January 1, 2018
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
Most Reverend Excellencies,
Dear brothers and sisters,
May the Lord give you peace and above all grant you a serene Year of 2018!
We have come to the beginning of a new calendar year; and like every year, we have the opportunity to reflect, to pray and to celebrate the Lord for what He has given us in the past year. This New Year is a time to call on Him and especially to pray for peace, on this day specially dedicated to prayer for peace. As always, let we ourselves to be challenged by the Word of God which we just heard.
In the Gospel passage (Lk 2:16-21), no event or deed of particular importance is related. The unique and central event has already occurred. It is the birth of the Child Whom the angels announced as the Savior who is Christ the Lord (Lk 2:11).
Today’s passage, however, is significant because it tells us how to respond to this event; how we need again to put ourselves in an attitude of listening and obedience, to welcome what has taken place. For something grand and beautiful has happened, and we must make room in us so that life grows. There are different characters in the passage, who tell us how to face this magnificent yet simple event. Let’s take a look at them!
The first is the shepherds. Having received the announcement from the angel, they set off in the night “without delay” (Lk 2:16) in search, and found the sign as told them by the heavenly messenger. The shepherds make two gestures. Having arrived at the cave, after visiting the Child, “they report what was told them concerning the child” (Lk 2:17). The shepherds become announcers. They become “angels”. They received too a great and wonderful announcement, and cannot keep it for themselves. They share it, pass it on, donate it. And, after doing it, they perform the second gesture: “they returned, praising and glorifying God for all that they had heard and seen” (Lk 2:20). They are joy-filled because of the gift that they received, for the privilege of having been gratuitously embraced by an event of salvation. They thank the Lord, and they celebrate the redemption they received. After sharing it with men, they give it back to God.
At this beginning of the life of Jesus – in this first event of God being present in history – there occurs what will occur again many other times later: that those who encounter Him, those touched by the mystery, then set off and bring it to others, revealing it.
They reveal it by their words, which prove true precisely because the shepherds heard and saw: not just heard, not only saw but heard and saw. They received a message from heaven, and then they saw with their own eyes. And they put together these two moments, recalling that what they saw was what was precisely what was told to them (Lk 2:20). And they announce it especially by their joy, by their praise. This same joy the angels had also spoken to them of, and they find it within themselves as a gift. Whoever receives a gift, does exactly these two things: gives thanks to the Lord and shares it with others.
Besides the shepherds, there is another group of people whom Luke identifies as “all those that heard” (Lk 2:18): those who were there, by chance, in that place, that night. They are also called to welcome this new event that God has worked. But nothing is said about them, except that after hearing the words of the shepherds, “they were amazed” (Lk 2:18). The astonishment, the marvel, comes from the person who does not reduce life and what he expects, to what he understands, what he wants or what he is capable of. He lets it be more significant. He allows God to take over his life and expands it to eternity. It is the first stage of faith.
Today, the Solemnity of the Mother of God, we must also look to Mary. She likewise does two things. The first is that of “receiving” Jesus from the shepherds. She gives birth to the Child and immediately realizes that this Child is not only hers. Alone she does not fully understand Him. She understands that she must receive Him every time because the Mystery of the Child is too immense. And so she sets about listening, and gradually the persons she will encounter on the way (the shepherds, the Magi, Simeon and Anna) will reveal something to her that she still does not know.
And the second thing she does is to keep and ponder (Lk 2:19) all these words within herself.
Keeping and pondering means gathering and dwelling on events within oneself: letting them grow more deeply so that nothing gets lost, nothing forgotten; in order to understand the plan of salvation in them. Mary forms in herself a treasury of memories, to which she can return to contemplate the Mystery and to be able always to generate it anew.
At the beginning of this New Year, the Gospel today opens the way for us; it gives us the direction to live at this moment and to welcome this time as a grace.
It is not about doing something special or about us creating life events: these will occur. But it is about being there, like the shepherds, like those present in the Bethlehem cave, like Mary: that is, with that faith that is inclined to to listening and to wonder, in joy and praise, in conserving and in remembering, in sharing the gift. So it grows and becomes more and more alive and life-giving; it creates bonds, and it saves.
This Gospel passage, then, tells us something about Peace, a word that in these Christmas days we have mentioned many times, that we celebrate today, and that unfortunately appears still distant from our daily reality. The Gospel gives us some concrete information on how to understand peace.
We often expect peace from others, from politicians and the powerful of this world, who are called on to create opportunities for peace, to build it in international relations. We expect it from our superiors, who must resolve problems in our communities. In short, we expect it from the different elected and appointed leaders on the international, national, religious and domestic levels. And the Gospel today tells us that peace is an attitude that relates to everyone – the Shepherds, those who heard the shepherds, Mary and later on Herod, the Magi and many others. In the presence of the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5), all are called to give an active answer. The commitment to peace excludes no one. It belongs to everyone and not only to the heads of states. It won’t do any good to demand peace from the great ones and not establish it in our personal contexts. Everyone’s destiny is linked, one with another. What I and my family do in my modest context contributes, collaborates and even participates in the peace that the notables are called to accomplish.
Next we are told that peace is an attitude. It’s a manner of being within history and within life and not something that comes from outside that others must do for us, and which does not concern us directly.
Like the shepherds, we too must announce peace, that is, we must share it, pass it on, communicate it. The gift of peace that is in us, which is the Prince of Peace, if it is indeed in us, cannot but be announced by our attitudes, by our way of building and living our family, society, youth, parish activities, and our political action. The notable ones will never be able to accomplish peace if the little ones are not already living it and if do not want it. It’s not enough to denounce the absence of peace, but we must have the courage to build it despite everything. Like the shepherds, we must act on what we have seen and heard, an experience of life that is already within us.
The other attitude, we said is wonder. It seems very difficult to still let ourselves be amazed in our times, where everything is online in real time. What can still surprise us? Nevertheless, , there is always so much good and beauty around us and which often we don’t know how to recognize. Be amazed by the numerous small and grand gestures of love, sharing, welcome, , fellowship and peace that people perform despite everything. More than ever, we need to be amazed and to celebrate these moments. They give us hope. They show us that life makes sense despite the difficulties and that it is capable of love, something we all need.
The Virgin Mary teaches us that no one possesses Peace. She who gave birth to the Author of Peace, who kept Him within her womb for nine months, and who knew Him better than anyone else, would listen to those who described what had happened and how they understood it. To be able to look to the other, to welcome his or her vision, to open our eyes and our heart to the other is essential for peace. We do not build peace only by what we think and do. We need the other as he is, and not as we would like him to be. And the other always has a lot to teach us. Having this conscience will help us not to fall into the presumption to have only to teach others how to make peace.
And finally, “to keep, to preserve”. We do not understand immediately everything that happens, but we can welcome it in our hearts, have it mature and grow, without immediately rushing to judge, allowing time to reveal what has happened. In our age, where there is little time or room for recollection, and where we must do everything right away, this is a great lesson.
Let us allow ourselves to be guided by these indications in this year and let ourselves be continually provoked by this Word, which is life and blessing.
Happy New Year!