MARY MOTHER OF GOD - January 1, 2021

Numbers 6: 22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 16-21

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

It is New Year’s Day, and aren’t we glad 2020 is over! I want to take my 2020 calendar out back and burn it. I won’t though, I don’t want to add more pollution to the air. But still, I would love to burn that calendar and put 2020 behind me. Good riddance!

But I cannot dismiss this past year so easily because there is so much of 2020 that is bleeding over into the new one: the virus is still plaguing us; our emergency rooms are overflowing; so many continue to lose loved ones they can be with in their last hours; businesses and jobs have been lost and still so many are waiting for our vaccine – to say nothing of the devastated populations in poor countries who will have to wait even longer.

As we wish one another, "Happy New Year" it sounds less like a wish and more like a plea to God. "Oh God! Make it a happy new year for all our children and comfort our grief." From our first reading we pray the blessing prayed over the Israelites and us today: "The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!" What’s more, we pray we might be an instrument God uses to put flesh and blood on the blessing, so that others will experience God blessing them because of our presence in their lives.

Today is the solemnity of "Mary, Mother of God." Our church’s veneration of Mary goes back to our beginnings. At Christmas we celebrate the Word of God made flesh. Today we celebrate God blessing us through Mary, who was the means by which that Word took flesh among us. Through Mary we came to experience the Numbers’ blessing, for in Christ, her son, God’s face shines on us; is gracious to us and gives us peace. The blessing has been made flesh for us through Mary’s response to God.

The shepherds responded obediently to the message they heard from the angels (Luke 2: 15-20). They went in haste to Bethlehem to, "see this event that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us" (2:15). But the focus of the gospel reading is less on the shepherds and more on Mary, who listens to the message the angels gave the shepherds about her son. May reflects on what she heard "in her heart."

Mary’s manner suggests a new year’s resolution for us today. Many of us make resolutions about eating less, exercising more, stopping smoking, etc. All well and good. But we who worship have another resolution to make as we observe Mary’s way in the gospel today. We can use her as our model: she is one who pays attention to what she hears and reflects things over in her heart. She demonstrates throughout Luke’s gospel a docility to the Word. She is the model believer who hears the Word of God and acts on it. In the light of today’s gospel passage I might resolve that: throughout this new year I will practice being a better listener. I will allow myself more time to reflect and respond with deliberation to the events of my life. My first listening post will be the scriptures themselves, determined to go to them for spiritual nourishment, communion with God and direction for my life.

Listening to today’s gospel text I note that Mary pondered a message she heard from lowly shepherds. In those times shepherds were considered ritually unclean and their testimony was suspect in a court of law. The reputation and ill regard her contemporaries had for shepherds did not stop Mary from paying attention to them and seriously reflecting on their message. She was a listener to the voices of the lowly and there she heard good news. We never know how and through whom God might speak to us in our daily lives.

Sometimes God speaks a word and the message through: the response of an angry child; the encouragement of a sympathetic friend; the consolation of one who sits with us in our grief; the vivid images on the evening news; the preaching of our least favorite preacher; the results of a statistical survey; a photograph at an exhibit. For example, during the Depression in this country photographers were hired and sent to document poverty in the land. The pictures they brought back deeply touched the nation and its leaders and helped promote social legislation to help the poor, unemployed and elderly. People heard a "word" in those images of unemployed people, hungry children and strained families. They pondered what they "heard" and they responded by trying to alleviate the pain through legislation. It was far from perfect, or adequate, but the "social net" has helped countless needy people keep from sinking.

A good new year’s resolution: to try to be a better listener, regardless of the one or group who is speaking; to give what we hear a serious "pondering" by not jumping too quickly to our usual conclusions. Then, to pray for the wisdom to know how to respond to what we hear. There’s more, but you get the idea.

If we were better listeners we would experience that Jesus continues to be born in our midst. We would experience the same reaction as those who first heard the message from the shepherds: we too would be "amazed." Amazed to hear the good news God still proclaims to us in the very midst of our busy and diverse lives. A closer listening to that Word in daily life would reveal God’s blessing us: encouraging us in the good we try to do for others, despite the naysayers; speaking words of forgiveness for our sins; healing us of past hurts and current brokenness.

There is a lot else our ears are exposed to – at work, school, home, the media and all the other places that make up our days. No much that we hear builds us up, heals, or strengthens us. All is not God’s Word, no matter how hard we listen. That is why we need to give a disciplined hearing to the scriptural word. It will serve as our lens to help us discover and focus on God’s speaking in the many other ways God does. Those who practice a prayerful listening to the Word, a "Lectio Divina," will do as Mary teaches us today: listen to the Word and ponder it in our hearts. The more we develop the ears of our heart, the more we will recognize and celebrate the daily incarnations of the Word. For God still takes flesh in our world in many and diverse ways.

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