POPE BENEDICT XVI REFLECTION HOMILY ON THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD (January 1)
Below you have the last three homilies given by Pope Benedict XVI on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God which are very helpful for your personal meditation and preparation.
1 January 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“May God bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” We proclaimed these words from Psalm 66 after hearing in the first reading the ancient priestly blessing upon the people of the covenant. It is especially significant that at the start of every new year God sheds upon us, his people, the light of his Holy Name, the Name pronounced three times in the solemn form of biblical blessing. Nor is it less significant that to the Word of God – who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) as “the true light that enlightens every man” (1:9) – is given, as today’s Gospel tells us, the Name of Jesus eight days after his birth (cf. Lk 2:21). […]
Although the world is sadly marked by “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism,” as well as by various forms of terrorism and crime, I am convinced that “the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind’s innate vocation to peace. In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life. In other words, the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God’s plan for mankind. Man is made for the peace which is God’s gift. All of this led me to draw inspiration for this Message from the words of Jesus Christ: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Mt 5:9)” (Message, 1). This beatitude “tells us that peace is both a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort … It is peace with God through a life lived according to his will. It is interior peace with oneself, and exterior peace with our neighbours and all creation” (ibid., 2, 3). Indeed, peace is the supreme good to ask as a gift from God and, at the same time, that which is to be built with our every effort.
We may ask ourselves: what is the basis, the origin, the root of peace? How can we experience that peace within ourselves, in spite of problems, darkness and anxieties? The reply is given to us by the readings of today’s liturgy. The biblical texts, especially the one just read from the Gospel of Luke, ask us to contemplate the interior peace of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. During the days in which “she gave birth to her first-born son” (Lk 2:7), many unexpected things occurred: not only the birth of the Son but, even before, the tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, not finding room at the inn, the search for a chance place to stay for the night; then the song of the angels and the unexpected visit of the shepherds. In all this, however, Mary remains even tempered, she does not get agitated, she is not overcome by events greater than herself; in silence she considers what happens, keeping it in her mind and heart, and pondering it calmly and serenely. This is the interior peace which we ought to have amid the sometimes tumultuous and confusing events of history, events whose meaning we often do not grasp and which disconcert us.
The Gospel passage finishes with a mention of the circumcision of Jesus. According to the Law of Moses, eight days after birth, baby boys were to be circumcised and then given their name. Through his messenger, God himself had said to Mary – as well as to Joseph – that the Name to be given to the child was “Jesus” (cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31); and so it came to be. The Name which God had already chosen, even before the child had been conceived, is now officially conferred upon him at the moment of circumcision. This also changes Mary’s identity once and for all: she becomes “the mother of Jesus”, that is the mother of the Saviour, of Christ, of the Lord. Jesus is not a man like any other, but the Word of God, one of the Divine Persons, the Son of God: therefore the Church has given Mary the title Theotokos or Mother of God.
The first reading reminds us that peace is a gift from God and is linked to the splendour of the face of God, according to the text from the Book of Numbers, which hands down the blessing used by the priests of the People of Israel in their liturgical assemblies. This blessing repeats three times the Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time it is linked to two words indicating an action in favour of man: “The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face to shine upon you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (6:24-26). So peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favour, in which he turns towards us the splendour of his face.
For sacred Scripture, contemplating the face of God is the greatest happiness: “You gladden him with the joy of your face” (Ps 21:7). From the contemplation of the face of God are born joy, security and peace. But what does it mean concretely to contemplate the face of the Lord, as understood in the New Testament? It means knowing him directly, in so far as is possible in this life, through Jesus Christ in whom he is revealed. To rejoice in the splendour of God’s face means penetrating the mystery of his Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of his interior life and of his will, so that we can live according to his plan of love for humanity. In the second reading, taken from the Letter to the Galatians (4:4-7), Saint Paul says as much as he describes the Spirit who, in our inmost hearts, cries: “Abba! Father!” It is the cry that rises from the contemplation of the true face of God, from the revelation of the mystery of his Name. Jesus declares, “I have manifested thy name to men” (Jn 17:6). God’s Son made man has let us know the Father, he has let us know the hidden face of the Father through his visible human face; by the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, he has led us to understand that, in him, we too are children of God, as Saint Paul says in the passage we have just heard: “The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4:6).
