Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Beginning With a Blessing

Happy New Year, everyone! And Happy Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. I don’t normally do this on the blog, but in the spirit of taking it easy on the feast day, I offer here my homily for today’s Mass. I’m going out to a local parish shortly to celebrate Mass there, and this is what I will be saying to them.
Meanwhile, know that you are all in my prayers for every good grace and blessing from God above to be yours this year of 2014. May peace reign and joy flourish in all our hearts this year, and may it be a year of grace so that we can grow in faith, hope, and love, so as to become the saints God made us to be, without which growth our year and our lives are without any lasting value or purpose. Anyhow, here’s my homily:
Happy New Year to you all. While the Church does not exactly celebrate the secular New Year in its liturgy – our Catholic New Year was exactly one month ago, on the First Sunday of Advent, in case you’ve forgotten! – we certainly do acknowledge it. The first reading for this Mass is all about the blessing, this beautiful prayer the Lord gave to Moses and Aaron to bless the children of Israel. It is chosen for the Mass on this day in recognition of the beginning of the New Year.
As we begin this New Year of 2014, we begin with a blessing. And this is so important. God wants to bless our life. God wants to make our life blessed. What does that mean? It means God wants to make our life beautiful. He wants us to have joy. He wants us to have peace. He wants us to be happy, ultimately. And this is so important – to actually believe this, to actually base our life on the conviction that God’s whole desire for us is to bless us, to make our life good and bring us a happiness that will last us, not only for a moment or two, but through eternity.

Of course the struggle comes in to all of our lives because we come to realize pretty quickly that God’s idea of what will make us happy is not necessarily ours. We are sure—just absolutely sure—that if only we had ‘this’ or ‘that’ or if only we could change ‘such and such’ or if only ‘that thing’ would not happen or ‘whatever’ would stop happening, we would be happy. And so of course because we don’t have this or that, we can’t change such and such and that thing happens and keeps on happening whether we like it or not… we can conclude that God doesn’t really care about us or that He really doesn’t want us to be happy. God doesn’t really love us – and this is something many people conclude, and struggle with deeply.

God has a different idea about what the road to happiness is than we do. And the whole question of faith hinges on our decision: does God know more about the subject than we do? Is God, maybe, a little smarter than we are, and is God, just maybe, more loving than we are? That is the key question of faith: can we trust this God, and so be confident that his plan for our life is ultimately to bless us, to make our life beautiful and happy?

And that is why the Church in Her deep wisdom makes this not the ‘Feast of New Years Day’ but the feast of Mary, Mother of God. As we come to this Church to dedicate the beginning of the year 2014 to God and seek his blessing on all our doings this year, the Church holds out for us the figure of the Virgin Mother of God, Mary of Nazareth, to be our guide, our model, our teacher, and our mother this year and always.

Mary is the woman of faith, the woman who believed that God’s plan for her was plan for peace and not disaster, and that she could abandon all her own thoughts and plans and hopes and ideas and simply give herself to the plans of God. And this was no easy way for her: she had to risk disgrace and humiliation and possibly death in her virginal pregnancy; we see her in this moment of peace and beauty in the stable in this Gospel today, but she and Joseph will shortly be running for their lives to Egypt.

And then the long years of ordinary life in Nazareth, about which we know very little, except that they must be like our own long years of ordinary life – and we know that’s not always so easy. 
And then her Son went away from her, and she had to surrender Him to the world. And then He died a horrible death, and she was there for all of that.

Faith, faith, and faith, all the way through. And we see her, then, simply choosing to trust God, not just once or twice, but every day. This is why Mary is so central in our faith. Jesus is the absolute and total center of our faith, but Mary shows us how to have Jesus as that center, and it is the path of faith, of surrender, of trust, and of a total acceptance of His will and His working in our life.

The line that leaps out at me in this Gospel is that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. I think much of the secret of living by faith and of receiving the blessing of God, of allowing God to make our lives beautiful and joyful, is to treasure His words and ponder them. It is so easy to forget the words of God. It is so easy to allow the noise of the world, the pressures of life, the problems and sufferings of our world, to drown out the words of God, the promises of God.

We need to treasure His Word and ponder it, hold it in our hearts and remember it. This is so crucial in our lives this year, and every year. How did Mary keep believing, keep trusting, even to the point where she could stand at the Cross of her Son and not despair: because she remembered the promises of God, and chose to believe them.

So I wish you a happy New Year, but really I wish you a Mary new Year. May we all spend this year pondering the treasure we have been given, may we keep the name of Jesus and his presence close to our minds and hearts and come into the presence continually in the sacraments. May we do all this so that God can truly bless us this year, and make our lives beautiful and joyful and make us happy according to His wisdom and plan for us this year.

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