The great theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., once reflected that the reason the church has lost so much of its devotion to Mary is that we have forgotten how much we need our mother. This insightful observation highlights how important it is that we begin our year placing ourselves under Mary’s guidance, under her motherhood.
In today’s second reading, from the Letter to the Galatians, Paul tells us that we are truly children of God, as the Holy Spirit informs our souls to cry out to God, “Abba, Father.” To the degree that we know this, that we know ourselves to be co-heirs with Christ, taking on his very dignity, is the degree we have also internalized the fact that the Blessed Mother of the Lord is our mother too. We are God’s children, but only if we are sons and daughters of Jesus’ mother.
It can work the other way around too. By our continued attention to Mary, by taking her to ourselves as mother, we can discover her Son as our brother. Mary’s ongoing role as mother and intercessor for our souls is one of forever drawing us closer to Christ. The Second Vatican Council teaches us that the “motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly...until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.... By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” No. 62).
In the first reading, the Lord tells Moses how priests are to bless Israel, with a threefold blessing in which God’s name is invoked that he might bless us, keep us, let his face shine on us, be gracious to us and give us peace. The instruction ends, “So shall they invoke my name…and I will bless them.” To receive the actual name of God is extraordinary, since it implies great trust and intimacy. Earlier we learn that God told Moses that he had never before revealed his name, not even to Abraham (Ex 6:3). To bless means to pour forth life and flourishing, and to have someone’s face shine upon you means to receive favor from that person.
This same naming and these same blessings are connected to the Gospel reading, where Mary and Joseph take Jesus up to the Temple to be circumcised and formally named. “He was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Jesus (Yeshua) means “God saves.” It is from Jesus that we receive the ultimate blessings of God, as Christ incarnates God’s peace and graciousness and the very face of God shining on us. We look to Christ to see the face of God (Col 1:15).
Mary bore these blessings in her womb; she delivered these blessings to the world; and she guides us to receive these blessings even today. The very Spirit that St. Paul says makes us children of God (today’s second reading), was given to Mary in her great fiat, accepting God’s will for her, and overshadowed Mary in the conception of her Son. She is first in discipleship in time, in mission and in her ongoing ministry of drawing us to her Son.
In Mary we have gone from being cursed children of Eve to blessed children of the second Eve. St. Hildegard of Bingen described it this way: “Today a closed portal has opened to us the door, which the serpent slammed on a woman. The flower of the maiden Mary gleams on the dawn.” To think of Mary as the new Eve is not merely a lovely metaphor, but a necessity. God’s self-gift necessarily had to be received within the human race. Mary is the very point in the history of redemption in which the saving grace of God entered our own history, our own concrete lives.
We do well to begin this year deepening our love and devotion to Mary. She is responsible for showing us the face of God in her Son, and she continues to lead us to him daily. At the end of the day, we need our mother.