This Warring World Has A Loving Mother To Intercede For It
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, 2017
This is a Day of many names. It is Octave of Christmas, a week and a day from the great Feast. It is the day of the Circumcision and naming of Jesus. It is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. And it is New Year’s Day. In addition, this day was designated as World Day of Peace by Paul VI in 1967. It has provided an opportunity for to speak to the conflicts and divisions in the world. Initiated at the height of the Cold War, it is just as relevant today in an equally dangerous and conflicted world. The secular New Year presents a good opportunity to take a look at things from a moral point of view and from the perspective of Catholic teaching.
But the secular celebration of the new year is a secondary reason for a World Day of Peace, because first and foremost today is the Octave of Christmas, and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This is the day on which we pause to look at the unique and indispensable role of Mary in the incarnation – in the whole history of salvation. This is the day to reflect on the deep reality that when Jesus on the cross gave her to John as his mother, John stood in for the Church, for all of us. This warring world has a loving mother to intercede for it – just as we would wish and hope that all children would have a loving biological mother to intercede for them.
The emphasis on peace pervades the Christmas celebration as it pervades the liturgy and the scriptures. The angels sing glory to God in the highest and peace among those with whom God well-pleased. Following Isaiah, we call Jesus the Prince of Peace.
Pope Paul instituted a World Day of Peace at this season because he knew what a war-torn world does not know: Christ and Christ alone is the world’s peace. And Mary, whom we especially remember today, is the Mother of the world’s peace and therefore a sign and symbol of the trust in God and love of God that alone make for real peace. All of which is to say that the world lives in constant bloodshed and conflict (even when it is kept invisible in abortion clinics or the performance of euthanasia in stable and ostensibly civilized nations) because it has the wrong gods.
That might sound simplistic, but if we stop to think about it we can quickly see that war and conflict, indeed all sin and evil, happen because people put their faith and hope in the wrong places – and that’s what it means to have a god. If your god is power, security, the nation or some ideal for which you are willing to walk over others or sacrifice others, you have the wrong God and you may end up doing great evil. A few days ago we were trying to explain to a 10 year old grandson why Stalin killed so many people. That’s not so easy, but Stalin’s worship of power and security in service of the insane ideal of Communism summarizes the reasons nicely.
But we don’t need Stalin for an example. The worship of sports and leisure on the one hand and of work on the other and the idolization of personal opinion have taken many away from Christ and left them diminished in their humanity. The belief that there is a therapeutic solution to all suffering and stress has turned many of our contemporaries into narcissistic ninnies. The recent wave of hyper-sensitivity on college campuses is going to end up mis-educating large numbers of young people and dumping them into the world ill prepared for the job market and, more important, ill prepared for adulthood, citizenship or parenthood. And the sexual revolution is devouring its children as surely as the Bolshevik Revolution that brought a monster like Stalin to power. It’s just that few have the courage to see the resulting unhappiness and name the cause of that destruction.
If you have the wrong god, there will be no peace. We might call that the negative side of the whole scriptural message. But if you have the right God, then you can sing of glory in the highest and peace on earth.
I don’t mean a simple and easy international peace. Jesus himself warns that he will be a cause for division.
Moreover, even if everyone were a Christian, we would still all be sinners and there will be conflict. The Christianization of Europe in the first millennium curtailed some kinds of violence – like the raiding of the Vikings – but the Church never succeeded, as its best leaders and most faithful members would have hoped, in ending feudal warfare. The arrival of the increasingly secularized modern nation-state in the 1600’s and 1700’s made things worse and culminated in the catastrophes we call World War I and World War II. Sin continues. People continue to worship false gods and the results are what we see.
The Church can and should work and pray for peace among the nations, but failures in that area do not destroy the peace that Christ brings for us. Despite horrific warfare and destruction, the Christians of Aleppo put up a public tree and celebrated this great feast last week.
Christ’s peace is first and foremost peace with God, for our real problem is not our nation’s enemies – or our own – but our sin, our separation from God, and indeed our warfare against him. That’s what sin is – seeing God as our enemy, seeing his commandments as restrictions on our freedom rather than as the shape of our true freedom. Sin is what destroys the peace in our hearts and families and communities, even as it destroys harmony among nations and peoples. But:
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.
And remember what ‘Jesus’ means: The Lord will save.
If sin and death are in fact defeated by the baby in the manger, the child at the breast of Mary, then peace begins to have some content. It is not just the absence of conflict; it is the presence of God’s mercy and reconciliation in our midst.
It means a real sense of calm, joy, and hope in our hearts. The peace of Christ enables us to exercise charity when we would rather not and to seek reconciliation when we have been wronged.
God has sent his Son so that we might understand that we are his children:
As proof that you are sons,
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"
So you are no longer a slave but a son,
and if a son then also an heir, through God.
He has claimed us and put his name on us, as the priests were instructed in our Old Testament reading to bless ancient Israel in the Lord’s name. And he has given us a mother to intercede for us.
We are not a people adrift. Because of our eternal security we need not transgress others to make ourselves safe. It’s hard to believe that consistently, so we need the constant reinforcement of the sacraments and the Word of God to hold on to that basic truth of our faith.
And as we do, we can become instruments of peace. At the international level, the Church through its moral teaching and diplomatic efforts must continue to strive to end war and care for the victims. At the local level Christians can be effective in defusing conflict. Think of how the Christians of Charleston, black and white, refused to let the church killings last year become a source of suspicion and racial division. And we can be peacemakers in our families and among our friends. Given the bitterness arising from the recent election, there may be some good opportunities in the coming weeks.
The Son of Mary is our peace; He will, in the end, be revealed as the world’s peace. What we possess already in faith will at his return be known by sight. In the mean time – and it is a mean time – we are dropped behind enemy lines like aid workers, to bring to a broken world the news that God and sinners are reconciled. Sometimes, of course, we must fight to bring the good news, but we fight not to destroy but to bring the peace of Christ and on this day to offer the image of faithful Mary as the model for real humanity and the Mother of Peace.