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Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization

Each year, on the eighth day after Christmas, the same image is placed before us by the sacred liturgy for our veneration and imitation: the image of Mary, the Mother of God. In today's second reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians, we heard: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." In the Gospel account, Saint Luke presents the image of "Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger" and tells us that "Mary kept all these things [the events which had taken place], reflecting on them in her heart." Yes, we find placed before us the image of Mary, the Mother of God. In fact, this title: "Mother of God" is the most ancient and revered of the titles given to Mary in the history of the Church.

Each year, as we venerate Mary under this most ancient and revered title, we seek her maternal intercession as we enter into a new civil or calendar year. Permit me to share with you this beautiful invocation which I found recently: "In thanksgiving for the time that has been, in hope for the time that is to come, let us pray through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God: We praise you, O Lord, and we bless you" (cf. Magnificat, December 2010, Vol. 12, No. 10, p. 471).

This year, I propose for reflection the role of Mary, the Mother of God as "the Star of the New Evangelization." Mary is the Star of the New Evangelization because in her role as the "Mother of God" she brings to us the One Who is the Object and the Center of all evangelizing endeavors: Christ the Lord. Yes, we look to her and seek her maternal intercession in order to be like her, reflecting on the Word of God, loving the Word Incarnate Jesus Christ her Divine Son, and pointing Him out to everyone we meet each day, specifically by the witness of our faith-filled lives and, if needed, by the words we speak.

This title: "Star of the New Evangelization" is not new. The Venerable Pope John Paul II used it frequently as does his successor Pope Benedict XVI. What is new is the heightened emphasis on the new evangelization by our Holy Father. On September 21, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated an Apostolic Letter establishing a new Vatican department called the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. In the opening paragraphs, the Pope reminds us: "…the mission of evangelization, a continuation of the work desired by the Lord Jesus, is necessary for the Church: it cannot be overlooked; it is an expression of her very nature" (cf. Ubicumque et Semper).

Then, the Holy Father points to the specific context of our time. "In our own time, [this mission of evangelization] has been particularly challenged by an abandonment of the faith - a phenomenon progressively more manifest in societies and cultures which for centuries seemed to be permeated by the Gospel..." (Ibid.). Because this is so, "…the evangelizing action of the Church 'must constantly seek the proper means and language for presenting, or representing, to them God's revelation and faith in Jesus Christ' (ibid., n. 56)" (Ibid.). The Pope later continues, "Only a re-evangelization can assure the growth of a clear and deep faith, and serve to make these traditions a force for authentic freedom" (Ibid.). Acknowledging different cultures, Pope Benedict XVI concluded: "This variety of situations demands careful discernment; to speak of a 'new evangelization' does not in fact mean that a single formula should be developed that would hold the same for all circumstances….Indeed we cannot forget that the first task will always be to make ourselves docile to the freely given action of the Spirit of the Risen One who accompanies all who are heralds of the Gospel and opens the hearts of those who listen….Likewise, at the root of all evangelization lies not a human plan of expansion, but rather the desire to share the inestimable gift that God has wished to give us, making us sharers in his own life" (Ibid.).

Mary, the Mother of God, has only one desire: to lead us to Jesus, to help us love her Divine Son. She points to Jesus Christ as the One Savior of the world, urging us who already believe in Him to deepen our faith, hope and love and inviting those fallen away, those unchurched, those seeking truth and love, to come to Him, Who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life." Keeping our eyes on her and heeding her message, we respond to our Holy Father's invitation to make the new evangelization our daily focus and mission.

I turn now to you, Mother Abbess and Poor Clare Sisters. Your prayer and penance every day is such a rich powerhouse of strength for each one of us and for all of us together who form this diocesan Church of Arlington as well as for the entire Universal Church. I invite you today to make "the new evangelization" and our participation as a diocesan family in it a specific focus for your daily prayer and penance. Please pray and do penance that the people of God here in this diocese be re-evangelized in terms of the family, the parish, the school, the neighborhood, and the local community. Please pray and do penance as well for our priests, deacons and the deacon-candidates to be ordained on January 15, consecrated religious, seminarians, and all the lay faithful, asking the Lord to make them powerful, yet persuasive heralds of the "new evangelization."

Your charism has the power to convert us, to inspire us, and to lead us to Jesus Christ. Why? Because - to echo Pope Benedict XVI in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini - in your form of contemplative life, your specific charism is "to devote a great part of [your] day to imitating the Mother of God, who diligently pondered the words and deeds of her Son (cf. Lk 2: 19, 51)…." The Pope continued, "I think in particular of monks and cloistered nuns," - you, dear Mother Abbess and Sisters, are part of this particular group - "who by virtue of their separation from the world are all the more closely united with Christ, the heart of the world. More than ever, the Church needs the witness of men and women resolved to 'put nothing before the love of Christ' [279]" (Ibid.).

On December 8, after he prayed before the statue of Mary in the Piazza di Spagna, the square near the Spanish steps in Rome, our Holy Father spoke of Mary and her "message." He said: "And what does Mary say? She speaks to us with the Word of God who was made flesh in her womb. Her 'message' is nothing other than Jesus, the One who is the whole of her life…" (Papal Address. December 8, 2010).

There it is: her message: "Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. Do whatever my Son tells you.…" Her message sums up the core of the New Evangelization. Dear Mother Abbess and Sisters, this year, by your prayer and penance, help us to listen to what Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization is telling us. Help us to surrender ourselves to her Divine Son, the One Savior of the world. Help us to be heralds of the new evangelization, to proclaim to everyone that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, Who dwells among us to show us the way back home - to eternal life which is the inheritance He wills for us if only we let Him save us! "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011