Today the Church invites us to hold in our hearts and minds the feast of Mary, Mother of God, the World Day of Prayer for Peace while we are fascinated with the first day of the New Year!
In the book of Numbers, we hear the Lord asking Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons to bless the people of Israel. Why? So that the world might see them as God’s very own children. The blessing includes the revelation of God’s face, God’s graciousness and God’s peace.
In the Gospel of St. Luke, the Shepherds arrive with good news. Most of the people who hear the news are amazed but Mary has a different response, a unique response. When Mary receives the news, Luke tells us that she treasures and ponders it in her heart. As the shepherds return home, they praise God for all that God has done. The reading concludes with the news that Jesus is to be circumcised and named according to the directions given by Gabriel before the child was even conceived. God has once again taken the long view!
In the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Galatia, St. Paul reminds them that God has sent his son Jesus into the world as one like us so as to redeem us and welcome us as adopted sons and daughters of God. That is pretty amazing in itself but Paul goes on to tell the Galatians, you have also received the Spirit so that you can speak to God as an authentic child and not a slave. You can speak to God as your Father/Mother! Imagine after years of being told you are a slave, someone comes and says you are a child of God and you can speak to God as you would speak to your father or your mother. The people of Galatia were in shock!
Mary is presented today as the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. This is a big deal. Mary plays a key role in the story of our salvation. Through God’s grace she said yes to God; she, a virgin, became pregnant and became Mother of God. The impossible became possible. When we observe Mary, we can see what happens when we say yes to God.
The readings remind us that we belong to God – we are God’s children and as such there is a relationship between us and God. We are not forced into this relationship; God invites us into relationship. We are free to say yes or no! God cannot say no! God, full of mercy and compassion, is committed to helping us to be fully human, fully alive – brothers and sisters. In Jesus, God has come to us to remind us of who we are! God does not hide from us but reveals his face, his dreams and hopes for us!
Today is special because in addition to being the Feast of Mary, Mother of God it is the World Day of Prayer for Peace. In his message Pope Francis picks up on the idea that our God is a God who is committed to us. Pope Francis suggests that God cares about us and when we care about one another, when we recognize our responsibility for each other, we create the context for peace.
Pope Francis begins his message to us with a reflection on sacred scripture – the story of creation. He writes in reference to the story of Creation, the story of Adam and Eve, that we are all connected. He suggests that today we are becoming more aware of our connectedness and our interconnectedness.
He goes on to write that “Sacred Scripture presents God not only as Creator, but also as one who cares for his creatures, especially Adam, Eve and their offspring. Albeit cursed for the crime he committed, Cain was given a mark of protection by the Creator, so that his life could be spared (cf. Gen 4:15). While confirming the inviolable dignity of the person created in God’s image and likeness, this was also a sign of God’s plan to preserve the harmony of his creation, since “peace and violence cannot dwell together”.”
In other words, God cares about what happens to us. Despite Cain’s behavior God loves him and wants him to flourish well!
Pope Francis says that, “Care for creation was at the heart of the institution of the Sabbath, which, in addition to ordering divine worship, aimed at the restoration of the social order and concern for the poor (cf. Gen 1:1-3; Lev 25:4). The celebration of the Jubilee every seventh sabbatical year provided a respite for the land, for slaves and for those in debt. In that year of grace, those in greatest need were cared for and given a new chance in life, so that there would be no poor among the people (cf. Deut 15:4).
In the prophetic tradition, the biblical understanding of justice found its highest expression in the way a community treats its weakest members. Amos (cf. 2:6-8; 8) and Isaiah (cf. 58), in particular, insistently demand justice for the poor, who, in their vulnerability and powerlessness, cry out and are heard by God, who watches over them (cf. Ps 34:7; 113:7-8).”
God is vitally interested in our well-being. God has his eye on the poor and he repeatedly calls his People, the People of Israel to be attentive to the poor! God cares about what happens to his People.
Jesus, the Son of God, personifies what caring looks like in his ministry. Francis says, “At the culmination of his mission, Jesus gave the ultimate proof of his care for us by offering himself on the cross to set us free from the slavery of sin and death. By the sacrificial gift of his life, he opened for us the path of love. To each of us he says, “Follow me; go and do likewise” (cf. Lk 10:37).”
As followers of Jesus we must care for one another. We must safeguard the dignity of each person. Francis says we have the responsibility to care for each person – especially the poor, the sick and the excluded. This duty flows from the fact that we are cared for and loved by our God, that our God is a God who cares and we are made in the image and likeness of God.
Francis suggests that there can be no peace unless we nurture a culture of care. He acknowledges that it is not easy. He suggests that we look to the life of Mary who is for us, both a model and a source of hope.
“May we never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way; instead, may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, “to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another”.”
Today as we celebrate Mary as Mother of God and as we pray for peace let us pause and know that our God blesses us. As the New Year unfolds let us extend a blessing to every person we meet thus creating for all people the context of peace. When we do this the face of God is made visible here and now!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI