Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Feast of Mary, Mother of God.
The title, “Mother of God,” was the early Christian Church’s very awkward way of proclaiming that Jesus was divine, not just human.  This feast comes to us from the Council of Ephesus in 431.  And when we look at the history of this dogma, we see that “Mother of God” was not actually the term used by the Church Fathers to describe Mary’s role in salvation history.  Rather, she was called the “God-bearer” or theotokos.  In other words, the baby she bore was both God and human.

For most of us today, however, our focus is on the New Year.  What will the New Year hold for us?  What kinds of exciting and amazing things will happen in our lives this year?  What kind of challenges will be face, and how will we be victorious in overcoming our challenges?  How will we grow and flourish?  And what kinds of dreams will come true?  The old is gone, and the new lies before us.  How incredibly exciting New Year’s dreams can be!

The focus we usually have on New Year’s Day is on change and growth, on making resolutions to become better persons.  And that is good, for the whole thrust of Jesus’ message was not only about us loving God, neighbor, and self, it was also on growing.

Examples of Jesus’ teachings about personal growth can be seen all through the Gospels.  Some of the more common ones are the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30), the parable of the barren fig tree (Matthew 21: 18-22), and the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13: 31-32).

Today, we look at the amazing and inspirational story of Susan Burton, a woman who turned her life around by serving others.  Writer John Tarnoff covered her story as part of a series he was doing on American baby Boomers.

Susan Burton is an African American woman from South Central Los Angeles.  Over a 20-year period, she was incarcerated 6 times for drug-related offenses.  Her young son died accidentally, and the system seemed to work against her at every turn.

Although she was unable to find work, housing or drug treatment, Susan was finally was able to beat the odds by becoming free from drugs.

Susan noted, “When you get locked up, you get locked out.”  Therefore, she decided to do something about it.  She got a job and saved up enough money until she was able to put $12,000 down on a house that would become the cornerstone of her organization called “A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project.”  The purpose of this organization was to help women just released from prison make a new and decent life.

Soon, Susan realized she had to make the organization a non-profit so she could raise money.  Despite little organization experience, but a whole lot of hope and determination, Susan’s project became a success in helping other women.  Soon, dozens of organizations began to partner with her, groups such as the Annenberg Foundation and Whole Foods Market.

Today, over 500 women have passed through her program, and 70% have been successful in staying out of prison.  She has also helped over 700 people get their criminal records dismissed, and she has trained over 350 workers to serve the community.

In 16 years, Susan was able to establish new houses in the South Central Los Angeles area.  Her work has enabled Susan, herself, to maintain her recovery.  Among groups that have honored Susan and her dedication are Harvard University, the NAACP, CNN’s Top Ten Heroes, and others.

Susan saw a need that was not being met.  And through her determination and dreams, she helped meet the needs of women released from prison.

When we hear such inspirational stories, we automatically ask ourselves, “And what am I doing with my life?”  Here are three things to consider.

First, as Christians, we are to grow and flourish.  We are not to be stagnant.  Like the little mustard seed that grows into a tree big enough for birds to nest in its branches, we too are to grow in wisdom, strength, and charity.

Second, it is never too late to change the course of our lives.  When we look at the Life of Christ, for example, the one person he promised salvation to was one of them who was crucified with him.  Imagine that.  The man was just minutes away from his own death, and that is when Jesus entered into the picture to insure the man of a place in paradise with him.

And third, New Year’s Day is a perfect time to make plans or resolutions for the upcoming year.  To start the process, ask yourself a couple of questions such as, “What do I want to delete from my life to become a better person?”  “What would I like to add to my life to become a better person?”  I’ve discovered the simpler the better.  It is easier and more like to happen if one choses one solid thing, rather than trying to accomplish a list of 25 life improvements.

As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on our own lives.  What are my dreams and visions for the upcoming year?  How can I become a new person in this New Year?

And that is the good news I have for you on this Feast of Mary, Mother of God, 2017.

                                                                                                                                               

Story source:  John Tarnoff, “A Woman Turns Her Life Around By Helping Others,” Huffington

Post, April 22, 2014.