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MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD – January 01, 2017

A reading from the Book of Numbers 6:22-27
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 4:4-7
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 2:16-21

The feast we celebrate on this Sunday that also happens to be the first day of the New Year, 2017 has had several titles.  Some might remember when January 1 was the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, so called because Jewish Law prescribed that male babies undergo the operation eight days after their birth.  It was also the day they were named.  Then January 1 could be celebrated as the World Day of Peace.  Today it is the Feast of Mary, the Mother of the Lord.  All three titles are appropriate.  The Liturgy of the Word puts all three ideas before us for our contemplation.  In these troubled times the Word should bring us comfort and strengthen our hope.

The first reading from the Book of Numbers is an ancient prayer of blessing.  Most Jews would know the blessing by heart, having heard it invoked so often in the synagogue services.  Fathers would bless their families with these words and perhaps conclude each day with the blessing.  Jesus, as he grew in age and grace and wisdom, heard the blessing that three times invoked the Holy One with reverence and awe.  May the Holy One wrap those blessed in God’s presence with love, sustain them in splendid countenance of God’s gaze, and fill them with serenity and peace.

To invoke this blessing is to fulfill God’s will when the Lord commanded Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons how they were to bless the Israelites.  The point is, God wants the Israelites to be conscious of the presence and the love that should see them through good times and difficult times, sustain them in the worst of times with the knowledge that nothing will separate them from God’s enveloping love.

Jesus grew in the consciousness that he lived always in the Father’s presence.  Sent by God, his desire was always to do his Father’s will.  With his last breath in this world, Jesus would commend his spirit into the Father’s hands.  That is the fulfillment of the blessing.

Mary was conscious of the blessing’s meaning.  And so she had the strength to say ‘yes’ to Gabriel’s announcement.  And the Word became flesh in her womb.

Consider committing the blessing to memory.  You will be able to use it in various situations with those you love.  What a wonderful way to pray over your children as you put them to bed at day’s end.  What a wonderful way to pray over your son or daughter as you r child leaves home for university or military service.  What a wonderful way to pray over someone as you keep the final vigil and usher your loved one into glory.

Now let Paul’s words that summarize our core beliefs wash over you.  This magnificent reading reminds us of the transformation of creation that happened because Jesus Christ is born of Mary.  Jesus came into the world in the fullness of time as a result of God’s sending and was born into the human condition, subject to the Law and destined to redeem those under the Law.  That is the meaning of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.  In turn Jesus breathed his Spirit on us in our Baptisms and transformed us through our adoption as sons and daughters of God.  Sin caused the breach.  The Incarnation reconciled and united God and humans.  Notice the word Paul said we should use in crying out to God.  Abba.  The text translates Abba as Father.  More literally, the translation would be Daddy.  Less formal than Father, Daddy inspires the confidence that a little one has in reaching out to father, unable as yet to use the word, Father.  And, implied is the fact that God responds in kind.  In Christ we are no longer slaves.  We are sons and daughters and therefore heirs to the Kingdom.

When we were baptized, we entered the waters described both as tomb and womb.  When the waters were poured over us or we were immersed in the waters, we died there to all that was of sin and opposed to God.  We came out of the waters, born to a new life, clothed in Christ.  The white robe we were clothed in then symbolized that rebirth.  Abba!  God is our Father, our Daddy, our Papa.  Embraced by our Papa forever, what is there to fear?

I think of the horrors in the Christmas Market in Berlin and the devastation in Aleppo and loss of lives.  I think of the two-year-old child shot to death in his grandmother’s car in an incident of road rage.  As we begin this year there are so many incidents of hatred and division that make some wonder if the divisions can ever be healed.  Cling to the belief that Abba embraces us all as God’s beloved and let that love motivate who and what we are in the market place.

We come to the Gospel.  The shepherds, despised by the Jews as inferior and unclean, yet the first to hear the News, have made haste to see the sign spoken of by the angels that would confirm the Good News of great joy, the birth of the one who is Christ the Lord.  The sign?  An infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  The shepherds take in the sign and rejoice at what has begun.

Mary stores all that is happening in her heart where she will to process and ponder the marvels God is accomplishing because she said to the angel, let it be done to me according to your word.

Mary is the ark of the New Covenant.  She carried in he womb the Living Word made flesh.  The Son born of her and lying in the manger will bring about the new and eternal Covenant with God.  She is the Mother of the Church, the Body of Christ.  On this day we gather with the shepherds and honor Mary, singing her praises and rejoicing because she is our mother as well.

The Blood of the Lamb saves Mary in the same way that every member of the human family is saved.  The church proclaims that Mary, who bore in her womb the Word Incarnate, was preserved from sin from the first moment of her existence in anticipation of her son’s dying and rising.  Death and sin have an inextricable link.  Mary will not have to die because she never knew sin.  That mystery is the Immaculate Conception.  When her life runs its course, Mary will repose in dormition and she will transition into glory.  She will experience the full consequences of her son’s redemptive act and of her having said yes to God’s will in her life.

We rejoice and celebrate because there is hope in the mystery for all of us who have died with Christ in Baptism and been raised to live in union with Christ.  Our bodies may die for a time.  We believe that t the end of time, our bodies will be raised and body and spirit, we, too, like Mary, shall live with Christ in glory.

Mary is the model of discipleship.  We who believe in Christ are called to live the will of the Lord in our lives, to learn from Mary’s example, to learn through our desire to imitate Christ, and so always say yes the way Mary did and the way Jesus did.  My desire is to do the will of (the Father) who sent me.

There is much for us to ponder on this first day of the New Year.  We will not exhaust the implications before we transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Conscious that Mary’s Son lives in and unites us, we ought to be prepared to let go and enter into Mystery.  As co-celebrants of the Eucharist we will experience that presence uniting us as the Body of Christ.  Humbled by the magnitude of God’s love and the wonder of the invitation, we will take and eat; we will take and drink.  And we will be sent.

Strengthened by the meal we have shared, we will continue to find ways to minister, to serve the little ones, and to bring peace to the anxious and comfort to the dying.

With Mary, we will say yes to God’s will working in our lives.  Together we can live in hope.  Abba embraces us in love now and lives in us.  Imagine what it will be like when the full glory is revealed if we have loved even as we are loved.

Amen.  May it be so.





God rest ye, Merry Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!  Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.  The carol might offend some today because of its sexist language.  Too bad there is no mention of merry gentlewomen.  Aside from that, the first time I hear the carol during the pre-Christmas season, I pause and reflect and wonder if people listen to the lyrics and get the message.  I was stopped once, waiting for the light to turn from red to green, when the carol sounded from my car radio.  A disabled person in a powered wheelchair crossed the street in front of me.  As he passed before my car, he paused, smiled, and waved at me before continuing on his way.  I waved back as I heard the words: Let nothing you dismay.  Nothing will, my friend, I thought, if you and the rest of us remember and believe as you obviously do.

Think about the word, dismay.  According to my dictionary, the transitive voice of the verb means, to cause sudden loss of courage or resolution from alarm or fear.  As has been the case for quite some time now, the news has been filled with stories that could fill with dismay even the stoutest heart.  There are reports of bigotry and bullying in grade and high schools.  Racial profiling and talk of building walls, deporting undocumented aliens, charting Muslims, and limiting their entry into this country, and the increased angst stemming from the widening chasm separating the classes in our society.  Domestic violence and the number of children being abused and killed by their parents, violence in the streets, the list goes one and on.  And we haven’t mentioned the wars and suicide bombings, and the children buried in the rubble.

Yet, the carol urges us to rest in God, be merry, and banish dismay.

There are those who think that the evening news and newspapers in general should be avoided during the weeks prior to Christmas and during the Christmas Season.  After all, negative stories kill the Christmas spirit.  Perhaps.  However, pretending that everything is fine while ignoring the plight of many of our brothers and sisters will not bring us into the real spirit of Christmas either.  The true spirit of Christmas is a defiant one that refuses to allow even the darkest night to overcome those who believe.  We must not forget that it may have been a starry night that we celebrate, but that would have been all that was right about it.

Using the Gospel imagery, we hear that abject poverty forced the young couple to take up temporary residence in a cave, a place not meant for human habitation.  The ox and ass that are part of crèches should serve to remind the onlooker that this wasn’t really the most appropriate site for birthing a baby.

We need to look deeper at the symbolism attached to the manger that is the Baby’s crib.  The manger is a feed trough, meant to hold the food to be consumed by the animals.  The wood of the manger speaks to the wood from which this Baby, when he reaches adulthood, will hang in crucifixion, having given himself over to be consumed body and blood by those who gathered at his table the night before.

