[Live-streamed Mass, January 1st, 2021.]
The Romans used the word, Kalends, to depict the first day of every month. But about 150 years before Christ, Kalends took on a more specific meaning. It referred to the first day of January, and so the first day of the entire new year. The Romans celebrated it with great revelry and debauchery. That is why in the early centuries of the Church, as a counterpoint to the excessively lusty Roman celebrations, Christians were urged to fasting and prayer on Kalends, New Year’s Day.[i]
It was only somewhere around the 6th century that the Church of Gaul commemorated on January 1st the circumcision of the Lord, in recognition of Joseph’s and Mary’s compliance with the command of God preserved in the Torah, “Throughout the ages, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised.” This was in observance of the foundational covenant between God and his chosen people (Gen 17:1-13).
In the seventh century the focus of the celebration in the Church shifted to the Octave of the Birth of Jesus, the completion of the celebration of Christmas on the 8th day, which included a celebration of the naming of the Child Jesus, as the Angel Gabriel had announced, meaning “God saves” or “God helps.”
So, on the first day of the New Year 2021 all of these elements come together in the celebration of this special Solemnity in the Church: the circumcision of the Child; his Holy Name, Jesus; the completion of the Octave of Christmas, but especially the Church’s gratitude for the role Mary played as Mother of the Christ Child, without whose fiat the Christ would not have been born. The Christ Child, of course, as proclaimed in the Gospel reading of St. John’s Prologue on Christmas Day, was not only a human Messiah. He was the eternal divine Word of God who in the beginning was. The Word was with God. The Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, empowering those of us who believe in him to become Children of God. Thus Mary, the Mother of Christ, was and is, Mother of God.
Because God loved us first
This year, our celebration of Mary, the Mother of God, falls on a First Friday, when we remember the love God has for each of us in the personal love of Jesus. The coincidence allows us to underscore an essential truth about Mary as Mother of God. Her love as mother which she poured out on Jesus and which she also pours out on us is preceded by the Father looking on our sinful world and refusing to abandon us to self-destruction. It was in concern for us in this world that he sent his divine Word, his only Son, to take on human flesh, dwell among us in this world, and so manifest His love for us all. It was a highpoint of this manifestation of love that he called on Mary to provide the Word the womb through which his Son would be born as Jesus, the Christ.
It was because God loved us first that Mary was called to accept to be the Mother of his only begotten Son. Because she accepted this role so freely and generously, Jesus, having grown under her care in wisdom, age and grace, and having embraced the mission given him by the Father:
…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness; and found in human appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on the Cross.
Because of this God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend
of those in heaven and on earth
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).
The name that is given the Child on behest of the Angel Gabriel is the name through which, by will and mission of His Father, He is Savior, Messiah and divine King.
Petitions at the Beginning of 2021
It is the name that on this First Friday manifests the tender love of the Father for us all. It is the name of her Son that Mary calls every time we flee to her as our Mother for her help, protection or intercession. It is the name that we invoke as this New Year begins:
Asking the Father in the name of Jesus through our Mother Mary for a renewed personal encounter with Jesus, for the joy of discovering he is waiting for us with open arms, that he never tires of forgiving us, that he has given us a dignity through his boundless and unfailing love, that no matter how darkly we may have sinned, with a tenderness which never disappoints, he is capable of restoring our joy and helping us to start anew.[ii]
***At the beginning of this year in the name of Jesus through our Mother Mary we ask the Father for the growth, strengthening and deepening of conjugal and family love, for we know that many of our Christian families are flagging, or even in distress. We ask to be reminded and inspired by the truth that “love is patient; love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful; love is not rude. Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all thing, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).[iii]
In the name of Jesus through our Mother Mary we ask the Father for the ears “to hear the cry of the poor” (EG, 191). With Pope Francis we pray that it be given us to come into close personal contact with the poor and that we understand our role in providing them “education, access to health care, and above all employment.” We pray with Pope Francis that in the language of international cooperation there be room for the category of love “understood as gratuitousness, equal treatment, solidarity, the culture of giving, fraternity and mercy.”[iv] We pray for liberation from our addiction to consumption, our belief that it is in ever having more and consuming more that bring us lasting joy. We pray for liberation from the mammoth production machine driven by the technocratic paradigm that uses, abuses and destroys the environment, generates overwhelming waste, and discards people who are irrelevant for its continued functioning.[v]
In the name of the Creator who made us all brothers and sisters in creation, we pray that especially this year we may contribute to the preservation of our shared environment, our common home, where we are all connected. We pray that we commit ourselves not only to measures that mitigate global warming, deforestation, the irreparable loss of bio-diversity, the trafficking of wild animals, the loss of our fresh water sources, the pollution of our air; but we pray that we commit ourselves to a world and cities habitable for all human beings without exception, not only for those who are privileged by education and training to contribute to the existing economy. We pray to be able to contribute to global fraternity by knocking down the walls and barriers which separate us from the poor, the oppressed and the discarded. Through dialogue may we come closer in understanding and fraternity to peoples of diverse faiths and ideologies. Through good politics, may we bring about a world order that reflects our being sisters and brothers despite the color of our skin or the slant of our eyes. [vi]
The Father’s Work of Reconciliation
In beginning of this New Year, we beg to be personally helpful in the Father’s work of bringing about our reconciliation with Himself, our reconciliation with our fellow human beings, and our reconciliation with Creation. For this reconciliation in love was why the Father spoke to us in the first place through Word incarnate, Jesus; this was why Mary, the Mother of God, said yes, “Let it be done to me according to your will.” In an ever-deeper discernment of God’s will, God’s plan, God’s dream for our lives, let us also say, “Yes, Lord, let it be done to me according to your will.”
***[For the Jesuit Community:] In the beginning of the new year, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, and in the name of Jesus after whom our least Society is named, we ask for the graces of this special Ignatian Year of 2021 proclaimed by Fr. General Arturo Sosa as a year to commemorate and celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the conversion of our founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola[vii], with its theme, “To see all things new in Christ” and for the whole Society “to be renewed by the Lord himself. The Ignatian Year is an “opportunity to know, to love and to follow the Lord of all things.” As Fr. Sosa says, “It is my desire that at the heart of this Ignatian year we would hear the Lord calling us, and we would allow him to work our conversion inspired by the personal experience of St. Ignatius.”[viii] Through the Universal Apostolic Preferences he further says, “Let us take this opportunity to let God transform our life-mission, according to his will.
[ii] Cf. Francis. Evangelii Gaudium, (2013) #3. Further referred to in this homily as EG.
[iii] Cf. Francis. Amoris Laetitiae, (2016). Chapter 4.
[iv] EG, Chapter 4
[v] Cf. Francis. Laudato Si’: On the Care for Our Common Home (2015). Chapters 3 and 4.
[vi] Cf. Francis. Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship, (2020). Chapters 5, 6, 8, esp. #285.
[vii] i.e., from May 20, 2021, the anniversary of Ignatius’ injury at Pamplona to July 31, 2022. On March 12, 2022 the canonization of St. Ignatius with St. Francis Xavier, St. Theresa of Jesus, San Isidro Labrador and St. Philip Neri will be commemorated.
[viii] Letter of Fr. Sosa to the Society of Jesus, September 27, 2020.