Whenever my friend Vera calls, she’ll ask, “What’s new?” So, whenever I see her number, I’ll go into search mode to figure out whether there’s anything new to share. People are obsessed with novelty—some dread things new while the majority are ever in search of something new—new dress, new news, new people to meet, new movie and new job, new car and so on. No one seems to want new diagnoses, new sickness, new pain, new doctor (unless you have to), and new worries. Hence, new doesn’t always translate into good or great. This new temporal year, I can only wish that it is filled with hope and happiness for you. So, Happy New Year!
Each New Year, we make resolutions. Who remembers their resolution last year, which now is old, gone and forgotten? Before you make another resolution, think about where you dumped previous years’ resolutions. What good are they if we do not, as Mary did, treasure them and reflect daily on them in our hearts. Resolutions that do not stream from inspired and measured reflections accompanying the derivatives of grace usually fall by the wayside.
Today the Universal Church is not concerned about your new year—the Church already celebrated New Year on the First Sunday of Advent—rather, she celebrates both the Octave of Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God—two movements of the liturgy that are so fused together that they’re inseparable. First, we celebrate octaves for the greatest feasts of the Church. There are just two of them: Easter and Christmas. Octave is a Latin expression for eight days, meaning that the eight days from Christmas to the feast of today form liturgically speaking a single day. The grandeur of the feast of Christmas is such that it takes eight full days to celebrate this single event. Note that the Octave of Christmas is different from the Twelve Days of Christmas. Second, we celebrate on the Octave of Christmas the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, or in Greek, Theotokos; a suitable way to conclude the octave and to remind us about the centrality of Mary in the incarnation of the Word of God. Her role in the divine economy as mother and child is quixotic. She would learn to harmonize contrary positions. As mother, she would arouse the heights of her maternal instincts to cuddle and protect her God, without being overprotective to her Protector. As child, she would tarry in unconditional and unwavering docility to the will of her God who would for thirty years or so share the same roof with her. Maintaining the proper balance for this extravagantly chivalrous role requires grace so extreme that only the likes of Mary would be so richly endowed. Hence, the angel greeted her with the words: “Hail, full of Grace” and the Church so emphatically calls her “Holy Mary, Mother of God.”
The events in Mary’s life recorded in scripture bear witness to her often torturous role as Mother of her God and a child or disciple of God. Take for example, the Presentation in the Temple. Simeon bluntly prophesied that her child will be a sign of contradiction and that a sword would pierce her heart. Ding-Ding! Next, she loses him at their first temple visit. Upon finding him after three days’ search, she reacts with maternal instinct, “Son, why have you done this to us?” only to be reminded “cutely,” to say the least, about the so-called “Father’s business.” Here again, we hear the words of today’s Gospel: “Mary kept all these things in memory” (Lk 2:51). She is constantly and consistently going inward to reflect on the Word that she carried so intimately in her maternal womb. Jesus would again give credence to this when he diverts attention from the womb that carried Him and the breast on which He suckled to project a more important role: that of “hearing the Word of God and observing it.” Either way the reference is to Mary; hence, she is the perfect disciple and the Ivy League to God.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo