Have you ever wondered why the Church decided to celebrate Mary, as Mother of God, on the first day of each calendar year? After all, we’re still in the midst of Christmas! Isn’t this season already busy and full of Feast Days and devotions? Before she could be revealed as the Immaculate Conception, or celebrated as Our Lady of Fatima, Lourdes, or Guadalupe, or even honored as Lady Poverty by St. Francis, Mary first had to accept God’s will for her in salvation history in order to become the mother of the savior who was born on Christmas Day.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, Mary is first hailed as God’s “favored one!” If this title, bestowed by the Almighty’s messenger, wasn’t honor enough, Mary would later receive the even greater title of “Mother of God.” Her cousin St. Elizabeth would confer this title upon her with the words, “the mother of my Lord.” First, of course, Mary had to agree to what God asked of her! Mary may not have understood just how great the decision was that she made, but, despite her youth, she nevertheless had the great gift of faith in God. Because of her infinite trust in God and her famed fiat, we can definitively venerate Mary, the Mother of God, and ask for her intercession.
Mary fulfills a unique role in the Mystery of Christ and the Church. Hailed as Theotokos (literally, “God Bearer”) by the Church in 431 at the First Council of Ephesus, Mary’s title reflects not only her role in salvation history, but also asserts the divinity of Christ. Just as the moon does not bear its own light but instead reflects the light from the sun, Mary entirely reflects the brilliance and grace of God. While a universal celebration on October 11 of the feast of the “Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary” was not declared by the Church until 1931 by Pope Pius XI, history records similar celebrations as part of the Christmas octave as early as the 13th or 14th century in Rome and Spain. Later celebrations developed in the 18th century in Portugal, Brazil, and Algeria and continued to take root around the world. After this great feast was finally moved to the first day of January by Pope St. John XXIII (in his 1960 revision of the liturgical calendar and rites), the Church would, at the Council Second Vatican, reaffirm Mary’s place in the Church Universal:
Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth. At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. She is “the mother of the members of Christ... having cooperated by charity that faithful might be born in the Church, who are members of that Head.”… The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.
Even more recently, Pope Francis reflected upon why Mary is thus honored as the Mother of God and not just the Mother of Jesus:
From the moment that our Lord became incarnate in Mary, and for all time, he took on our humanity. There is no longer God without man; the flesh Jesus took from his Mother is our own, now and for all eternity. To call Mary the Mother of God reminds us of this: God is close to humanity, even as a child is close to the mother who bears him in her womb.
As we continue our celebration of Christmas, let us consider how, in His mother, God the Son was made Incarnate not only to be with us, but also to be like us! The Blessed Mother, seen in every nativity scene, faithfully watches over the infant in the manger as the Mother of God and also as mother to each of us! She does so with great love, silently in her heart (cf. Luke 2:51). In Mary we find what really matters—not only during the Christmas season, but in the whole of the Christian life. As her children, may we look upon Mary with love and faithfully call upon her intercession with great affection.
This Lent, my 2nd grade class is in charge of encouraging our school to donate to CRS Rice Bowl, a program which helps raise money for those who are less fortunate in 6 places around the world. Our school’s efforts help students raise awareness of hunger and poverty. My class has been determined to give all they can in the past for service projects, but what sets this project apart? That is the question I have asked my students to ponder. One girl told me that her snack after school is Doritos, so for each day she doesn’t snack on this favorite treat, a quarter will be added to her jar for someone “hungrier than me.” Another boy told he scours his house and cars for loose change, and drops it in the Rice Bowl whenever he finds anything, even a penny. He asked me, “Every bit counts, right Ms. Kirby?” Indeed it does.
As Pope Francis reminded us at the beginning of the Lenten Season, our fast must be a fast from indifference toward others. The time has come for us to use these remaining 40 days to contemplate our actions toward others, striving for the utmost respect and care for them. Instead of searching for ways to improve our own lives, maybe it is time that we turned to the poor and vulnerable and improve theirs. Francis writes, “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.” It is not sacrifice to give of our excess or to simply change our diets during Lent, our Holy Father is calling us to fast from our indifference and turn to love.
In this New Evangelization, there are tangible and realistic ways for each and every one of us to change hearts. This change must start within our own broken and sinful hearts and through God’s mercy and forgiveness. For each thing we do for our hearts, let’s do something for someone else. Here are some ways you could “fast for indifference”:
1. Do an Examination of Conscience and ask God to forgive your sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation
2. Go and forgive those who have wronged you
3. Pray for those in your life
4. Intercede for others each day
5. Fast and acknowledge the poor
6. Volunteer in some way, perhaps by serving in a soup kitchen or shelter
7. Add prayer time to your day
8. Write in a journal
9. Attend Mass more frequently
As you go about your day during this Lenten season, stop and think about what Jesus has done for your life and what you have done for others. Contemplate all that you have done and remember your responsibility to love others as Christ loved us all. If what we can give only fills a CRS Rice Bowl, or we give up indifference and care deeply for the poor, just know that “every bit counts.”
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
To learn more on the CRS Rice Bowl please check out our Lenten Resources!