Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God 

January 1, 2023 |
Saint Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church 
Fort Worth, Texas 

Numbers 6:22-27 
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6-8 
Galatians 4:4-7 
Luke 2:16-21

Christmas is a time for giving gifts. There are diverse ways in which we approach gift-giving depending on how well we know the person we are offering the gift. Husbands and wives exchange gifts appropriate to their relationship, just as fathers and mothers give gifts to each of their different children in accord with each child’s unique personality, interests, and needs. The same holds true for children’s gifts to their mothers and fathers. A gift is an item that is given without any expectation of payment; it is given for love and for joy.

A present is something that is given to acknowledge an occasion. In giving someone a present, we place our focus on the occasion and not on our relationship with the person to whom we are giving the present. It is Christmas, but I do not know you very well, but here is a present of candy canes or fruitcake that reminds you of the occasion. A gift is an indication of a personal bond of intimacy; it transports something of the lover and the beloved. Gifts are offered and received with thoughtfulness. Presents are exchanged. A gift is a revelation of knowledge based on intimacy and deepens the intimacy between the giver and recipient. Part of the joy of giving and receiving a gift is the expressions on the face of the giver and of the recipient when they open the package in which the gift is wrapped and recognize its distinctive character.

St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches us that the hallmark of love is the offering of gifts between the lover and the beloved. True love always wants the best for the beloved. Christmas reveals that we are the beloved of God and the best that He can want for us is Himself. In giving us Himself, He also gives us the gift of being able to give a gift back to Him: our absolute best as human beings, so He gives us Himself in full humanity as the Baby Jesus, who receives our human nature through the “yes” of the Blessed Virgin Mary — His Mother. Without the gift of the Mother of God in saying “yes” to God, we could not look God in the face and offer Him our absolute best selves.

Pope Benedict XVI, for whose soul’s repose we pray at the Mass, preached the following on this Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, in 2010: “One may interpret the whole biblical narrative as the gradual revelation of the Face of God, until it reaches His full manifestation in Jesus Christ. ‘When the time had fully come,’ the Apostle Paul has reminded us today too, ‘God sent forth His Son,’ immediately adding, ‘born of woman, born under the law.’ God’s Face took on a human face, letting itself be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, who for this reason we venerate with the loftiest title of ‘Mother of God’…The face is the expression of the person par excellence. It is what makes him or her recognizable and from it transpire sentiments, thoughts, and heartfelt intentions. God by His nature is invisible, yet the Bible applies this image to Him too. Showing His face is an expression of His benevolence, whereas hiding it indicates His anger and indignation.” Mary and Joseph were the first to see the face of God in beholding the face of the Baby Jesus. The Gospel tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

Today, is a day dedicated for our prayers for peace in the world. The peace that only the Prince of Peace can offer as a gift requires us to see His face and to show Him our face. Christ has chosen to do that by being present in our neighbor. He tells us that what we do for the least of His brothers and sisters we do for Him.

In the first reading today from the Book of Numbers, we read that God entrusted to Aaron and to his sons, the priests of the Old Covenant, a prayer of blessing to consecrate the children of Israel as His people, and in that prayer the Lord speaks of His own face, His divine countenance, as a manifestation of His love for Israel, as a sign of His sanctifying grace, and as a pledge of His glory among us. Jesus is the answer to that prayer of blessing — He is a gift that surpasses all expectation.

The patroness of your parish, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, understood this mystery of the Christian faith better and more fully than so many. While she spoke more clearly with her simple and loving deeds than with her words, the words that she spoke are worthy of reflection on this occasion: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” “Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.” “Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go. I want you to be concerned about your next-door neighbor. Do you know your next-door neighbor?”

If we do this, then we can pray with confidence and with our neighbor the prayer that enables us to give the gift that is given to us. “The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let His face shine upon you and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

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