Solemnity of the Mary, the Holy Mother of God
January 1, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
at the stroke of midnight
the whole world celebrated the passing of the year 2016
and the start of the year 2017.
2,016 years have passed, but 2,016 years since what?
Or 2016 years of what?
It’s amazing to watch TV or the internet and see people around world celebrating
– especially since so many had no clue what they were celebrating.
Because the celebration only has meaning when we remember
that it’s the celebration of the beginning of the 2017th Anno Domini
–2017th year of Lord Jesus Christ in the world.
But the world doesn’t even begin to understand this:
that it’s the celebration of 2017 years since
the Word became flesh and began to dwell among us.
2017 years since God united himself completely to man,
and in doing so changed mankind forever.
But as various media experts asked intense questions
of various military, political, economic, and science experts
about what the next year holds for mankind,
there was not one mention of the babe born in Bethlehem,
whose birth marks the very starting point for counting time.
And no one seems to even think to ask Jesus or his Church
what the future holds.
Instead we hear talk about prosperity and jobs,
about health care and energy,
and of course, about war and peace.
But what kind of prosperity and peace can we expect in the year 2017,
if that prosperity and peace is based on
essentially the same merely human wisdom, ideologies and political power
that caused all the problems last year, and all the years before,
if all that still dominates society.
Oh sure, there will be big changes in 2017, no doubt.
But not fundamentally.
How will there be true and lasting peace or justice, or prosperity or health
when we can’t even agree on the dignity of individual human life,
or the importance of the basic unit of human social life—the family?
When babies are killed in their mothers’ wombs,
and children abandon their parents when they become a burden.
When medical science sees life as a business to be profited from,
not a gift to be treasured.
When human beings make every choice based
first on their own individual pleasure or selfish fulfillment.
And when fanatical followers of a religion founded 1400 years ago
by a man who spread his new faith
with the edge of a sword and the point of a knife
try to imitate his bloody ways today.
I’ll tell you what the year 2017 will hold: a lot more of the same.
I don’t mean to be negative or discouraging,
but there will be a continued degradation of the value placed
on human life and the human family,
a continued emphasis on selfishness and self-satisfaction.
And every human life will suffer as a consequence.
Unless in the new year 2017
we begin to re-center our lives on the fact that
the Word became flesh and still dwells among us.
Unless the world begins to recognize that this year and every year
is truly meant to be an
“Anno Domini”—a year of the Lord—the Lord Jesus Christ.
If this happens—if the world turns to Christ, beginning with you and me—
this can and will be the most glorious and joyous of years.
Because as the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary on the day of the Incarnation:
“with God, nothing will be impossible.”
2017 years ago, God became man,
and ever since then the world has been trying to deny the fact.
Modern atheists and skeptics try it today,
But the denial goes back even further:
for example, in the 7th century the false prophet Mohammed
took the teachings of Christ,
minus the divinity of Christ
and anything else he found to difficult to believe
and used that as a basis for his false and flawed religion.
But even Mohammed found inspiration in another earlier false prophet.
Because Mohammed’s took his understanding of Christianity
from the condemned teachings of heretical Catholic priest,
named Nestorius, who had died around 200 years earlier.
You see, Nestorius, who was actually the Archbishop of Constantinople,
had taught that God the Son wasn’t really born of the Virgin Mary
—only the human being Jesus was born of Mary,
and then later God the Son entered and took over his body.
But in doing so Nestorius rejected the central mystery of our faith:
that God really became one of us to save us:
that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
So in the year 431 A.D. all the bishops of the Church came together at Ephesus
to condemn Nestorianism and to proclaim
that Jesus—the Baby conceived and born of the Virgin Mary—
was fully man and fully the eternal God.
This is the origin of the feast we celebrate today:
in defining as dogma about the divinity of Jesus,
the council also, with great love and tender affection,
proclaimed the dogma that Mary, the mother of Jesus,
is, therefore, the Mother of God.
Now some might say, “so what Father? today we’re celebrating the New Year!”
But the thing is, for us today, this dogma is absolutely essential
to understand the meaning and the prospects of the year 2017.
At the center of our faith is the fact that
at a specific point in historical time God the Word became flesh.
But also, right next to that central event is the reality that
this came about only with the cooperation and acceptance of
—the free choice of—the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And so, Mary, a young girl in the small town of Nazareth,
stands up for all humanity
as the angel Gabriel, sent from God, asked her, in effect:
“will you accept your Saviour?
Accept him not just as a promise
or as words in a book
or as vaguely present in the temple,
but as a real person, in the flesh,
coming to live with and love you?
Will you love him as your very own,
and let him shape every moment of your life forevermore?”
And that most holy young girl,
full of grace, full of faith, hope and love for her God,
replied without hesitation:
“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord;
let it be done unto me according to your word.”
She said: “YES!”
And this “yes” of Mary, the Mother of God, is a yes made for all of us,
so that by her acceptance of the Saviour,
he would come to us too,
and she would become his mother, and our mother.
This is the “yes” of Mary and all of her sons and daughters in faith
who try to follow Christ with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength.
This is the “yes” which all mankind must make its own:
whether they live in year 1 A.D., or in the year 2017 A.D.
Today we celebrate the fact that
2,017 years ago the fruit of Mary’s “yes” entered the world.
But as St. John tells us:
“He was in the world, …yet the world knew him not.
He came to his own, and his own received him not.”
For all these years the world has still not accepted Jesus Christ.
And even those of us who have accepted him,
have so often done so haltingly or only partially:
sometimes we say “yes” to him, and sometimes we say “no,”
and sometimes, even we say “yes” to him we really mean “no.”
Today, it is right and holy—and even necessary—
for us to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
Because the key to true peace and true prosperity in the New Year
is very simple:
there must be a kind of incarnation
of Mary’s unequivocal and whole-hearted “yes” to Jesus
in our hearts.
Turning to the Blessed Virgin as the Mother of God and our mother,
we look to her for help, for intercession and for instruction
—to mediate to us the grace of her Son
and to teach us how to say “yes” to him,
and to let that “yes” take on flesh, or come to life,
in everything we do with our bodies,
feel with our hearts
and think with our minds.
What will the year 2017 hold for humanity?
On its own, mankind will surely continue to stumble forward
with hatred, violence, sickness, poverty, selfishness and despair.
But if we accept Jesus Christ – truly accept him —
as the center of the universe
and the explanation of what it means to be a human being,
the year 2017 will truly become
the beginning of heaven on earth.
May Mary, the Mother of God, protect her children on earth,
and help us to accept her Son, Jesus Christ, the
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.”
So that by the will of the Father,
the grace of the Son,
and the power of the Holy Spirit,
this year of 2017, and every year ahead of us,
will be truly
“Anno Domini”—“the Year of our Lord!”
Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ, now and forever!
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!