On the first day of the calendar year we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Among Mother Mary’s many titles, this is the most important, the most compelling, the most awesome. The others, while not really ordinary, are just not as important as this one.
A few days ago while visiting Washington D.C., I had the blessing and opportunity of visiting the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a majestic church that is not only renowned for its beautiful sacred art, but also for its unique architecture and richness in Catholic and American culture. (Prior to the idea of building this Shrine, it was in 1847, that, at the petition of the bishops of the United States, Pope Pius IX named the Blessed Virgin Mary as the patroness of the United States, under her title of the Immaculate Conception.) The edifice is a huge and an awesome work of art and took (from idea conception to almost completion) almost half a century to build, being interrupted by World War II. Today it is the Patronal Church of the United States Catholics and America’s preeminent Marian Shrine, boasting of more than 70 chapels and oratories.
Just across the city, a new exhibit of masterpieces at the U.S. National Museum of Women in the Arts is ongoing. Too bad we didn’t have the time to visit, but the feedback was that the collection of Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary are “stunningly beautiful!” It is “not only captivating and spiritually uplifting”, it is also a serious look at how artists’ conceptions of our Lady evolved over a period of almost five centuries.
Think about it: while different artists at various periods have portrayed Mary in different ways, one thing is certain; they have pictured the Blessed Mother as a “loving young mother aware of the tragic fate awaiting her son.” Msgr. Timothy Verdon, an American priest serving in Italy who curated the exhibit commented that, “artists of the past showed Mary as a woman of faith, deeply thoughtful, deeply sensitive, capable of great courage and willing to risk.” Mary, while loving, was also conscious of the risks of her son’s life, and remained with her Son, even in His darkest hours.
Despite the variety of ways by which art has depicted Mary, the message is still the same: Mary is the mother of Jesus, the mother of God, and she is our mother!
It goes without saying that all generations have always admired the Blessed Mother for her deep humility. Mary is the model of what our faith should be; she is the ultimate example of what we mean by faith, true profound faith. Mary was “God’s first human teacher. And when God, who defines Himself as love — became man, He learned love from a woman.” This is really beyond human understanding and it brings us into the depth of God’s wisdom. Mary’s true beauty is in the way she submitted to God’s will in her life. This obedience resulted into an innate reflection of the awesome beauty of God.
This early 2015, it is certain that most of us have our New Year’s resolutions. There are problems with the usual way we make these so-called “resolutions”, in that after a while we tend to forget it. “Till next New Year, we just sigh. To be real and authentic, these resolutions should be based on love. Like Mary, we should be men and women of faith, deeply sensitive, capable of great courage, and willing to risk. More than New Year’s resolutions, we should answer the call after the end of each Mass we celebrate, to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”