As we today conclude the Octave of Christmas and begin the New Year, it seems natural to honor the Blessed Mother in a special way with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This very ancient feast dates back to the fifth century when the Council of Ephesus affirmed Jesus’ true divinity and true humanity and also declared Mary to be Theotokos, which is Greek for “God-bearer.” All Marian feasts are feasts of Jesus Christ for Mary has no privilege that she has not received from God. Marian feasts teach us something about the identity and mission of her Son.
This theological concept that we honor Mary for the way in which she leads us to her Son is depicted beautifully in the exhibit Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, now showing at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. In many of the paintings, Mary is the largest figure in the work and the one to whom the viewer’s eyes are initially drawn. However, as one looks closer, it is clear that in almost all the paintings her eyes are fixed on her Son and so, even in the paintings as in life, Mary directs us to Christ.
Not only in art, but also in some of the honorific titles for Mary, we see a parallel in titles for Jesus. This is true for this feast as well. Since 1968, the Catholic Church also celebrates January 1 as a World Day of Peace. To link the celebration of the Mother of God and peace brings to mind two titles that Mary and Jesus share: Mary, Queen of Peace and Jesus, Prince of Peace.
We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ, the messianic ‘Prince of Peace.’ By the blood of his Cross, ‘in his own person he killed the hostility,’ he reconciled men with God and made his Church the sacrament of the unity of the human race and of its union with God. ‘He is our peace.’ He has declared: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’” (CCC 2305, cf. Isaiah 9:5, Ephesians 2:14).
This year in particular the Church’s call for peacemaking is very timely. Across our country, the past few months have been marked by unrest and protests calling attention to the relationship of trust and peace. We realize that peace is rooted in strong communal bonds expressed in respect for the dignity of every human person. The Catechism explains, “Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is ‘the tranquility of order’” (CCC 2306, Gaudium et Spes, 78).
The demonstrations that have unfolded reveal that in some of our communities there is a fundamental lack of trust and experience of fraternity. Not just in the exercise of authority meant to safeguard peace, but also among neighbors there exists a lack of charity in certain situations. For this Day of Peace, Pope Francis has chosen to reflect on the importance of this fraternity to stable peaceful communities. Our Holy Father writes, “…fraternity also embraces variety and differences between brothers and sisters, even though they are linked by birth and are of the same nature and dignity. As brothers and sisters, therefore, all people are in relation with others, from whom they differ, but with whom they share the same origin, nature and dignity. In this way, fraternity constitutes the network of relations essential for the building of the human family created by God” (Message for the World Day of Peace 2015).
In addition to the turbulence in our country, some of it violent, there continues to be aggression and bloodshed in the Middle East, particularly against Christians. These long suffering people are greatly in need of our prayers on this World Day of Peace and every day. Each one of them is a sister, each is a brother, and we cannot remain silent to their plight.
Today, I hope you will join me in seeking the intercession of Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Peace, for peace in our communities and for peace in the world. Let us resolve to be peacemakers first and foremost in our homes and in our local communities. Let us seek ways to strengthen the fraternal bonds that bind us as families, parishes and communities by sharing the Good News of the birth of the Prince of Peace who is with us always in the Risen Christ.