The Shepherds, idealized by Rembrandt and other artists, ought to encourage the lowliest among us when we remember that they were in fact considered to be on the bottom rung of society, their company to be avoided, even shunned.  They were an unpleasant lot for the most part; yet typical of those with whom Jesus would come to practice table fellowship.  An accusation against the adult Jesus will be: This man welcomes (tax collectors, prostitutes and) sinners and eats with them.  The shepherds, having followed the directions of the heavenly visitors and found the Baby and Mary and Joseph, will look at the child and believe.  They will go out rejoicing and announce the Good News that now there is hope even for the likes of them.

What is the point of this demythologizing?  The romantic pastel scenes may well get in the way of the power of the message meant to be proclaimed this day and meant to give us reason to hope.  Everything in the Christmas Gospel narrative proclaims God’s infinite love for human kind, broken and sin-touched though we are.  God desires to embrace humanity and draw us into the community that is God.    God so loved the world that God sent the only begotten son.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Our God is not distant, aloof, nor remote, contrary to what those who emphasize God’s transcendence, practically to the exclusion of God’s immanence, would have the faithful believe.  It is not in earthly splendor that God comes, but as a vulnerable child, meek and humble.  Our God is a god who serves.

In whatever difficult situation people might find themselves, Christmas reminds them and us that this is what God has taken upon himself in the union between the human and divine that is Jesus.  The Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh.  The union between the Divine and the human is forever.  There will always be reason to hope.

Christ’s coming into the world is a source of consolation for those who feel lost and abandoned.  The dying and rising of Jesus that we renew in every Christmas Liturgy reminds those who mourn and those nearing death, that death has been conquered.  Life will prevail.  The infant in the manger challenges us all to be sharers, to be willing to give what we have so that all might have something of the essentials of life.

The word Socialism has been cast about with abandon as a criticism of some of the proposed socio-economic reforms Pope Francis is asking the people of God to embrace.  He calls for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  He challenges the shepherds in the church to walk in the mud and be among the flock, knowing them and their needs.  He challenges them to be like the Good Shepherd and go out in search of those abandoned and made to feel unwelcome at the Table.   He has just announced that all priests may absolve the sin of abortion.  The pope urges all of us to recognize that we are all vulnerable, all one family, all sisters and brothers in this family of God.

The Infant confronts people of Christian faith.  In accepting Christ’s birth we must accept the reality of community and communal responsibility that Christ brings.  Before the 5,000 could be fed, remember, Jesus challenged the apostles: You give them something to eat.  A loose translation would have Jesus saying: It is your responsibility.  You do something about the problem.  You give them something to eat, even from the little that you have.  The amazing thing is how much there is when we trust and offer the little we have.  The command is to love.

Do not miss, then, that there are Eucharistic implications for the manger being the Baby’s first resting place.

It is traditional for us to wish each other Peace at Christmas.  A definition of peace that I cling to is this: Peace is the confident assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ.  In the midst of great suffering and turmoil there can still be peace if we remember that Christ conquered all that threatens us.  Christ will never let us be defeated forever.  God loves us in Christ now as if each of us were the only being in the universe.  God will love us for all eternity in that forever now that is the face-to-face vision of God.  That is the way God loves Christ.  That is the way God loves us in Christ and Christ in us.

As you are loved, love the little ones that others might not notice – the poor, the insignificant, the disabled, the aged, and all other classes of those vulnerable and easily marginalized.  Live the Gospel that would have us end sexism, racism, homophobia, and any other classification that would justify discrimination, bullying and abuse.  Better yet, consider yourself one of them, especially one of those you might be inclined to despise.  A word for that is compassion.  When you do, you will know God and him whom God has sent, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate and whose coming again in Glory we eagerly await.

Know that it will happen.  It is in Christ that we live and move and have our being.  Our peace comes from knowing that on the last day we will rise with him.  And all things warped by humankind’s inhumanity to their own kind will be restored and made right again.

Do not be dismayed.  Ever.  I wish you peace.




Do you remember the Christmas carol that sang: We need a little Christmas, just a little Christmas?  That may well be true this year as it is every year; but it seems to me that this year what we need is Advent, and not just a little Advent?  We need to be challenged by Advent and dare to live its message.

This year has been difficult to slog through.  For many of us there have been too few signs to elicit hope.  Angry and disenfranchised people seek validation, even as the vitriol invites the recognition of divisions, to shun, and for some the denial of basic human rights this country professes to stand for.  Do you ever hear the Statue of Liberty’s motto quoted, much less proclaimed?  Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Send these the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.  I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.  That may well have been true when our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents came to these shores from other lands.  The message we hear more today is one of evicting some and barring entry for others.

