Thursday, January 01, 2015

Jesus' Circumcision and Mary's Motherhood (January 1 homily)

There are actually three things we recall on this feast day, 
and none of them has anything to do with the New Year.

First is the circumcision of Jesus; second is his naming; 
and third, is the Motherhood of Mary.

According to the law of Moses, 
a boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day; 
and at that time, he receives his name publicly. 
This is what observant Jews do to this day.

Now, we don’t talk much about the circumcision of the Lord, 
but there are several reasons it is important.

First, because it is a vivid reminder that God really did become human. 
Second, this reminds us that Jesus was and is a Jew. 
God became a member of his own Chosen People. 
He came to be the Savior of his Holy People, 
and through them, of all humanity. 

Third, the ritual of circumcision is a foreshadowing of the Cross. 
There is pain involved, and the shedding of a small amount of blood. 
The circumcision, for Jews, is a sacrifice 
that coincides with a boy entering into covenant with the God of Israel. 

Now, let me make another connection. 
Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that because of the perfection of Jesus, the Son of God, 
any suffering of his, however slight, 
would have been sufficient to atone for all the sins of humanity. 

That means that this ritual, when our Lord was an infant, 
would have been enough! And yet this was only the beginning.

Think about that. The “necessity” of the Cross 
lies not in there having to be a shedding of blood; 
that happened on this day, when Jesus was still a baby. 

Rather, the necessity of the Cross 
lies in God choosing to walk the entire way with humanity. 
Jesus went all the way for us. 
He went as far as he could go, all the way to death, death on the Cross.

The Gospel also emphasizes his being named on this day. 
Of course, we remember that the Archangel Gabriel 
told both Mary and Joseph, “You shall name him Jesus.” 
Don’t forget what the name Jesus – 
in Hebrew, Yeshua or Joshua – means. 
It means, the salvation of God, or God saves.

All this still would have taken place at home, not the temple. 
Most likely, after Jesus was born in the stable, 
Joseph found some more suitable quarters for the Holy Family. 
And it would have been there 
that this first ritual in a Jewish boy’s life took place. 

This day recalls the first time the Gospel was announced: 
when Mary, or Joseph spoke up and said, “His name is Jesus!” 
That is to say, “Here is the salvation of God!”

Finally we come to the name of today’s feast: “Mary, Mother of God.” 
That title isn’t mainly about Mary, as much as we love 
to honor and celebrate her faithful cooperation with God’s plan. 

The point of the title is to emphasize who Jesus is. 
Son of Mary, yes; Son of David, yes; 
Savior, yes; but also: True God from True God!

This is why Mary was called “Mother of God” early on, 
and when some attacked this title, the Church’s bishops, 
at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, 
reaffirmed that Mary truly is the “God-bearer.”

Even though this title, “Mother of God,” 
is mainly about who Jesus is, 
that doesn’t keep us from taking this opportunity 
to honor Mary as well. 

Some of our fellow Christians find fault with this; 
as if to say that somehow, Jesus isn’t happy 
when we his disciples shower our love on his mother. 

But once I say that, doesn’t that seem silly? 
Why wouldn’t Jesus, like any devoted son, 
be delighted to see his mother treated with great love?

It reminds me of a custom we had in my home, growing up. 
On our birthdays, we would go find mom 
and wish her “Happy Mother’s Day.” 
Because, after all, isn’t that true? 

And so, that’s what the Church does throughout the world today. 
We come to Mary, still holding her Son, our Savior and our God; 
we adore him; and to Mary, we say, 
“Hail Mary!” “Thank you Mary!” “Happy Mother’s Day!”

How fitting then that the Church grants a plenary indulgence 
when the Faithful recite on Dec. 31 the Te Deum,
and on January 1, the Veni Creator.

The indulgence is granted 
when we also make a good confession and receive holy communion – 
within eight days is a good rule of thumb –
and say a Hail Mary and an Our Father 
for the intentions of the holy father. 

So at the end of Mass, instead of the Saint Michael Prayer, 
we’ll pray the Te Deum/Veni Creator together, 
plus an Our Father and a Hail Mary. 
The prayers are in the books in your pews, and are in English.

No comments: