January 1, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Mary, Mother of God
Reading I (Numbers 6:22-27) Reading II (Galatians 4:4-7)
Gospel (St. Luke 2:16-21)
As we gather once again at the very beginning of a new year, we celebrate the great solemnity of the Divine Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This being the octave day of Christmas, it is Our Lady’s second-greatest feast. The Incarnation, the time of the Annunciation, without a doubt is the greatest feast of Our Lady; and the birth of her Son and the truth that she is truly the Mother of God, is the second greatest of all of her feasts. I think it is a very good thing too for all of us, as we consider the circumstances in the world around us, that right from the very beginning the first reading of the year that we hear today is the blessing that God gave to the people of Israel: May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord let His countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you! May the Lord give you peace! Those words are words that must ring in our hearts very, very deeply. That is God’s desire and will for each one of us, that we would be at peace. The only way we are going to be at peace is if we are allowing the Lord’s countenance to shine upon us, and the only way we allow that is if we place ourselves in front of Him in prayer.
What we need to be very careful of is not trying to control things. We certainly learn lots of lessons. If we think back to a year ago at this time when we were here, I mentioned to you at that time that a lady by the name of Maria Esperanza, who was and has been incredibly accurate in the various predictions that she made, said that by the end of 2004 everyone in the world will know that God exists because they would have all had an experience of Him. 2004 has now come and gone, and that prediction has not been fulfilled. However, what we do need to be very careful of is the timing on any of these things. The prediction will indeed have its fulfillment; the question is when.
Even some of the great saints have made predictions with regard to time and they have been wrong. Saint John Bosco, for instance, when he built the church of Our Lady, Help of Christians, had “1858” placed on the cornerstone, the year the church was built; and then right underneath it he had “19xx” inscribed into the cornerstone. When he was asked, “What does that 19xx mean?” he said, “That is the year of Our Lady’s definitive victory.” Obviously, he was wrong on his timing. One of the greatest saints of our own day, Padre Pio, told our Holy Father when he was just a priest that he would one day be the Pope and that he would be the Pope for nineteen years. Well, twenty-six years later he is still hanging in there, thanks be to God. So we see that when it comes to timing we do not have absolute clarity. But what we do know is that when these things come from God, while the timing may be off, the truth of what these holy people tell us remains the same. That is the part we need to be able to hang onto.
So where are we now and where are we going? 2004 was indeed a very momentous year. We have seen lots of good; we have seen lots of evil. Maria Esperanza, who predicted her own death by the middle of 2004, did in fact die this year. But she herself said that the core of the earth is unstable and the earth will be convulsing. In the year 2004, the number of volcanic eruptions on the earth has been ten times the norm of what it is every other year. The number of earthquakes on the face of the earth is unprecedented. The number of tornadoes last year was the most ever. The hurricane season was extremely difficult, as we are all painfully aware from seeing on the news. We can see that what is happening in nature is simply reflecting what is going on in the spiritual realm. It is unstable; it is convulsing; it is not at peace. When we look at the tragedy that has recently occurred over in the ancient countries, we realize there are things that are occurring that are just simply not the ordinary. It is one thing to be able to say, “Well, in certain areas like California, of course, we expect that there are going to be earthquakes; they happen all the time,” but tsunamis that kill over 125,000 people (according to the numbers as of today) do not happen very frequently.
Several years ago, I mentioned to the people here that the labor pains had begun. And labor pains, just like a woman who is preparing to give birth, start out relatively easy and distant. Then they get closer together and they get stronger. They are getting much closer and much stronger, and that is not going to stop as we continue forward. Things will continue to progress. Things on that level will continue to get worse.
Once again, there is only way we are going to be able to remain faithful – and that is prayer. If you do not pray every day deeply in your heart, you will not make it. Am I clear? If you do not pray deeply in your heart every single day, you will not make it. The time is short, the devil is rampaging, and he wants your soul. You have a free will. You have to make a choice, and you have to put your choice into practice. If you are going to say that you are a follower of Jesus Christ, if you are going to say that you want to go to heaven, then you cannot just simply give lip service to the Lord anymore. You must live the faith that you profess or you will be lost. That is how critical the time is in which we are living.
I think we are all well aware of the number of people who are falling away from their faith. It is happening in droves. Yet, at the same time, God is preparing for His new Pentecost. We are seeing unprecedented numbers of people coming into the Church. Still an average of 300 Protestant ministers every year are becoming Catholic in the United States. The number of mediocre Catholics who are walking away from the Church is growing, and the number of good Protestant people who are becoming Catholic is growing. We are getting the better deal.
But the reality is we need to pray and we need to look at our own attitudes. There are many, myself included, who were hoping that 2004 would bring the beginning of all these various things. Yet if we look at our own dispositions, perhaps in God’s mercy He is giving us a chance to rethink them because it is very easy to sit back and look at all the evil in the world and root for God to come down and wipe it all out and hope that all these people get trashed. That is not God’s way. God is just and He will deal with the evil. He is also merciful. Recall the words of Saint Peter that if God seems to delay, the delay is intended for salvation, so that more souls will be able to be saved. It is not our task to sit back and pray that lightning would fall from the sky and kill these people. Recall what Jesus did to James and John when they suggested that might be a possibility: He rebuked them. So He will with us.
Our hearts must be like His heart, and that is to be merciful. We need to pray for the conversion of sinners. We need to pray for these poor souls who are not praying for themselves. We need to pray for the people who are falling away from their faith or have fallen away. We need to pray for those who do not know Jesus Christ. That is our task. If our disposition has been wrong, then God is giving us a greater opportunity to get our own disposition correct. Otherwise, we are the ones who are going to have to stand before God one day and answer for why we were not merciful, for why we were not like Him. That will not be a happy day for us if we are sitting back saying that we are followers of Jesus Christ and members of Jesus Christ but we are not living the life of Christ. It is necessary for us to live what we profess.
Now as we look forward, we all must understand where we are going. Each one of us must make a choice – a radical choice. Not a theoretical one, not an emotional one, but a choice with our whole heart and soul and strength, because the world as we know it is changing rapidly. We are going to be caught in the squeeze and we are all going to be tested. We are going to be tested severely. There are things that are going to be happening in our world that are not only way bigger than we are and completely out of our control, but they are going to test our faith. God will indeed intervene. But just like He did two thousand years ago and as we heard in the second reading, in the fullness of time when things are right, and in fact when things are at their very worst. Now we could sit back and say, “How could they get any worse than they are right now?” They can, and they will. We have a way to go yet. None of us can sit back smugly and say, “I can handle this. This is no problem. I’ll be faithful. I’m with the Lord all the way to the end!” A word to the wise: Do not trust in your own strength for anything. If you try to rely on yourself, you will be lost. Our only hope – our only hope – is Jesus Christ, and of course His wonderful mother because this time has been given over to her. She is the one who is orchestrating the whole thing and she will deal with it. But we must pray.
All too many Catholics like to give lip service to Jesus and then they run around like a bunch of pagans but they do not want to live their faith. God is right here in the Blessed Sacrament. He is exposed on 55 altars in the Twin Cities area 24 hours a day, and we do not have enough Catholics to sit in front of Him. That is a scandal. Why is it that we as Catholics do not want to pray? Why is it that when we know we have God right here we ignore Him? Why do we think that when things get difficult we are going to turn to Him when we do not turn to Him any other time? See the principle: If you are accustomed to turning to Jesus in prayer, when times are difficult you will turn to Him again; and if you are accustomed to not praying, when things are difficult you are going to try to rely on yourself because you won’t pray. Now you begin to see that this time that is merciful may be merciful for us, as well as for the rest, because we need to get our act together. We cannot be sitting back in judgment of other people because we ourselves need to put things in place.
We must pray. We must frequent the sacraments. We must strive to live holy lives. When all is said and done, right toward the end of this whole mess, whenever that will be, the Church will be crucified. If you will remain faithful to Jesus, you can be crucified with Him. It is the greatest privilege that any Christian person has ever had in the history of the world. Are you willing to go to Calvary with Jesus Christ? Are you willing to allow yourself to be crucified with the Church? It is not going to be a cakewalk. If we are not living it now, we certainly will not then. Remember the words of Our Lord. Number one, He asked the question, When the Son of Man comes, will He find any faith on earth? Number two, He said, If the time were not shortened, even the elect would fall astray. This is not going to be easy, it is not going to be fun, but it will be holy. It is the most incredible privilege that anyone could ever be granted, but it will not be forced upon any one of us. We have to make the choice.
That is the direction we are headed. There is much to come and we do not know the timing. But it will be fairly soon because the birth pangs have already begun and they are getting stronger. So now we have to put it into practice. We have to make a choice. The dichotomy is getting clearer, and we praise God for that. We see it in our young people who are rejecting the worldly ways and are striving to live a spiritual life. We see it in various elements of our world where you can see the good coming up strongly. There is much, much hope, and that is where we need to focus ourselves. Let the world far apart; just keep your focus on Jesus and pray. If you get worried about all the things that are happening out there, you are going to take your focus off the Lord and you are going to be in trouble. Keep your focus where it belongs and you will be just fine. But that requires that you do one thing: pray. What is a Christian person all about if it is not prayer?
So that is the challenge that is placed before us as we begin this new year. If you are going to make a New Year’s resolution, make it to pray every single day for a minimum of 30 minutes. At that point, I am not talking about reading a good spiritual book, I am not talking about the Rosary, I am not talking about any kind of vocal prayers, I am talking about sitting down silently and entering into your heart and uniting yourself with Jesus Christ. Your Rosary and spiritual books and daily Mass and everything else need to be there as well – I am not suggesting letting those go – but we need to pray, and we need to pray deeply. That is our only hope for ourselves and for all the other souls that are out there in the world. That is what we are being challenged to do. As long as we keep our focus on Jesus, the promise of the blessing that we heard in the first reading will be ours, that the face of the Lord will shine upon us and we will be at peace.