We are becoming an increasingly class-conscious society, a society of haves and have-nots.  The majority of the wealth is in the hands of fewer and fewer.  And the poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough.  And if they don’t work hard enough, they don’t deserve a larger share.

In one of our major cities, there have been 4183 shooting victims so far this year.  There may not be very many communities that can say they have had none.  Add to that the incidents of domestic violence and road rage.  There are not many who would say that these are the best of times.

The wars continue with horrific images of children battered and bruised having been rescued from rubble, in many cases the individual survivors of families killed by suicide bombers and strategic strafings.

We need Advent this year.   We need to embrace what Advent proclaims and accept the challenge.

Advent leads us to a celebration of the Incarnation, the union of the Divine and the Human in Jesus and in all humankind.  The event happened in an historical moment and altered mere humans forever.  There is no separation between the Divine and the human.  Humanity is drawn into the community that is the Tri-Une God.  The reality applies to all humans, in every land and nation, of every race and both genders, and sexual orientations.  God loves what God creates with a love that is unconditional and eternal.  Flawed as we are, God’s love prevails.  The human race is one family of God.

We need to accept the challenge of Advent.  In this season we look forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God when Christ returns in Glory.  The challenge for us is to be ambassadors of that Kingdom.  John, the Baptist, was one who pointed the way to the emerging Jesus, the one he knew to be the Messiah.  But then John, who had known his moment of celebrity to the point that some thought he might be the Messiah, was arrested and imprisoned.  And he wondered.  He sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if he were the one, or should they look for another.  And Jesus told them to go and tell John what you see – all the signs of healing, and preaching, and embracing the poor, the outcasts and the sinners, tell John about what you see and he will know and believe.

As challenging as these times are, as much as they could send terror and even despair into the human heart, we who have heard the Good News and who believe must continue to be that sign of the coming Kingdom in the World.  Remember, we, as members of the church, are the Body of Christ.  As church, our message is that all are welcome here.  At the end of our transforming Liturgy, having celebrated Eucharist and shared the meal, we are sent as the Body of Christ to minister in the market place.  We are to be bread that is broken and cup that is poured out.  Our challenge is to put the poor in primacy of place and to minister to them.  That means, also, to honor them and to recognize their dignity.

I had a reunion with a friend I had not seen for many years.  We spent time over coffee catching up.  Our friendship goes back decades.  It became clear to me that we were avoiding talking about church, so I pressed the issue.  He spoke with tears in his eyes.  “The church told me I was no longer welcome, that I am evil.  So, I’ve gone to another community that accepts me.  To tell you the truth, I was dreading our getting together for fear that you would be of that same mind.”

Over the centuries condemning and dividing at times has been a dominant message proclaimed by the church.  We burned heretics and excommunicated those who questioned church teachings.  Classes of people, like my friend, felt they were deemed unworthy of being part of the church.  That was never what Jesus preached.  His Good News welcomed all, especially the poor, yes, but also the Gentiles and those considered unclean.  God’s love comes into the world through Jesus and is meant for all people.

We need a little Advent this year.  As individuals, each of us can be John, the Baptist by living in such a way that we prepare the way for Christ for those who do not know Christ.  We assist in the reconciliation with Christ for those who thought the church considered them unworthy of being part of the Body.  And if you have been wounded by what you perceived to be a condemnation or declaration of unworthiness, and your heart is aching for reconciliation and acceptance, hear the Gospel and find the community that welcomes you and proclaims God’s unconditional and eternal love for you.

Advent is a season of expectation that culminates in the celebration of Christmas and the realization of that longing.  We live in a time of expectation for Christ’s return in glory and the full reign of the Kingdom.  In reality, it is both and, both a time of longing and of living in the fulfillment in our union with Christ.  There is tension in keeping those two phases alive in our hearts.  But if we let the Spirit lead us we can do it.

Here is a suggestion.  If there is someone you look down on, get down to that person’s level and see a brother or sister.  If it is a group or class that you despise, get to know a representative of that group and find his/her humanity.  If you have a need to forgive or be forgiven, let it happen.  By the way, it is easier to forgive if you remember your own need for forgiveness.

Each of those encounters will enable you to be John, the Baptist, in this age.  And every embrace in forgiveness and acceptance and recognition of dignity and worth hastens the day of the Kingdom we long for.  We need a little Advent this year more than ever.