It’s fitting that we celebrate January 1st as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. In her essay The Mystery of Christmas, the philosopher and Carmelite nun St. Edith Stein writes that “[t]he kingdom of God on earth began when the Blessed Virgin pronounced ‘fiat,’ and she was its first servant.” Who better to honor on this day of new beginnings than the one in whom Creation itself found its new beginning?
One of the ways we ‘start over’ on this day is with New Year’s Resolutions. We make all kinds of plans to better ourselves in the year ahead: to eat better, to quit smoking, to spend more time with our families. Gyms get famously crowded in January. Whether or not we persevere in our resolutions, this drive for self-improvement is a healthy thing. In fact, Aristotle argues that we can’t even have complete moral lives without this rightly ordered love of self: if you want to be good to the people around you, then you’ll want to be the best version of yourself that you can be.
Of course, there’s a subtle danger that comes with self-improvement, too. In the Rule of St. Augustine, the basic outline of Dominican community life, we’re warned that pride is the most insidious of vices because—unlike vices like gluttony, lust, and wrath—pride can corrupt us even through our good actions. When we manage to eat better, quit smoking, or spend that time with our families, it’s easy to get so pleased with ourselves that we forget that we’re still sinners in need of God’s mercy. We can also easily get attached to the praise that others will have for our newer, better selves.
The worst possible response to this danger, however, is to give up doing objectively good things altogether. Instead, we can look again to the Mother of God. The great Third Order Dominican priest St. Louis Marie de Montfort taught that we can dedicate everything we do to Jesus through Mary. Our actions may be tainted by pride, but Mary is perfectly humble. When we surrender the value of all our good deeds to her, then it’s that much harder to fool ourselves into thinking that we can earn God’s favor. Instead, we look to our Blessed Mother’s example in abandoning herself to God’s own radical generosity.
So, whatever your resolutions are in this coming year, don’t let January 1st be the last day that you ask the Mother of God for help!
Br. Philip Neri Gerlomes, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE