Dec 31, 2016

New Year Day - Mary Mother of God, the contemplative

"The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!"

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

By long tradition we all generally usher in the New Year with a party.  While it may be hundreds of  thousands gathered outside Times Square in New York or by the Harbor in Sydney, Australia or in the privacy of your home with family and friends, some sort of celebration is held in order to mark the beginning of a new year.  Like any new year, we are filled with many hopes and perhaps even some resolutions that we are determined to carry out – at least for the first week of the year.

This Sunday, in our New Year liturgy, the Church offers us the image of Mary’s maternal experience: mother of Jesus and thereby Mother of God.  While that theological description of Mary’s vocation came several centuries later in the Church, it certainly deserves some sort of celebration as well. 

However, to really begin this new year well our first reading from the Book of Numbers provides a beautiful way to mark 2017 – with a blessing: “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 better way to turn the first page of our calendar than with the wish of a blessing.  In spite of all the violence the world over, the tragedy of human suffering around us, our contentious political battle, and the many family concerns we all have to some degree, we begin the new year with a blessing.  Mary’s example in our Gospel provides a further image of what that blessing may entail. 

The shepherds quickly hike to the spot they had been told by the singing angels to find Mary and Joseph and a new born child who lies in a manger.  While they spread the news to many others of their angelic experience and their own amazement, Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary was blessed as the angel Gabriel reminded her but the mystery remained.

Surely there was surprise on the part of Joseph and Mary when the unexpected visitors arrived from the fields – maybe even some fear – but they somehow knew that it was all in the plan of these strange events.  Time for a party?  It seems Mary’s reaction was far more meaningful – she reflected, pondered, tried to put all this together with meaning.

So Mary is seen essentially in our Gospels as a kind of contemplative in action.  She pondered what the greeting of the angel meant; she reflected on the strange events around the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem; she wondered why Jesus had left the safety of his parents in Jerusalem to remain in the Temple and even more the meaning of his response; when wine ran out at the Cana wedding she goes to Jesus with this problem; and likely at the horrific death of her son on the cross she reflected on all that had happened and wondered why such a tragic end was necessary. 

The message is not that Mary ever gave up or was discouraged but in her moments of reflection but she attempted to put it all together; to kind of connect the dots and understand what God’s intention was for her son and for her. What does this all mean and what is God’s intent in the grand scheme of things? Later titles given to her such as the Immaculate Conception and much earlier, the Mother of God, were likely farthest from her thoughts.  Rather, she simply carried on and carried out God’s will.   

While Mary’s words are few throughout the Gospel, Joseph remains silent.  As the angelic appearances and messages are active in the early years for Joseph we can assume that he shared these with Mary and both tried to make sense of all the events.  In the end it was their faith which continued to be strengthened and the Gospel of Luke in particular is reliable for the implications of Mary’s image as a kind of active/contemplative. 

To be a mother or father is an incredible and holy responsibility but in the case of Mary it was exponentially all the more essential that she remains open to all the events through which God continued to act.  It was her faithfulness and her humility that provided fertile ground where God could work.

As we begin this new year, the words of our blessing imply not only what Mary experienced but also what we might be open to with humility and faith.  “The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you” is not only beautiful poetry but a wish that we may also grow in deeper faith this coming year.  “The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace,” is a wish for reconciliation between ourselves and others and with God.  Maybe this new year is a time for us to make peace, to return to the regular practice of our faith, to participate more consistently in Sunday worship with our community our spiritual brothers and sisters.  We can find the peace that Mary experienced because she clearly had put aside her own desires and embraced fully God’s will for her life. 

So, faith, humility, trust, some measure of personal reflection on my spiritual life, and perseverance knowing that God is ultimately Lord of our lives.  This might be a very good formula – a kind of new year resolution – that will bring us much good in the year ahead. 

Peace and a Happy New Year!

O God, who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary
bestowed on the human race
the grace of eternal salvation,
grant, we pray, 
that we may experience the intercession of her,
through whom we were found worthy
to receive the author of life, 
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the HOly Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.

(Opening Prayer for Mass)