of individual and collective new year resolutions, but most of them are nothing more than wishes. What is the difference between a resolution and a wish? A wish states the final destiny, and a resolution identifies a specific process or series of steps needed to reach that final destination. A wish says this is where I want to end up; a resolution says this is the road I will take. The wishful person says “I want less stress in my life” and the resolved person says “I commit myself to going to the gym and eating more wholesome food.” The wishful person says “I want more peace and love in my family this year” and the resolved person says “I will mend relationships that are strained and I will spend more time with my family so that we get to know each other better.” In other words, our resolutions take work in order to bring them to fruition.
The Gospel today presents Mary as an ideal disciple of Christ—she is the kind of disciple we all wish to be, but few are willing to commit to the path. Mary was prepared to do whatever it took ever since the angel told her she was going to bear a Son. And after Jesus was born and the shepherds came with their strange story about angels and heavenly choirs, Luke tells us that, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Twelve years later, after the boy Jesus is found in the Temple, Luke tells us again that, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
Mary was a woman who was open to hearing the word of God in her everyday circumstances; she treasured it and made time to meditate and ponder it. Catholics have called Mary “full of grace” for over 2,000 years, and we remember well that she consciously chose to cooperate with the grace of God. She listened to her life circumstances, she heard the voice of God there, she discerned her truth, she submitted her life to the word she received.
The Second Vatican Council taught us to look upon Mary as the Church’s most perfect disciple. Today’s ancient feast honors her as Mother of God, a title given her at the Council of Ephesus in 431. But what does that have to do with us? Can we, like Mary, become model disciples? Can we, like Mary, become “Mother of God?”
The men in this church are shaking their heads, but I assure you, gentlemen, not only is this possible, but some Fathers of the Church have said that, without becoming a “theotokos” a “Mother of God” we can’t be considered Christian. “What does it matter,” Anselm writes, “if Christ was once born to Mary in Bethlehem but is not born by faith in my soul?”
Jesus himself says: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21). This clearly means that those who are committed to him are indeed mothers and brothers to him. So this idea of our becoming a “mother of God” seems to go back to Jesus himself. Today’s liturgy presents Mary to us as the first of those to become mother of Christ through attentive listening to his word, which she, for her part, “treasured….meditating on them in her heart.” How do we become, in a concrete real sense a “mother of Christ? By hearing the word and putting it into practice. St. Francis of Assisi writes, “We are mothers of Christ when we carry him in our hearts and our bodies through divine love and pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through holy works, which should shine as an example before others!”
Looking back over the past year, we see instances when we did react just like Mary did: we heard the word of God within us and we fearlessly put it into practice. There were other times when we were less attentive and much less committed to living the word we received. That is the past. Tonight we stand on the threshold of a fresh start, an opportunity to release the things that hold us back, a chance to listen with fresh ears to the word of God revealed to us. We never know for certain when we come to our last year on earth; for some of us here tonight or listening in tonight, this may be our last year. So since that is a possibility, let us tonight, release those things we need to finally let go of and resolve to choose the better path in this coming year. The word of God, the seed of God’s Reign, is planted continually within our hearts. Let us open ourselves to becoming fertile soil for the divine word of God, that with our mother, Mary, we will someday be able to say with a clean conscience, “I was simply the servant of the Most High. I merely allowed God to do with me as He willed.”