Here, dear brothers and sisters, is the foundation of our peace: the certainty of contemplating in Jesus Christ the splendour of the face of God the Father, of being sons in the Son, and thus of having, on life’s journey, the same security that a child feels in the arms of a loving and all-powerful Father. The splendour of the face of God, shining upon us and granting us peace, is the manifestation of his fatherhood: the Lord turns his face to us, he reveals himself as our Father and grants us peace. Here is the principle of that profound peace – “peace with God” – which is firmly linked to faith and grace, as Saint Paul tells the Christians of Rome (cf. Rom 5:2). Nothing can take this peace from believers, not even the difficulties and sufferings of life. Indeed, sufferings, trials and darkness do not undermine but build up our hope, a hope which does not deceive because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (5:5).
May the Virgin Mary, whom today we venerate with the title of Mother of God, help us to contemplate the face of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. May she sustain us and accompany us in this New Year: and may she obtain for us and for the whole world the gift of peace. Amen!
1 January 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Still immersed in the spiritual atmosphere of Christmas, in which we have contemplated the mystery of Christ’s birth, today we are celebrating the Virgin Mary, whom the Church venerates as Mother of God with the same sentiments since she gave flesh to the Son of the Eternal Father. The biblical Readings of this Solemnity put the emphasis mainly on the Son of God made man and on the “Name” of the Lord. The First Reading presents to us the solemn Blessing that the priests pronounced over the Israelites on the great religious feasts: it is marked, precisely, by the Name of the Lord, repeated three times, as if to express the fullness and power that derive from this invocation. This text of liturgical Blessing, in fact, calls to mind the riches of grace and peace that God gives to man, with a benevolent attitude to him, and which is expressed by the “shining” of the divine face and his “turning” it to us.
Today the Church listens once again to these words, while she asks the Lord to bless the New Year that has just begun, in the awareness that in the face of the tragic events that mark history, in the face of the logistics of war that unfortunately have not yet been fully overcome, God alone can move the human spirit in its depths and assure hope and peace to humanity. By now it is a firm tradition, on the first day of the year that, the Church throughout the world raise a unanimous prayer to invoke peace. It is good to begin a new stretch of the journey by setting out with determination on the path of peace. Today let us respond to the cry of so many men, women, children and elderly people who are the victims of war, which is the most appalling and violent face of history. Let us pray today that peace, which the Angels announced to the shepherds on Christmas night, may reach everywhere: “super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis” (Lk 2:14). For this reason, especially with our prayers, we wish to help every person and every people, in particular all those who have the responsibility of government, to walk with ever grater determination on the path of peace.
In the Second Reading St Paul sums up in the adoption as sons the work of salvation brought about by Christ in which the figure of Mary is honoured. Thanks to her the Son of God, “born of woman” (Gal 4:4), was able to come into the world as a real man, in the fullness of time. This fulfilment, this fullness, concerns the past and the messianic expectations, which were brought about, but at the same time also refers to fullness in the absolute sense: in the Word made flesh, God said his ultimate and definitive word. Thus on the threshold of a new year, the invitation to walk joyfully towards the light of the “day that shall dawn… from on high” (Lk 1:78) resounds in this way, because in the Christian perspective all time is inhabited by God, there is no future that is not oriented to Christ and no fullness exists outside that of Christ.
Today’s Gospel passage ends with the imposition of the Name of Jesus, while Mary participates in silence, meditating in her heart upon the mystery of this Son of hers who in a completely unique way is a gift of God. But the Gospel passage we have heard particularly highlights the shepherds who returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Lk 2:20). The Angel had announced to them that in the city of David, that is, Bethlehem, the Saviour was born and that they would find the sign: a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (cf. Lk 2:11-12). Having left in haste, they had found Mary and Joseph and the Child. Let us note that the Evangelist speaks of Mary’s motherhood starting with the Son, with that “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes”, because it is he — the Word of God (Jn 1:14) — who is the reference point, the centre of the event that is being brought about, and it is he who ensures that Mary’s motherhood is described as “divine”.
This priority attention that today’s Readings pay to the “Son”, to Jesus, does not lessen the Mother’s role, on the contrary, it puts it in the right perspective: Mary, in fact, is the true Mother of God precisely by virtue of her total relationship to Christ. Therefore, in glorifying the Son one honours the Mother and in honouring the Mother one glorifies the Son. The title of “Mother of God” which the Liturgy highlights today, stresses the unique mission of the Blessed Virgin in the history of salvation: a mission that is at the root of the worship and devotion which the Christian people reserve for her. Indeed, Mary did not receive God’s gift for herself alone, but in order to bring him into the world: in her fruitful virginity, God gave men and women the gifts of eternal salvation (cf. Collect). And Mary continually offers her mediation to the People of God, on pilgrimage through history towards eternity, just as she once offered it to the shepherds of Bethlehem. She, who gave earthly life to the Son of God, continues to give human beings divine life, which is Jesus himself and his Holy Spirit. For this reason she is considered the Mother of every human being who is born to Grace and at the same time is invoked as Mother of the Church.
