On this New Year's Day, as we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and the World Day of Peace, I want to share with you these wonderful words from Henri Nouwen's Behold the Beauty of the Lord:
The icon of the Virgin of Vladmir has gradually become for me a strong yet gentle invitation to leave the compulsive and divisive milieu of the world, and to enter the liberating and uniting milieu of God... Her eyes look inward and outward at once. They look inward to the heart of God and outward to the heart of the world, thus revealing the unfathomable unity between the Creator and the creation. They see the eternal in the temporal, the lasting in the passing, the divine in the human. Her eyes gaze upon the infinite spaces of the heart where joy and sorrow are no longer contrasting emotions, but are transcended in spiritual unity.
The meaning of Mary's gaze is further accentuated by the bright stars on her forehead and shoulders (only two are visible; one is covered by the child). They not only indicate her virginity before, during, and after the birth of Jesus, but also speak of a divine presence that permeates part of her being. She is completely open to the divine Spirit, making her innermost being completely attentive to the creative power of God. Thus being mother and being virgin are no longer mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they bring each other to completion. Mary's motherhood completes her virginity, and her virginity completes her motherhood. That is why she carries in Greek the highest title that human being has ever received; Theotokos, "The Bearer of God."
Prayer to the Virgin of Vladmir, we learn that although she is not looking at us, she is truly seeing us. She sees us with the same eyes as she sees Jesus. They are the eyes which saw her Lord before she conceived him, contemplated the Word before it became flesh in her and sensed God within before she heard the angel's message. With these eyes the virgin sees the child. Her gaze is not that of a proud mother of an exceptional baby; she sees him with the faithful eyes of the Mother of God. Before seeing him with the eyes of her body, she saw him with the eyes of faith. That is why the Sacred Liturgy continues to praise Mary as the one who conceived God in her heart before she conceived God in her body.
As Mary sees Jesus, so she sees those who pray to her: not as interesting human beings worthy of her attention, but as people called away from the darkness of sin into the light of faith, called to become daughters and sons of God. It is hard for us to relinquish our worldly identity as noteworthy people and accept our spiritual identity as children of God. We so much want to be looked at that we are ill prepared to be truly seen. But the eyes of the Virgin invite us to let go of our old ways of belonging and accept the good news that we truly belong to God.
May this new year be a time of blessing for you and may you always know the protection and care of the Mother of God!
A Prayer for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God +
O God, who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary
bestowed on the human race
the grace of eternal salvation,
grant, we pray,
that we may experience the intercession of her
through whom we were found worthy
to receive the author of life,
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Won,
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)