Growing up it wasn’t so much that I had a hard time relating to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as much as she wasn’t even in the picture.
I grew up in an ecumenical home. My mother was Methodist; although she has since become Catholic, and my three sisters left the Catholic Church shortly after Vatican II, although two of them have since returned to the Church. Perhaps as a result of this, we weren’t a very devotional family. Oh, we were very Christian, to be sure, and my father and brother were very proud of being Catholic, but I never grew up praying the rosary, or other basic (and essential) Catholic prayers. In fact, when I went to the seminary at the age of 25 I still didn’t even know how to pray the rosary. I’d never prayed it in my life. I had lots of beads, but didn’t know what to do with them! I used to dread being called upon to lead it, because I didn’t know what do. Although I wasn’t quite as bad as a friend of mine who when told some people were going to pray the rosary, came out wearing it around his neck, thinking that’s what you did!
I would guess a fair number of Catholics have grown up as I did, especially since Vatican II, with a very impoverished view of Mary. But today’s feast once again thrusts her before our eyes and our minds and means to teach us again about this remarkable woman.
What exactly is the big deal about Mary? Why all the hymns, why the statues, why the prayers? Well, quite simply, because Mary is the greatest human person who has ever lived (Jesus, remember, is a divine Person with a fully human nature). No one has ever done in the history of the world anything that can remotely compare to what Mary has done. Why? Because Mary has opened up the way for every person to receive forgiveness and mercy and to be freed once and for all from the sting and tyranny of death. All of this possible for me and for you because of her complete surrender to God, because of her obedient “Yes!” to the archangel Gabriel, or rather, to God through the archangel. Because of this surrender and this “Yes!” she became the mother of Jesus and salvation and eternal life has been made possible for all people, of all time. No king, no queen, no general, no president, no athlete, has ever done or ever will do anything as important.
For this reason we honor Mary. Note well: we do not worship her as Catholics, though some of our Protestant brothers and sisters are often confused on this. We worship God alone, not His creatures, and Mary is a creature. But we do honor and venerate His creatures. And so for the same reason that we keep photos of loved ones on our mantle or nightstand or desk at work, we keep images or statues of Mary in our Church or our home: to remember her and give thanks to God for the blessings we’ve received through her.
January 1st is a time of year when most of us try to come up with some resolutions for the year just beginning. For some it might be to get in a little better shape, maybe to exercise more and eat less. For some it might be a time to resolve to watch less TV and do more
reading. For some it might be a time to resolve to spend more time with our children or grandchildren, mindful that the years are passing by.
As we all ponder what it is we’re gong to do in the year ahead, allow me to offer a suggestion that I sincerely think the Lord is asking each of us here at St. Anastasia’s to do in this new year. For the past number of days now I’ve heard over and over again in my prayer for us as a parish family Jesus asking me to ask all of you to pray the rosary every day in 2006. There is such a hunger in us for meditation and reflection; we’re surrounded and bombarded by so much noise in our daily lives. And here is one way to be still and to find time to reflect and to pray.
Now the rosary is a difficult prayer for some of us, I know it was and still can be for me. I still find it difficult to pray it in a community out loud. I usually pray it in the car. But more and more in the past number of years, and increasingly so in the past few months, I have found it to be one of the most important prayers of my day and the most powerful prayer I know of to intercede for all of the intentions that I carry in my heart. As our fingers roll across these beads we recall again and again the mysteries of Jesus’ life and the wondrous things that God in His love has done for us. And we recall as well the wonderful gift of Mary – His mother and ours, the perfect disciple and our model, who is even now praying for each of us by name before God the Father.
Through her prayers may this new year be truly blessed with greater faith and trust in God, and may we grow more and more each day in our family resemblance to her, our Mother.
- Fr. John Riccardo
Pastor, St. Anastasia Church, Troy, MI
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2006