Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. There are many feasts that celebrate Mary. We recently celebrated her Immaculate Conception--that she was conceived without sin. In August we celebrate her Assumption--that at the end of her earthly life she was taken body and soul into heaven. Now, on the eighth day after Christmas, we celebrate her motherhood.
She is a mother unlike any other mother. First, she is a virgin mother. Secondly, she is the mother of a child who is God. Early theologians marvelled that the Creator of the universe, whom the world could not hold, was held in the womb and in the arms of Mary, a creature.
Early Christians were in awe of this and wondered how this could be. Some went so far as to say that while Mary could rightly be called the Mother of Christ she ought not be called the Mother of God. How can God, who is eternal, who has no beginning or end, have a mother who gives him a beginning in time? The 5th Century Council of Ephesus declared that because Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man and because Mary gave birth to him, she can truly be called the Mother of God. This is a mystery beyond human comprehension.
The mystery continues. As Mother of Jesus Christ, Mary can also be said to be Mother of the Body of Christ, the Church. She is the Mother of all who are united to Jesus, the Head of the Body.
And there is more. We are called to share in the Motherhood of Mary. Once, according to Matthew's Gospel (12: 26-50), when Jesus was busy teaching in a crowded house, Mary and some other close relatives came and asked to see Jesus. He asked "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" Then he pointed to his disciples and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother." Whoever listens to the Word, as Mary did, and acts upon it by doing the will of God, is a mother who gives flesh to Jesus, the Word.
Recall that at the Annunciation Mary received the Word of God from the Angel Gabriel. Surrendering to the will of God for her, she conceived the Word in her womb. Her Immaculate Heart received the Word who became flesh through her.
St. John Paul II, in his encyclical on the Eucharist, called Mary "the Woman of the Eucharist" and said that her "Fiat" or "Yes" to God allowed Jesus to take flesh within her. He said that something analogously happens when we receive the Word-made-flesh, the Body of Christ, in Holy Communion. Our "Amen" is like Mary's "Fiat." The Word takes flesh within us and transforms us. We become what we receive. We become, in Pope Benedict's words at World Youth Day 2005, "the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood."
On this day when we honor the Motherhood of Mary, we also celebrate the World Day of Peace. In a 1974 apostolic exhortation about Mary, Bl. Paul VI wrote about the connection between Mary's Motherhood and Peace: "This celebration ... is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. ... It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewed adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels, and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace. For this reason ... we have instituted the World Day of Peace...."
As Mary gave flesh to Jesus, who is our Peace, so we, members of his Body, give flesh to peace.
Pope Francis' Message for the 2015 World Day of Peace is entitled "No Longer Slaves, But Brothers and Sisters." This comes from St. Paul's Letter to Philemon, a Christian who had a slave named Onesimus who had escaped and, after encountering Paul, was baptized. Paul wrote Philemon asking him to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother Christian. With this in mind, Pope Francis wrote about the terrible phenomenon of human trafficking and modern slavery. Though slavery is outlawed throughout the world, tens of millions of people of all ages find themselves victims of various forms of slavery including forced labor, the sex trade and arranged marriages, child soldiers and drug runners, and people held captive by terrorists.
Pope Francis writes: "Today, as in the past, slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person which allows him or her to be treated as an object." This is a sin against the sanctity of life. Persons, made in the image and likeness of God, are being treated as objects to be used for other people's gain or pleasure. Such an objectification of the human person is a root cause of conflicts and war.
Pope Francis challenges all of us to view others as sacred, made in the image of God who sent his Son to live and die for them. We are called to reverence life in a world that sees some human beings as garbage to be disposed of before birth and as burdens to be disposed of when they are no longer productive and become a drain on the economy. Without such a reverence for the sanctity of human life, there will be no peace.
Peace begins here, in each individual heart, each family, each community. As we receive the Word of Life, the Prince of Peace, and give flesh to him as members of his Body, we make peace a reality.