It is in the name of Mary, Mother of God and of men, that since 1 January 1968 the World Day of Peace has been celebrated throughout the world. Peace is a gift of God, as we heard in the First Reading: May “the Lord… give you peace” (Nm 6:26). It is a messianic gift par excellence, the first fruit of the love that Jesus gave us, it is our reconciliation and pacification with God. Peace is also a human value to be achieved at the social and political levels, but it is rooted in the mystery of Christ (cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, nn. 77-90). […]
I wished to recall in my Message for today’s Day, entitled “Religious freedom, the path to peace”: “The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels” (n. 15). I therefore stressed that “religious freedom… is an essential element of a constitutional State; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone” (n. 5).
Humanity cannot appear to be resigned to the negative power of selfishness and violence; it must not become accustomed to conflicts that claim victims and jeopardize the future of peoples. Before the threatening tensions of the moment and, especially, before the discrimination, abuse and religious intolerance that today are striking Christians in particular (cf. ibid., n. 1), I once again address a pressing invitation not to give in to discouragement and resignation. I urge everyone to pray so that the efforts made by various parties to promote and build peace in the world may be successful. For this difficult task words do not suffice; what is needed is the practical and constant effort of the leaders of Nations, and it is necessary above all that every person be motivated by the authentic spirit of peace, to be implored ever anew in prayer and to be lived in daily relations in every environment.
In this Eucharistic celebration we have before our eyes, for our veneration, the image of Our Lady of the Sacro Monte di Viggiano, so dear to the peoples of Basilicata. May the Virgin Mary give us her Son, may she show us the Face of her Son, the Prince of Peace. May she help us to remain in the light of this face that shines upon us (cf. Nm 6:25), in order to rediscover all the tenderness of God the Father; may it be she who supports us in invoking the Holy Spirit, so that he will renew the face of the earth and transform hearts, dissolving their hardness in the face of the disarming goodness of the Child who was born for us. May the Mother of God accompany us in this New Year; may she obtain for us and for the whole world the desired gift of peace. Amen.
1 January 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
On the first day of the year, the liturgy resounds in the Church throughout the world with the ancient priestly blessing that we heard during today’s first reading: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). This blessing was entrusted by God, through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, that is, to the priests of the people of Israel. It is a triple blessing filled with light, radiating from the repetition of the name of God, the Lord, and from the image of his face. In fact, in order to be blessed, we have to stand in God’s presence, take his Name upon us and remain in the cone of light that issues from his Face, in a space lit up by his gaze, diffusing grace and peace.
This was the very experience that the shepherds of Bethlehem had, who reappear in today’s Gospel. They had the experience of standing in God’s presence, they received his blessing not in the hall of a majestic palace, in the presence of a great sovereign, but in a stable, before a “babe lying in a manger” (Lk 2:16). From this child, a new light issues forth, shining in the darkness of the night, as we can see in so many paintings depicting Christ’s Nativity. Henceforth, it is from him that blessing comes, from his name – Jesus, meaning “God saves” – and from his human face, in which God, the almighty Lord of heaven and earth, chose to become incarnate, concealing his glory under the veil of our flesh, so as to reveal fully to us his goodness (cf. Tit 3:4).
The first to be swept up by this blessing was Mary the virgin, the spouse of Joseph, chosen by God from the first moment of her existence to be the mother of his incarnate Son. She is the “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42) – in the words of Saint Elizabeth’s greeting. Her whole life was spent in the light of the Lord, within the radius of his name and of the face of God incarnate in Jesus, the “blessed fruit of her womb”. This is how Luke’s Gospel presents her to us: fully intent upon guarding and meditating in her heart upon everything concerning her son Jesus (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). The mystery of her divine motherhood that we celebrate today contains in superabundant measure the gift of grace that all human motherhood bears within it, so much so that the fruitfulness of the womb has always been associated with God’s blessing. The Mother of God is the first of the blessed, and it is she who bears the blessing; she is the woman who received Jesus into herself and brought him forth for the whole human family. In the words of the liturgy: “without losing the glory of virginity, [she] brought forth into the world the eternal light, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Preface I of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
Mary is the mother and model of the Church, who receives the divine Word in faith and offers herself to God as the “good soil” in which he can continue to accomplish his mystery of salvation. The Church also participates in the mystery of divine motherhood, through preaching, which sows the seed of the Gospel throughout the world, and through the sacraments, which communicate grace and divine life to men. The Church exercises her motherhood especially in the sacrament of Baptism, when she generates God’s children from water and the Holy Spirit, who cries out in each of them: “Abba, Father!” (Gal 4:6). Like Mary, the Church is the mediator of God’s blessing for the world: she receives it in receiving Jesus and she transmits it in bearing Jesus. He is the mercy and the peace that the world, of itself, cannot give, and which it needs always, at least as much as bread.
