December 11, 2015


Mary is present throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons

On Dec. 8, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patronal feast day of the United States of America. On this day, we acknowledge that by the gracious gift of God, Mary was born without sin or guilt. She received in advance what all of us are promised as a result of her Son’s victory over sin and death. Thus, from the moment of her conception, Mary became “full of grace” and a sign of the graces all humankind will receive through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The next day, on Dec. 9, we observed the memorial of St. Juan Diego, the indigenous man to whom Mary appeared outside of what is now Mexico City in the early years of the Spanish conquest of the New World.

Juan Diego was an honest man who did what the beautiful lady—who spoke his language and wore native dress—asked him to do. He presented the local bishop with proof that the lady was who she claimed to be: “I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth.”

Through the miraculous gift of her own image imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma, a poncho-like cape made of cactus fiber, the woman who called herself Santa Maria de Guadalupe proved her identity as both the Mother of God and our mother.

On his final visit to Mexico in 1999, St. John Paul II declared Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to be the patroness of all the Americas. Her feast is celebrated on Dec. 12, and while it is an especially important day for Mexicans and other Latino peoples, all of us who call ourselves Americans are invited to join in thanking God for this beautiful lady who brings peace, healing and great joy to all who know and love her.

As Advent continues, Mary’s role in the history of our salvation is recalled through the familiar Gospel stories that we have all heard many times. The days before Christmas can be truly special—a graced time—if we allow ourselves the freedom to ponder the mysteries that unfold in the life of Mary as she opens her heart to God’s will, and generously accepts all that is asked of her.

The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) which we celebrate on Dec. 25, shows us the baby lying in a manger surrounded by Mary and Joseph, animals and shepherds (Pope Francis would call them people from “the peripheries”), who are the first to receive the glad tidings of great joy and who have come to adore the newborn king. Mary stands behind the manger, and once again signals that God is with us in the person of her only Son!

Two days later, on Dec. 27, the Church offers us the feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Much has been written and discussed about the challenges of family life during this past year. We are right to celebrate the family in its simplest and most profound terms, but also to acknowledge that even this family was “non-traditional” and experienced more than its share of problems. What makes this family unique, a model for all families, is the way its members accept God’s will—even when they do not understand it—and show the greatest reverence and respect for each other and for everyone they meet

The New Year begins on Jan. 1 with the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. We begin again with confident hope and a profound prayer for peace in our hearts and in our world. Mary stands at the beginning, and she points the way to her Son. By honoring her this New Year’s day, we entrust ourselves, and the unknown future, to her loving care.

The Christmas season reaches its climax in The Epiphany of the Lord, which celebrates the revelation of God-with-us to people of every nation, language, race and culture. Epiphany reminds us that we cannot keep Christ’s birth (or the responsibilities of Christian discipleship) to ourselves. Our faith is not to be kept secret. It is to be generously shared with all, to be proclaimed to the ends of the Earth. Here, too, Mary leads the way. She speaks all languages, adopts the customs of all peoples, and gives witness to her son in every era.

Let’s ask Mary to open our hearts during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Let’s follow her example by listening for God’s word, and saying “yes” when he invites us to follow him.

—Daniel Conway

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