Saint Ambrose writes, “The life of [the Blessed Virgin Mary] can serve as a model for everyone…Who can be more noble than the Mother of God? Who can be more glorious than the one chosen by Glory Itself?” While the new liturgical year begins for the Church with the season of Advent, the new calendar year begins on the 1st of January. The Church consecrates the new year with a solemnity in honor of Mary, the Mother of God.
The Blessed Mother is an exemplar of Christian virtue and discipleship through her complete surrender to the will of God, her contemplative disposition, her evangelization of her family, her intercession on behalf of others, her solidarity with those who suffer, and finally her prayerful patience in awaiting the coming of the Lord. As we begin the new year, Christians should reflect on the role of the Virgin Mary in salvation history and what lessons we can learn from her to deepen our commitment to Christ during this Year of Faith.
Faced with difficult challenges, Christians need the virtue of courage to say “yes” to the Father’s will. As a young woman, Mary did not hesitate to give her “yes” to the Father with these words: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The hour has come for Christians to embrace the difficult task of standing up for a culture of life and love in and out of season (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2).
As the events of the first days and years of the Christ child unfolded, Mary maintained a contemplative attitude. She pondered things in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19; v. 51). Renewal begins with silent prayerful contemplation. Our apostolates are successful only to the degree that they are supported by a consistent and dedicated life of prayer.
During this Year of Faith, the Holy Father has renewed the call for every member of the Church to participate in a new evangelization. Blessed Pope John Paul II describes this evangelization as being new in “ardor.” Mary models this for the faithful when she makes haste to bring Christ in her womb to her cousin, Saint Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:39). Christians need a life of prayerful contemplation, but the Gospel also compels them to actively bring Christ to others and to begin with our own family. It is easier to bring the Good News to strangers on a mission trip, whereas the greater challenge awaits us among our own family and friends.
At the Wedding Feast of Cana, the Blessed Mother intercedes for the needs of the newly married couple, who have run out of wine at their reception (cf. John 2:1-11). Mary presents her petition to Christ on behalf of her neighbors, and He responds immediately. We are called to present the various needs of our neighbors to the Lord through our prayerful intercession. Beginning on the Feast of the Holy Family (30th of December), the bishops of the United States have called upon the faithful to intercede for the respect of life, religious liberty, and the family through fasting from meat on all Fridays of the year, holy hours before the Blessed Sacrament in our respective parishes, and the daily rosary in the home. Like the Virgin Mary, the faithful are being asked to present the most pressing needs of our nation to Christ.
At the Presentation, it was foretold by Saint Simeon that Our Lady’s heart would be pierced by a sword (cf. Luke 2:35). This prophecy was fulfilled as Mary watched in horror as her only Son hung upon the Cross on Calvary. At that hour, Mary would become united in compassion and love with all of the faithful who suffer at the hands of sin and death. Mary became our mother as Christ hung upon the cross (cf. John 19:26-27).
Saint Bernard writes that God does not suffer, but He does suffer with His children. By her faithful vigilance at the foot of the Cross, the Blessed Mother gives the faithful an example of true compassion. We are called to suffer with those who bear any kind of suffering or pain. Our current culture wants to get rid of any kind of suffering by ending the lives of those who suffer. From the example of the Mother of God, Christians learn that true compassion does not seek to hasten the end of life for those who are in pain. Authentic compassion seeks to love those who experience the Cross in all its varying forms to their natural end.
Finally, in the Upper Room, the Blessed Virgin Mary waits with the Church in prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (cf. Acts of the Apostles 1:12-14). Christians are called to actively wait and anticipate the coming of the Lord through a life of prayer in communion with the Church. After Pentecost, Saint Luke gives a succinct description of the life of the early Church: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread [the Eucharist] and the prayers” (Acts of the Apostles 2:42). This flourishing of Christian life came about because the Mother of God prayed with the apostles and disciples in a spirit of expectation.
We must have hope for the renewal of the Church and the larger culture that Christians will continue to impact. Saint Thomas More wrote, “The times are never so bad that a good man cannot live in them.” Christians can have this hope because ultimately the Holy Spirit brings about renewal, but like Mary we must be willing and ready to serve as instruments to be used by God the Father.
A civilization of love can be achieved through, with, and in Jesus Christ, but the faithful must be willing to say “yes” like the Most Holy Mother of God. We have been blessed with this new year. Let us turn to Mary’s powerful intercession and become faithful disciples dedicated to a new evangelization.