16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
St. Ambrose. Esteem not the words of the shepherds as mean and despicable. For from the shepherds Mary increases her faith, as it follows: Mary kept all these sayings, and pondered them in her heart. Let us learn the chastity of the sacred Virgin in all things, who no less chaste in her words than in her body, gathered up in her heart the materials of faith.
Dr. Brant Pitre, in his commentaries, has noted that the idea that shepherds were especially despised has been overblown. Shepherds are rather prominent in the Old Testament, from Abraham, Moses, and King David. I can easily see how they had been looked down by others higher on the cultural food chain. Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. Still, the lowliness of these witnesses to the Incarnation is an important theme in the birth of the Messiah. A king who came to us pre-announced, but in a shockingly humble and hidden way. This would not be the script that we would write.
From the Navarre commentary on the Gospel of Luke:
The birth of the Saviour Messiah is the key event in the history of mankind, but God wanted it to take place so quietly that the world went about its business as if nothing had happened. The only people he tells about it are a few shepherds. It was also to a shepherd, Abraham, that God gave his promise to save mankind.
Mary treasuring and pondering the news from the Shepherds combined with her own experience with God is such a rich vein to mine.
Peter Kreeft puts it well in his commentary:
Mary is mentioned three times in this passage, and there is something we can learn from all three things that are said about her.
First, she is simply there, at the manger, with Joseph and baby Jesus. She does not go to the shepherds; they come to her, and so do the three wise men, later. Men move around the circumference; a woman is at the center of the circle.
Second, she “kept all these things” that had happened and “reflected on them in her heart.” The older translation says she “pondered” them in her heart. It’s a kind of praying.
Third, she and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be circumcised eight days after he was born, as the Mosaic Law commanded, and they named him “Jesus” in obedience to the angel’s command to Joseph. Both the circumcising and the naming were instances of obeying: obeying God’s Mosaic Law and obeying God’s angel.
So we have Mary staying, praying, and obeying.
What does “pondering” add to “thinking”? Depth. And patience. Most of the most important things in life take time and patience to understand, like the three most important choices we make: what God to believe in and what person to marry and what career to work at. Patience is necessary especially with people: you can’t understand other people, or even yourself, without patience and experience. It’s not like math or technology, with formulas and machines that give you instant answers. In all the most important areas of life, truth comes gradually, like the tides, or the sunrise, not instantly, as it does when you just press a key or flip a switch or solve a math problem.
This example of pondering and treasuring should be the necessary part of everyone’s life who desires to be a disciple of Christ. How often do we treasure what God has worked on in our lives and pondered his word? It is one thing to have knowledge of Christ, but to contemplate this and to bring our lives into conformity is another thing. I often fail miserably at integrating what I know into my life, still grasping at that pearl of great price and falling in awe to my knees.
Mary contemplates Jesus’ birth and childhood, not from a distance, but as a participant in the mystery (1:35, 43; 2:51).
Dr. Brant Pitre explains:
The Greek word syntēréō literally means to “treasure up” (Luke 2:19). It is from the idea of putting money into a treasury. So she’s taking the words of the shepherd and she’s treasuring them up in her heart, she is storing them up inside of her interiorly, in her heart and in her mind.
This Gospel passage ends with the circumcision and the naming of Jesus.
Dr. Brant Pitre explains why this passage was selected for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and also why the first reading was selected.
So the first reason that this passage is on this particular day, is that January 1st is the eighth day after the birth of Christ. It is the octave, so to speak, within the season of Christmas and, in fact, in earlier times, before the Second Vatican Council, January 1st was actually the Feast of the Circumcision and the Naming of Jesus.
… I think, not a coincidence that the new year—because this feast always falls on January 1st—opens with a blessing. It opens with the blessing of the people of God. So the very first reading for the beginning of the new year is that the Lord would bless his people.
From the Catena Aurea:
St. Epiphanius. Christ was circumcised for several reasons. First indeed to shew the reality of His flesh, in opposition to Manichæus f and those who say that He came forth in appearance only. Secondly, that He might prove that His body was not of the same substance with the Deity, according to Apollinaris, and that it descended not from heaven, as Valentinian said. Thirdly, to add a confirmation to circumcision which He had of old instituted to wait His coming. Lastly, to leave no excuse to the Jews. For had He not been circumcised, they might have objected that they could not receive Christ uncircumcised.
St. Bede. He was circumcised also that He might enjoin upon us by His example the virtue of obedience, and might take compassion on them who being placed under the law, were unable to bear the burdens of the law, to the end that He who came in the likeness of sinful flesh might not reject the remedy with which sinful flesh was wont to be healed. For circumcision brought in the law the same assistance of a saving cure to the wound of original sin which Baptism does in the time of the grace of revelation, except that as yet the circumcised could not enter the gates of the heavenly kingdom, but comforted after death with a blessed rest in Abraham’s bosom, they waited with a joyful hope for their entrance into eternal peace.
Finishing with a paragraph from the Catechism:
495 Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus,” Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord.” In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos)
- Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers, Volume 3: St. Luke – Verbum
- Navarre, Saint Luke’s Gospel (2005)
- The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible꞉ The New Testament
- Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul: Reflections on the Mass Readings Year A
- Catholic Productions, Commentaries by Brant Pitre
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition
- Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
- St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, A.D. 374. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke (J. H. Newman, Ed.; Vol. 3, pp. 74–75). ↩
- Navarre, Saint Luke’s Gospel (2005) ↩
- Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul: Reflections on the Mass Readings Year A, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God ↩
- ibid ↩
- Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament ↩
- Catholic Productions, Brant Pitre, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God ↩
- ibid. ↩
- St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, A.D. 367. (ubi sup.) Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke (J. H. Newman, Ed.; Vol. 3, pp. 74–75). ↩
- St. Bede, Venerable, Presbyter and Monk of Yarrow, A.D. 700. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke (J. H. Newman, Ed.; Vol. 3, pp. 74–75). ↩
- Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed). United States Catholic Conference.
– Photo by Ben White on Unsplash ↩