In the first reading we discover the old prayer of true blessing which God offered to Moses to hand on to Aaron and his sons: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24 -25). There is no more meaningful time than the start of a new year to hear these words of blessing: they will accompany our journey through the year opening up before to us. They are words of strength, great courage and hope. Not an illusory hope, based upon frail human guarantees, or a naïve hope which presumes that the future will be better just due to the fact that it is the future. Rather, it is a hope that has its foundation rooted in God’s blessing, a blessing which contains the greatest message of best wishes there can be; and this is the message which the Church gives each person, filled with the Lord’s loving care and providential assistance.
The message of hope consisted of in this blessing was totally understood in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God, and it was fulfilled in her before all creatures.
The Mother of God – this is the first and most important title of Our Lady. It refers to a quality, a duty which the faith of the Christian people, in its tender and real dedication to our heavenly Mother, was understood from the beginning.
We remember that great moment in the history of the ancient Church, the Council of Ephesus, in which the divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary was authoritatively defined. The reality of her divine maternity found an echo in Rome where, a little later, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major was built, the first Marian shrine in Rome and in the entire West, where the image of the Mother of God– the Theotokos– is venerated under the title of Salus Populi Romani. It is said that the residents of Ephesus used of to gather at the gates of the basilica where the bishops were meeting and shout, “Mother of God!”. The faithful, by asking to formally specify this title of Our Lady, showed that they acknowledged her magnificent motherhood. Theirs was the spontaneous and genuine response of children who understand their Mother well, for they love her with tremendous tenderness. It is more: it is the sensus fidei of the holy People of God which, in its unity, never ever errs.
Mary has constantly been present in the hearts, the piety, and above all the pilgrimage of the Christian people. “The Church journeys through time … and on this trip she proceeds along the path already trodden by the Virgin Mary” (Redemptoris Mater, 2). Our journey of faith is the same as that of Mary, and so we feel that she is specially close to us. As far as faith, the hinge of the Christian life, is concerned, the Mother of God shared our condition. She needed to take the same path as ourselves, a course which is occasionally tough and rare. She needed to advance in the “pilgrimage of faith” (Lumen Gentium, 58).
Our trip of faith has actually been inseparably associated with Mary ever since Jesus, dying on the Cross, gave her to us as our Mother, stating: “Behold your Mother!” (Jn 19:27). These words act as a testament, bestowing to the world a Mother. From that minute on, the Mother of God also became our Mother! When the faith of the disciples was most challenged by problems and unpredictabilities, Jesus entrusted them to Mary, who was the first to believe, and whose faith would never fail. The “woman” became our Mother when she lost her divine Son. Her sorrowing heart was enlarged to make room for all men and women, whether good or bad, and she loves them as she loves her son Jesus. The woman who at the wedding at Cana in Galilee offered her faith-filled cooperation so that the marvels of God might be seen on the earth, at Calvary kept alive the flame of faith in the resurrection of her Son, and she communicates this with maternal love to each and everyone. Mary becomes in this way a source of hope and true joy!
The Mother of the Redeemer precedes us and continuously boosts us in faith, in our vocation and in our goal. By her example of humility and openness to God’s will she helps us to transfer our faith in a happy proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation. In this way our mission will be fruitful, because it is modeled on the motherhood of Mary. To her let us entrust our journey of faith, the needs of our heart, our requirements and the demands of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace, and for God. Let us then together evoke her, and I welcome you to invoke her 3 times, following the example of those brothers and sisters of Ephesus: Mother of God! Mother of God! Mother of God! Amen.