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Bishop Welcomes the New Year with a Call to Follow the Example of the Shepherds

Wishing those gathered a blessed and happy New Year, Bishop Robert Deeley marked the start of 2018 by celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.  On January 1, the Church observes the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, a celebration of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus and of the role she played in God’s plan for our salvation.

“In a particular way, we focus our attention today on Mary, the Mother of God. It is another reminder of the humanity and the humility of Jesus,” the bishop said. “He wanted to live among us. He came as a child. Mary was his mother. What could be more human? God is with us. We are blessed.”

The bishop noted that attending Mass is a good way to start the new year, because, as we look ahead, it is a reminder that God will always be with us in Jesus Christ.

“Two thousand eighteen begins today. We put the old behind us, and we look forward to the new with anticipation and expectation, hoping that the year will bring us and our families blessing and joy. We begin our year in a very good place, here in church, where we remind ourselves that our God cares for us and watches over us,” the bishop said.

In his homily, the bishop recalled his visit to the Holy Land last spring, when he had the opportunity to spend time in Bethlehem, visiting the chapel built over the spot where it is believed Jesus was born, as well as the Milk Church, a place where tradition holds that Mary and Joseph hid from Herod, and then traveling a few miles to the fields where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the shepherds.

“Experiencing Bethlehem in this way was, for me, a good reminder of the gift that is Christmas. Jesus is God with us. He came among us, humbly, so that he might show us the face of God. His human nature is a call to draw closer and to know him better. Jesus comes among us to show us God’s love for us and to ask us to bring that love to others,” the bishop said.

The bishop pointed to the shepherds, who were the first to share the good news of Jesus’ birth, as examples for us to follow.

“The message of the angels became the message of the shepherds,” the bishop said. “They don’t just go to observe for themselves and then go back to keeping their flock. In fact, they do return to their work, but they go back changed. What is different? They go back announcing what they had seen and heard. In the midst of continuing their work, they give glory to God.”

The bishop said we are called to do the same.

 “As we begin a new year, we might follow their example. We encounter Jesus Christ, but like the shepherds, we can’t see that as something only for ourselves. We enter into the responsibilities of our vocations -- whether that is shepherding, accounting, nursing, or parenting -- with the good news of the coming of Christ and then share that with those around us.  May we follow the witness of the shepherds and go back to our daily lives, witnessing within our daily work what we have seen and heard and how God, in Jesus Christ, has worked in our lives,” Bishop Deeley said.    

The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, is the oldest Marian feast celebrated by the Church.  Its origins can be traced to the Council of Ephesus in 431.  In the 13th century, it was replaced by the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, but in the 18th century, Portugal received permission for a feast day in May to celebrate Mary’s divine maternity.  Other countries soon followed, and in 1914, the feast was moved to October. In 1931, Pope Pius XI extended the celebration to the Universal Church, and in 1974, following Vatican II, Pope Paul VI removed the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ from the liturgical calendar and returned the Solemnity of Mary to the first day of the year, saying that celebrating it in the Christmas season “offers an excellent opportunity to renew the adoration rightfully to be shown to the newborn Prince of Peace” (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, Feb. 2, 1974, no.5).

Because the solemnity falls on the octave of Christmas, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception remained adorned for the holiday, with a manger scene, Christmas trees, wreaths, and poinsettias.  The Church’s celebration of the Christmas season continues until January 8, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.