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Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 01, 2022
Pope Francis venerates a figurine of the baby Jesus at the beginning of Mass for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 1, 2022. (CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters)Pope Francis venerates a figurine of the baby Jesus at the beginning of Mass for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 1, 2022. (CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters)

On New Year’s Day, Pope Francis denounced the widespread “violence directed against women” in today’s world, declaring “to hurt a woman is to insult God, who from a woman took on our humanity.”

He did so in his homily at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 1, the feast of the Most Holy Mother of God and the 55th World Day of Peace that was started by Paul VI in 1968.

“The New Year begins under the sign of Mother,” he said, referring to Mary as Mother of God and Mother of Jesus and indicating her as the woman par excellence in her role as giver and defender of life. Francis said that women’s perspective on the world “can combine dreams and aspirations with concrete reality, without drifting into abstraction and sterile pragmatism.”

Departing from his prepared text, Francis said, “The Church is a mother, and a mother is like that. For this reason, we cannot find the place of woman in the Church without allowing the heart of the woman and mother to shine. This is the place of women in the Church, the great place, from which other places, more concrete and less important, are derived.”

Pope Francis has appointed more women to leadership positions in the Vatican, and to Vatican commissions, than any previous pontiff. These have included two recent top-level appointments of women religious, one in the Vatican City State administration and one in the Vatican’s human development dicastery, to positions usually held by priests or bishops.

Francis wore white vestments with blue bands in honor of Mary. He concelebrated the Mass—much of it said in Latin—with more than 20 cardinals and over 100 bishops, attended by some 2000 faithful and the diplomatic corps. He was assisted at the altar by two cardinals: Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, and Jesuit Michael Czerny, in his first public act in his new role as interim prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development.

We hope that everything will be all right and then, like a bolt from the blue, an unexpected problem arises. Our expectations clash painfully with reality.

He began the homily by recalling the experience of Mary who had to endure “the scandal of the manger,” giving birth in poverty. Noting that Mary does not complain, but rather “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart,” Pope Francis encouraged believers today to have the same attitude when enduring “certain ‘scandals of the manger.’ We hope that everything will be all right and then, like a bolt from the blue, an unexpected problem arises. Our expectations clash painfully with reality.”

“That can also happen in the life of faith, when the joy of the Gospel is put to the test in troubling situations,” he said, but “Today, the Mother of God teaches us to draw profit from the clash. She shows us that it is necessary: it is the narrow path to achieve the goal, the cross, without which there can be no resurrection. Like the pangs of childbirth, it begets a more mature faith.”

Mary’s first attitude was to “keep,” that is, “she holds on to what happens; she does not forget or reject it. She keeps in her heart everything that she saw and heard. The beautiful things, like those spoken to her by the angel and the shepherds, but also the troubling things: the danger of being found pregnant before marriage and, now, the lowly stable where she has had to give birth.” Mary “does not pick and choose; she keeps. She accepts life, without trying to camouflage or embellish it,” he said.

He highlighted Mary’s second attitude, “she keeps, and she ponders” and said, “The Gospel speaks of Mary ‘bringing together,’ comparing, her different experiences and finding the hidden threads that connect them. In her heart, in her prayer, she does exactly that: she binds together the beautiful things and the unpleasant things. She does not keep them apart, but brings them together.” For this reason, he said, “Mary is the mother of Catholicity.… we could say, she is Catholic because she unites, she does not separate And in this way she discerns their greater meaning, from God’s perspective.”

He said, “In her mother’s heart, Mary comes to realize that the glory of the Most High appears in humility; she welcomes the plan of salvation whereby God must lie in a manger. She sees the divine Child frail and shivering, and she accepts the wondrous divine interplay between grandeur and littleness.”

Pope Francis identified a close link between Mary’s attitude and that of mothers in today’s world. “This inclusive way of seeing things, which transcends tensions by ‘keeping’ and ‘pondering’, is the way of mothers,” he said. “It is the way so many mothers embrace the problems of their children. Their maternal ‘gaze’ does not yield to stress; it is not paralyzed before those problems, but sees them in a wider perspective.” He cited, for example, “the faces of all those mothers who care for a child who is ill or experiencing difficulties” and said, “What great love we see in their eyes! Even amid their tears, they are able to inspire hope. Theirs is a gaze that is conscious and realistic, but at the same time offering, beyond the pain and the problems, a bigger picture, one of care and love that gives birth to new hope.”

That is what mothers do: they know how to overcome obstacles and disagreements, and to instill peace.

He said, “That is what mothers do: they know how to overcome obstacles and disagreements, and to instill peace. In this way, they transform problems into opportunities for rebirth and growth. They can do this because they know how to ‘keep’, to hold together the various threads of life.” Pope Francis said, “We need such people, capable of weaving the threads of communion in place of the barbed wire of conflict and division. And this is what mothers know how to do.”

Pope Francis invited believers at the beginning of the New Year to place ourselves under the protection of this woman, the Mother of God, who is also our mother”, he invited all present to do as the people Ephesus did in 431 (when the Council of Ephesus was convened) , by standing and repeating three times her title of Mother of God: “Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God”!

Later in the day, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace during the Angelus, Francis said, “As the new year begins with God who, in the arms of his mother and lying in a manger, gives us courage with tenderness. We need this encouragement. We are still living in uncertain and difficult times due to the pandemic. Many are frightened about the future and burdened by social problems, personal problems, dangers stemming from the ecological crisis, injustices and by global economic imbalances.”

Francis, the son of migrants, told his global audience, “Looking at Mary with her Son in her arms, I think of young mothers and their children fleeing wars and famine, or waiting in refugee camps. There are so many of them!” He said, “contemplating Mary who lays Jesus in the manger, making him available to everyone, let us remember that the world can change and everyone’s life can improve only if we make ourselves available to others, without expecting them to begin to do so.If we become craftsmen of fraternity, we will be able to mend the threads of a world torn apart by war and violence.”

He recalled that today is celebrated throughout the Catholic church the 55th World Day of Peace, which was started by Paul VI in 1968. He reminded people that peace is a “gift from on high” and said, “we need to implore it of Jesus because we are not capable of preserving it. We can truly build peace only if we have peace in our hearts, only if we receive it from the Prince of peace.” Peace is also “our commitment,” he said, “it asks us to take the first step, it demands concrete actions. It is built by being attentive to the least, by promoting justice, with the courage to forgive thus extinguishing the fire of hatred.”

Pope Francis said, peace also “needs a positive outlook as well, one that always sees, in the Church as well as in society, not the evil that divides us, but the good that unites us! Getting depressed or complaining is useless. We need to roll up our sleeves to build peace.” He urged people to ask Mary, the Mother of God, the Queen of Peace, to “obtain harmony in our hearts and in the entire world.”

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