Dear friends, peace, in the fullest and highest sense, is the sum and synthesis of all blessings. So when two friends meet, they greet one another, wishing each other peace. The Church too, on the first day of the year, invokes this supreme good in a special way; she does so, like the Virgin Mary, by revealing Jesus to all, for as Saint Paul says, “He is our peace” (Eph 2:14), and at the same time the “way” by which individuals and peoples can reach this goal to which we all aspire. With this deep desire in my heart, I am glad to welcome and greet all of you who have come to Saint Peter’s Basilica on this 45th World Day of Peace: Cardinals, Ambassadors from so many friendly countries, who more than ever on this happy occasion share with me and with the Holy See the desire for renewed commitment to the promotion of peace in the world; the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who with the Secretary and the officials of the Dicastery work in a particular way towards this goal; the other Bishops and Authorities present; the representatives of ecclesial Associations and Movements and all of you, brothers and sisters, especially those among you who work in the field of educating the young. Indeed – as you know – the role of education is what I highlighted in my Message for this year.
“Educating Young People in Justice and Peace” is a task for every generation, and thanks be to God, after the tragedies of the two great world wars, the human family has shown increasing awareness of it, as we can witness, on the one hand, from international statements and initiatives, and on the other, from the emergence among young people themselves, in recent decades, of many different forms of social commitment in this field. For the ecclesial community, educating men and women in peace is part of the mission received from Christ, it is an integral part of evangelization, because the Gospel of Christ is also the Gospel of justice and peace. But the Church, in recent times, has articulated a demand that affects everyone with a sensitive and responsible conscience regarding humanity’s future; the demand to respond to a decisive challenge that consists precisely in education. Why is this a “challenge”? For at least two reasons: in the first place, because in the present age, so strongly marked by a technological mentality, the desire to educate and not merely to instruct cannot be taken for granted, it is a choice; in the second place, because the culture of relativism raises a radical question: does it still make sense to educate? And then, to educate for what?
Naturally now is not the time to address these fundamental questions, which I have tried to answer on other occasions. Instead I would like to underline the fact that, in the face of the shadows that obscure the horizon of today’s world, to assume responsibility for educating young people in knowledge of the truth, in fundamental values and virtues, is to look to the future with hope. And in this commitment to a holistic education, formation in justice and peace has a place. Boys and girls today are growing up in a world that has, so to speak, become smaller, where contacts between different cultures and traditions, even if not always direct, are constant. For them, now more than ever, it is indispensable to learn the importance and the art of peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, dialogue and understanding. Young people by their nature are open to these attitudes, but the social reality in which they grow up can lead them to think and act in the opposite way, even to be intolerant and violent. Only a solid education of their consciences can protect them from these risks and make them capable of carrying on the fight, depending always and solely on the power of truth and good. This education begins in the family and is developed at school and in other formative experiences. It is essentially about helping infants, children and adolescents to develop a personality that combines a profound sense of justice with respect for their neighbour, with a capacity to address conflicts without arrogance, with the inner strength to bear witness to good, even when it involves sacrifice, with forgiveness and reconciliation. Thus they will be able to become people of peace and builders of peace.
In this task of educating young generations, a particular responsibility lies with religious communities. Every pathway of authentic religious formation guides the person, from the most tender age, to know God, to love him and to do his will. God is love, he is just and peaceable, and anyone wishing to honour him must first of all act like a child following his father’s example. One of the Psalms says: “The Lord does deeds of justice, gives judgment for all who are oppressed … The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy” (Ps 102:6,8). In God, justice and mercy come together perfectly, as Jesus showed us through the testimony of his life. In Jesus, “love and truth” have met, “justice and peace” have embraced (cf. Ps 84:11). In these days, the Church is celebrating the great mystery of the Incarnation: God’s truth has sprung from the earth and justice looks down from heaven, the earth has yielded its fruit (cf. Ps 84:12,13). God has spoken to us in his Son Jesus. Let us hear what God has to say: “a voice that speaks of peace” (Ps 84:9). Jesus is a way that can be travelled, open to everyone. He is the path of peace. Today the Virgin Mary points him out to us, she shows us the Way: let us walk in it! And you, Holy Mother of God, accompany us with your protection. Amen.