December 31, 2020 // Bishop's Column: In Truth and Charity

Mary: Daughter of Israel, Mother of God, Queen of Peace

The following is the text of Bishop Rhoades’ homily on New Year’s Eve at St. Louis, Besancon Parish.

January 1st is the eighth day of the Octave of Christmas. For eight days, we celebrate with joyful solemnity the Nativity of the Lord. The only other time of the liturgical year we observe an Octave is for the Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord, the Octave of Easter. I am happy to celebrate this last day of the Octave of Christmas with you here at St. Louis Parish.

It was on the eighth day after His birth that Our Lord was circumcised and officially given the name “Jesus,’ as we just heard in the Gospel. St. Luke tells us that the name was “given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Gabriel told Mary at the Annunciation that she was to give her son this name Yeshua (Aramaic), Joshua (Hebrew), Jesus (English). In Gabriel’s annunciation later to Joseph in a dream, he also told Joseph that Mary’s son was to be named Yeshua. On this day of the infant’s circumcision, they did as God’s messenger asked them.

The very name of God is contained in the name Yeshua. In Hebrew, The name Jesus means “Yahweh saves.”  This name expresses Jesus’ identity as God and also His mission as Savior. It is the divine name that brings salvation, redemption from sin. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter made the extraordinary statement that “there is no other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” 

Wikimedia Commons
“The Circumcision of Jesus” is a painting by Italian artist Fra Angelico, who lived 1395-1455.

Jesus, the Son of God, in becoming man, entered human history as a member of the people of God, the people of Israel. According to the law of Moses, eight days after birth, baby boys were to be circumcised and then given their name. By being circumcised, Jesus was incorporated into Abraham’s descendants, into the people of the covenant. This was God’s plan. He chose Israel to be His people centuries before Jesus was born. He chose this particular people and set them apart from other peoples and nations. Circumcision was the sign that Israel had been set apart from other people and nations for a particular purpose. Israel was the means by which God would reveal Himself to the world in an extraordinary way. How would He do so? By becoming an Israelite Himself.

God sent His Son born of a woman, St. Paul writes. That woman chosen by God was a daughter of Israel. His earthly father was a son of Israel. Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews and obeyed the law to have their son circumcised. Jesus was born under the law. As we heard in the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus’ circumcision was part of His mission to redeem us, a foreshadowing of his bloody sacrifice on the cross, which brought us into the new and eternal covenant in His blood.

Today the Church celebrates in a special way that Daughter of Israel whom God chose to be the Mother of His Son. The first day of the new year is the Solemnity of the Mother of God. The child whom she bore looked like any other child. He was circumcised like every Jewish baby boy. The name He was given, Yeshua, was a pretty common Jewish name. But Jesus was unlike any other Jewish child, unlike any child ever born on this earth. He was one of the Divine Persons, the Son of God. And so the Church has given her the title Theotokos, or Mother of God. This is Mary’s greatest and most important title. God sent His Son into the womb of this Daughter of Israel to bear His Son. She is truly “blessed among women,” as Elizabeth proclaimed at the Visitation. She gave birth to the king of heaven and earth, the Savior of the world.

Mary was present when Jesus’ blood was shed at the circumcision and when His blood was shed on Calvary. It was from the cross that Jesus entrusted us to her maternal care. We begin the new year honoring the Mother of God whom He gave us as our mother. She is with us, at our side, in all the joys and sorrows of our life. On our journey of faith in this new year, let us turn to her as our support and our guide, as we also turn to St. Joseph as our guardian and protector.

Let us begin this new year with confidence and hope. We’ve been through a lot of trials this past year with the Covid pandemic, and those trials continue. Amid these trials, we must remember that we have a mother. We are not spiritual orphans. It was heartbreaking this past summer to see on TV the last minutes of George Floyd’s life. He was unable to breathe as a police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes. In his fear and pain, what did Mr. Floyd do? He called out for his mother. That’s so natural. Children always seek their mother’s help in times of need. As children, we all sought our mother’s tender embrace. In the journey of life and at the end of that journey, we need a mother and God provides. From the cross, Jesus gave us His mother to be our mother, to comfort us, to embrace us with her love, and to lead us along the right path, the path of goodness. Mothers also teach their children. Mary is our teacher. She teaches us to have faith in her Son and to follow Him on the path of love.

Finally, January 1st, the Octave of Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, is also the World Day of Peace. We can think of the interior peace of Mary. The Gospel today says that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” It was from prayer that Mary received interior peace amid all that was happening. She teaches us not to be agitated, fearful, quick-tempered, or overwhelmed by difficult events. She teaches us to turn to her Son, to ponder, to reflect in our hearts. This is prayer. If we’re thinking about New Year’s resolutions, this might be a good one: to pray more.

On this World Day of Peace, the Church encourages us to pray for peace. Let us implore the intercession of the Mother of God that the Lord may grant peace in our day: peace in our hearts, peace in our families, peace in our community, peace in our nation, and peace in the world. Peace is the gift of Christmas, a gift that must be accepted with humble docility and constantly invoked with prayerful trust in Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Peace is also a task, the task of being instruments of peace. We pray with St. Francis: “Make me a channel of your peace.” In this New Year, may Mary, the Queen of Peace, help us to be peacemakers, witnesses of her Son, the Prince of Peace! 

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