Homily from the Mass in the Morning
As we celebrate this great solemnity of our Blessed Mother, we stop to reflect upon a couple of different things. It is today, of course, the octave day of Christmas, and therefore the purpose for celebrating this feast is the Divine Maternity, or Mary as the Mother of God. It is also the day that Our Lord was circumcised, on the eighth day after His birth. It is the day that His name was formally given to Him, just as it is today that a child actually does not have a name until the child is baptized. Parents, of course, choose a name sometimes long before the baby is even born, but the child receives a name as a Christian person at the moment of Baptism. So too, Our Lord received His name in His human reality on the eighth day when He was circumcised. All of these events would be taking place over these eight days. We think about Our Lady coming down from Galilee and going to the area outside of Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, and giving birth to her Son, laying Him in a manger, all of the different things that certainly would have been going on around her and within her during those days, with prayer, gazing upon her Son Who is God and reflecting upon the mystery that was conceived within her and born through her, bringing the Child in now for circumcision, and having everything fulfilled exactly as it had been proclaimed by the angel.
We are told that Our Lady held all of these things in her heart and she pondered them. Our Lady continues to ponder things within her heart as she gazes now, not upon the infant face of her Son, but upon the face of her Son in glory, united perfectly with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But as Our Lady looks at the Holy Trinity, she sees within God every single person, every single action, and she recognizes each of these people as her own children because they are made in the image and likeness of God; and Jesus Christ, Who was born of Mary, is, as Saint Paul says, the image of the invisible God. The great mystery is that Mary is made in the image and likeness of Jesus, and Jesus is made in the image and likeness of Mary. So as she looks upon God and sees all of these people created in the image and likeness of the One Who was created in her image and likeness, she reflects upon all these things. She holds them in her heart.
And what she is holding in her heart is exactly what Saint Paul told us in the second reading, that not only in the fullness of time was the Son of God born for us, born under the law, born of a woman; but that in Him we have all become members of Jesus Christ, we have all become children of God, and we have all become heirs of heaven. Just as every child is made not only in the image and likeness of God but also in the image and likeness of his parents, Our Lord was no different. Each one of us, as a member of Jesus Christ through Baptism, has been remade into the very likeness of Jesus Christ Himself. As a member of Jesus Christ, we are able then to call God our Father. And if we can call God our Father because He is the Father of Jesus Christ, then we also call His Mother our Mother because spiritually we are born from the same virginal womb, we are brought forth into the same divine life, we are made members of the same Person to Whom she gave birth.
So as we celebrate today her divine maternity, that is, the fact that she is the Mother of God, we celebrate also her spiritual maternity, that is, that she is the Mother of each and every one of us in the spiritual realm, that we are her children, that we have become heirs of heaven through her Son. Our Lady is our Mother. Every good mother, of course, wants only what is best for her children. Every mother feels very acutely all the things that happen with her children, and, like Our Lady, every other mother holds all these things in her heart and she ponders them. She rejoices when her children rejoice; she suffers when her children suffer.
We need then to look at ourselves and ask, “What are we doing to our Mother’s heart?” Are we giving her cause for rejoicing? What have we given to Our Lady to ponder? Are we giving her holiness, goodness, virtue, and all the things that would resemble her Son so she can look upon us and see her Son within us, and see us within her Son, and continue to ponder the mystery of God become man so that man could become as God? Or are we giving to our Mother the problems that mothers of lots of young people have to deal with now, wondering what happened, wondering why, wondering about this child and all of the errant ways, having to ponder things that are more like the devil than they are like Christ? We want to give to our Mother only the best. We want to give to her the greatest gift that we can, and the greatest gift that we can give to our Blessed Mother is to be more like her Son, to be holy, to be virtuous, to be prayerful, to have our sights set on heaven.
For ourselves, we need also to look at what happened with the shepherds. When they saw this Child, they returned, glorifying God, and telling everyone all about what had happened. We do not just look upon this Child – we receive the fullness of His being in Holy Communion. Do we return praising and glorifying God? Do we return out into the world by living the life of Christ and bringing Him to others? These are the examples we need to look at and from which we need to learn so that we will truly rejoice the heart of our Mother, so that the things she can ponder in each one of us are things that will bring her great joy, so that she will see in us the continuation of the mystery that took place within her, the mystery of the Incarnation, of the unity of the divinity and the humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ. As she looks at us, the mystery continues that we who are incorporated into Christ have become her children, who share in the divine nature of her Son, so that the humanity and the divinity continue to operate in each one of us and we continue to live, not according to our fallen human nature, but according to the elevated divine nature that God has given to us, so that in all that we do we give praise and glory to God and give to our Mother a great reason to rejoice as she holds us in her heart and ponders the mystery and the reality of each and every one of us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.