VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has invited the faithful to entrust their hearts to Mary, to look on her as a Mother to all and to see her as a messenger of hope during his homily on the Solemnity of the Mother of God.
The Holy Father’s homily marked the end of a series of traditional messages over the past 24 hours invoking gratitude to God for the year just passed and looking with an authentic hope towards the year ahead.
Addressing pilgrims in the Basilica of St. Peter on New Year’s Day, the Holy Father said the “Mother of the Redeemer goes before us and continually strengthens us in faith, in our vocation and in our mission.”
By her “example of humility and openness to God’s will,” she helps us to transmit our faith in a “joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation,” he added. “In this way, our mission will be fruitful, because it is modeled on the motherhood of Mary.”
He called on the faithful to therefore entrust to her “our journey of faith, the desires of our heart, our needs and the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace.”
“Let us then together invoke her: Holy Mother of God!” he said.
The Pope began by recalling the ancient blessing from the Book of Numbers: “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.”
“There is no more meaningful time than the beginning of a new year to hear these words of blessing,” he said.
These "words of strength, courage and hope [will] accompany our journey through the year opening up before us,” the Pope said.
But the Pope warned this is not “an illusory hope based on human, frail promises, nor a naïve hope, which presumes that the future will be better simply because it is the future.” Rather, it is a hope based on God’s blessing, containing the “greatest message of good wishes there can be, and this is the message which the Church brings to each of us.”
The message of hope in God’s blessing, the Pope stressed, “was fully realized in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God.”
“Mother of God is the first and most important title of Our Lady,” Pope Francis said, noting that in their devotion to her from early times, the faithful have understood this “from the beginning.”
Pope Francis recalled the ancient Council of Ephesus, which “authoritatively defined” the Divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary, and “the first Marian shrine in Rome and the entire West” that later was erected in devotion to her in the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
Mary is our Mother, too, the Pope stressed, “ever since Jesus, dying on the cross, gave her to us as our Mother, saying: ‘Behold your Mother!’”
Through the most difficult and trying times, Mary’s “sorrowing heart was enlarged to make room for all men and women, whether good or bad,” the Pope said, and she communicates “her maternal affection to each and every person … a source of hope and true joy.”
World Day of Peace
Today is also the World Day of Peace. In his message for the day, released last month on the theme “Fraternity: the Foundation and Pathway to Peace,” the Pope underlines how Christians, as children of God, will be held accountable for our actions towards our brothers and sisters and their human dignity.
During his Angelus prayer after Mass Jan. 1, he reiterated the contents of the message. Fraternity as a foundation and pathway to peace stems from the conviction that we are “all children of one God and are part of the same human family,” sharing a common destiny, he said.
The Pope stressed everyone has a responsibility to build a world which “becomes a community of brothers who respect each other, accept each other’s differences and take care of each other.” We are also called to acknowledge “the violence and injustices present in many places around the world,” and we cannot allow ourselves to be “indifferent and immobile,” he added. Everyone must work to build a society of solidarity and one that is “truly more just.”
Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis explained how moved he was by a letter he recently received from a man touched by personal tragedy. The man asked him why so many terrible things are happening in today’s world: “What has happened to the hearts of men?” the man wrote. The Pope repeated the question, asking the faithful: “What has happened in the hearts of men, in the heart of humanity? It is time to stop! It is time to stop!”
Remembering that today is a day when believers around the world pray to the Lord for the gift of peace and the ability to spread it everywhere, the Holy Father called on the Lord to lead mankind on a path of justice and peace “more decisively” and to “loosen” the hardening of hearts.
“Peace,” he said, “requires the force of meekness, the force of nonviolence of truth and of love.” And he prayed that "the Gospel of fraternity, proclaimed and witnessed by the Church, will speak to every conscience and break down the walls that prevent enemies from recognizing each other as brothers.”
Annual Examination of Conscience
Yesterday evening, at vespers and the singing of the Church’s great hymn of gratitude in faith, the Te Deum, the Pope made a point of explaining that the Christian vision of time is linear, not cyclical. The passing year is therefore a “step on the way towards a reality that is to be completed, another step toward the goal that lies ahead of us.” It a place of hope and happiness, he added, “because we will meet God, the reason of our hope and source of our joy.”
The Holy Father invited the faithful to examine their consciences: “Have we used [the past year] mostly for ourselves, for our own interests or did we know to spend it for others, too? How much time did we set aside for being with God, in prayer, in silence, in adoration?” he asked.
He concluded by inviting everyone to look toward the new year of 2014 grateful for what we have received, repentant for our failings and resolute to work with God’s grace to better our lives, our communities and ourselves.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.