Pope Francis presided over morning Mass on New Year’s Day in Saint Peter’s Basilica

By Vatican News staff writer

Jan 4 2022

Presiding over Mass on the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, Pope Francis encourages us to place ourselves under her maternal protection. May she give us courage and joyful certainty that the Lord is faithful and can transform every cross into a resurrection.

Pope Francis presided over morning Mass on New Year’s Day in Saint Peter’s Basilica with a smaller congregation present in accordance with pandemic health guidelines.

In his homily for this Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God – also marked as the World Day of Peace – the Pope recalled the joy experienced by the shepherds at Bethlehem upon visiting the baby Jesus lying in the manger, proof of God’s closeness to them and to all who are poor or marginalized. Jesus being born in “littleness and poverty” fills our hearts “with love, not fear.”

The scandal of the manger

Mary’s experience of this time required enduring “the scandal of the manger,” the Pope explained. Long before the shepherds, she received the message of an angel announcing she would bear a son and name him Jesus, who would be called Son of the Most High; but now “Mary has to lay Him in a trough for animals.” How can “she reconcile the glory of the Most High and the bitter poverty of a stable?” the Pope asked, adding how this must have caused her distress, especially seeing her new born child suffering such a precarious situation. Yet, Mary “does not lose heart” and “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

To keep and to ponder

The shepherds instead are joyous and tell everyone about their experience of the angel that appeared in the night and his words about the Child to whom they went to pay homage. The Pope noted that “words and amazement” describe their reaction, whereas, Mary is “pensive,” pondering this reality in her heart. These two different reactions recall aspects of faith experience in general, the Pope said: where the shepherds remind us of the beginnings of faith, when all seems easy and clear, Mary’s “pensiveness” expresses a “mature, adult faith.” 

The Pope said we can learn from the Mother of God here by taking on the same attitude of “keeping and pondering,” since we may also have to endure great challenges in life where our expectations clash with reality, putting our joy of the Gospel to the test. Mary teaches us that we can learn, grow, and mature in faith from these difficult situations, as “it is the narrow path to achieve the goal, the Cross, without which there can be no resurrection.” 

The ideal and the real

The Pope explained that managing and overcoming this clash between the ideal and the real requires “keeping,” as Mary did, the experiences of what happens to us, and not trying to forget or reject them. Mary kept in her heart both the amazing and the troubling life experiences – the angel who gave her great news, the lowly stable where she had to give birth: “she does not pick and choose; she preserves. She accepts life, without trying to camouflage or embellish it.”

She keeps and ponders

The Pope went on to describe Mary’s “second” attitude: “she keeps and she ponders,” bringing together in her heart and prayer the beautiful and challenging aspects, discerning greater meaning in them by considering them from God’s perspective. She realizes that “the glory of the Most High appears in humility,” and “she welcomes the plan of salvation whereby God must lie in a manger.” The Pope observed that this inclusive vision of “keeping” and “pondering” is “the way of mothers” who embrace the challenges in raising their children. This maternal “gaze” and love is able to see everything from a wider perspective, he noted, both “conscious and realistic” and “one of care and love that gives birth to new hope.” The Pope said we need such people, “capable of weaving the threads of communion in place of the barbed wire of conflict and division.”

A mother’s gaze, a path to rebirth

As this New Year begins under the sign of Mary, our Mother, whose gaze is “the path to rebirth and growth,” the Pope encouraged everyone to make greater efforts to safeguard mothers and protect women, lamenting the terrible problem of violence again women today. “To hurt a woman is to insult God, who took on our humanity from a woman.” The Pope prayed that, through Mary’s maternal protection, she might help us all “to keep and ponder all things, unafraid of trials and with the joyful certainty that the Lord is faithful and can transform every cross into a resurrection.” He encouraged everyone to call upon her as did the People of God at Ephesus, repeating three times her title: “Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God!” -Vatican News