01 January 2013

Homily - 1 January 2013

The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Dear brothers and Sisters,

Saint Francis of Assisi loved the Blessing of Aaron, which was proclaimed to us in the first reading from the Book of Numbers.  In September of 1224, Brother Leo, one of Saint Francis’ closest collaborators, found himself very much ill at ease with some sort of spiritual temptation.  He longed to ask Saint Francis, who was making a solitary retreat at the time, for a few words from Scripture to comfort him and ease his temptation.

By the grace of God, Saint Francis became aware of Brother Leo’s desire and called for him to bring paper and ink.  On one side, Saint Francis wrote his Praises of God and on the other side he wrote the Blessing of Aaron, which he concluded, “May the Lord bless you, Brother Leo.”  Saint Francis then told Brother Leo to “take this little piece of paper and safeguard it diligently until the day you die.”[1]  Upon receiving the parchment Brother Leo’s temptation immediately went away and many miracles were worked through the parchment.  To this day, it is kept in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

Saint Francis gave to Brother Leo a blessing for peace.  Do you and I not also desire the same blessing?  We know that, as Pope Benedict XVI observed in his message for this 46th World Day of Peace, “In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy, and successful human life.”[2]  Is this not why we have come today, to beg from the Lord the blessing of peace upon the New Year?

The peace for which we long is to be found where Brother Leo found peace: in the face of God; the Lord turned his face toward him and he found peace.  In the midst of these Christmas days we recall the words the Lord addressed to the Apostle Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  So it is that today we make the words of the Psalmist our own: “May he let his face shine upon us” (Psalm 67:2).  At the conclusion of the Octave of Christmas as we celebrate this  Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, we, too, wish to see the “infant lying in the manger,” to see the face of God himself (Luke 2:16).

We know that Mary welcomes us to the manger so that we may look with her in wonder upon her Holy Child who is our peace (cf. Ephesians 2:14).  She shows us her Son and urges us to open ourselves completely to him, to welcome the gift of faith he gives, and to trust in him.

 In the Child of Bethlehem, we see the strength of God.  He is strong enough to become small.  The infant Son invites us, from the manger, to open ourselves to him, to receive the gift of his love, and to give him the gift of our love.  Standing or kneeling before him, we are free to love him or to reject him; the choice is ours.  If we love him, we receive peace; if we reject him, we reject peace.

The more we open ourselves to him and put our trust in him, by his grace he helps us “to live every situation of life in peace and in the assurance of his faithfulness and of his love.”[3]  It was in his abiding presence that Brother Leo found his peace and if we turn to him we, too, will find our peace.

We often think of the Birth of the Savior as a calm and serene moment, a silent night, as it were.  But stresses must surely have abounded that night as Mary and Joseph sought a place to stay and for the Child to be born.  It will not be long before they must flee with the Child to escape the jealous wrath of King Herod.  Yet in all of this, Mary and Joseph themselves seem to be calm and at peace.  How is this possible?

Not very long ago Pope Benedict XVI reflected on this very question.  In answer, he said:

There is an underlying attitude Mary assumes in the face of what happens in her life.  At the Annunciation she is disturbed by hearing the angel’s words – it is the fear a person feels when touched by the closeness of God – but it is not the attitude of those who are afraid in front of what God may ask.  Mary reflects, she ponders the meaning of this greeting (cf. Luke 1:29).  The Greek word used in the Gospel to define this “reflection”, “dielogizeto”, evokes the root of the word “dialogue”.  This means that Mary comes into intimate dialogue with the Word of God that has been announced, she does not consider it superficially, but pauses, she lets it penetrate her mind and her heart to understand what the Lord wants from her, the announcement’s meaning.  We find another hint of Mary’s interior attitude in front of the action of God, again in the Gospel of St. Luke, at the time of the birth of Jesus, after the adoration of the shepherds.  Luke affirms that Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), in Greek the term is symballon, we could say that she “held together”, “put together” in her heart all the events that were happening; she placed each single element, every word, every fact within the whole and compared it, guarded it, recognizing that every comes from the will of God.  Mary does not stop at a first superficial understanding of what happens in her life, but is able to look deeper, she allows herself to be questioned by the events, processes them, discerns them, and gains that understanding that only faith can provide.  It is the profound humility of the obedient faith of Mary, who welcomes into herself even what she doe not understand of the action of God, leaving it to God to open her mind and heart.[4]

Is this not why we have come to the altar of God today at the close of an old year and the beginning of a new year?  We long for peace and we know in the depths of our hearts that we will only find it in the Son of Mary.

If Mary is the Mother of Jesus and we are members of his Body, which is the Church, then Mary is also our Mother, and we would do well to follow her example (cf. Colossians 1:18).  We, too, must seek to place the events of the past year within the whole of our lives.  We must not stop at a superficial glance back over the year, but must truly spend time prayerfully considering, delving deep in the events and the words, questioning them and allowing them to question us.  We, too, must seek, with true sincerity, the understanding that only faith can give.

This will require us to be still, to be silent, to spend time with her Son and to truly be open to him.  We must open every aspect of our lives to him and beg him to turn his face toward us, even as we turn our faces toward him.  If we live in the light of his countenance we will indeed know peace, even in the midst of the turmoil of this world. This is the lesson we learn from Mary; may it be a lesson we learn well.

In this New Year, may the Lord turn his toward us.  May he bless us and give us peace, that we, with the shepherd, may glorify him and make known the message of his peace (cf. Luke 2:20, 17).  Amen.

[1] Thomas of Celano, Second Life II.22.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 46th World Day of Peace.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 19 December 2012.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 19 December 2012.

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