Sunday, 25 December 2016 17:19

Pondering the birth of Christ, role of Mary

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Why does Christmas bring out the best in us? Powerful enough to induce a 24-hour cease-fire with music among combatants in World War I, the image of an innocent infant in a barnyard manger offering peace and hope to a broken world causes hearts to pause and consider the possibility.

The Nativity of the Lord, Dec. 25
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98:1-6
Hebrews 1:1-6
John 1:1-18 or John 1:1-5, 9-14

Why does Christmas bring out the best in us? Powerful enough to induce a 24-hour cease-fire with music among combatants in World War I, the image of an innocent infant in a barnyard manger offering peace and hope to a broken world causes hearts to pause and consider the possibility.

Beginning at home, could we be so moved as to rewrite the rules of life?

Who was this special child born to a virgin? If he was indeed the long-awaited Messiah (“Anointed One”) revealed by angels, a star and a dove, what was his mission?

When the guns of war fell quiet that silent night along a 460-mile front in Belgium and France, Allied and German troops spontaneously broke into a volley of Christmas carols. Reverberating voices displaced the deafening roar of artillery fire. For a glorious moment, peace reigned instead of terror.

World War I altered history by unleashing dramatic advancements in the technology of warfare that killed 17 million and wounded another 20 million in only four years. Evil was raw. The human toll and utter devastation of the land drove many survivors into deep pessimism about the human condition.

Two young British soldiers who experienced that war in the brutal, filthy trenches — J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis — later bonded into lifelong friends. Despite the devastation of World War I, Tolkien held onto his Catholic faith, and he played a large role in Lewis converting from atheism to Christianity.

Leaping the existential abyss, Tolkien and Lewis chose Christ and his Gospel message. Soul mates and literary colleagues, they inspired each other for decades to put their faith in print to explore the essential goodness of humanity redeemed by God’s grace. Using mythology to spark the Christian imagination of generations, their legacy includes The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters.

Similarly, John’s Gospel invites us into the Holy Family’s sacred home “full of grace and truth” where light dispels darkness and believers become children of God. Giving is receiving. Unmerited gifts call forth our best instincts. Salvation arrives in a lowly infant under our care and trust. Goodwill and joy beckon all nations. Alleluia!

QUESTION: How does the Incarnation bring us “grace in place of grace”?


Solemnity of Mary, Jan. 1
Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:16-21

For nine months after the angel Gabriel’s annunciation, Mary pondered his message about her miraculous child to be.

During that time, while visiting her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s unborn baby leapt for joy, and Mary spoke with eloquence and humility about her understanding of God’s action in her life:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. … For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages called me blessed.”

Later when shepherds visited the manger, sharing the good news they had received during their night watch, Mary again reflected on these things in her heart.

In today’s Gospel we see Mary pondering and accepting her crucial role in the salvation of humankind. Luke’s subsequent narrative further reveals the burdens placed on her heart as the mother of Christ — and challenges us to likewise ponder and accept God’s call to each of us.

As Mary takes Jesus to be dedicated in the Temple, we recall that she was following the Mosaic law of her time — a time when Jews believed that life is governed by the Ten Commandments as written on the tablets that once were stored in the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple’s innermost chamber. Now we realize Mary, as mother of God, is the new Ark of the Covenant.

Yet we know Mary’s joy was tempered when she encountered Simeon inside the Temple and he gives her something more difficult to ponder when he said, “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel … and you yourself a sword will pierce.”

For me, the challenge began while in my 20s. Feeling called to the priesthood, I consulted priests, read Thomas Merton voraciously, prayed and took frequent retreats. Eventually, the deciding factor was my fear that I could fall into spiritual arrogance as a celibate priest on a pedestal, taking pride in my sacrifices for the Lord and parishioners.

Choosing marriage has drawn me into the mystery of Mary’s simultaneous joy and fear about her Son’s destiny, challenging me to test my faith as a husband, father and ordinary guy. How would I handle working hard for a living, possibly losing a job or having a sick or handicapped child?

Accepting God’s call to marriage and the diaconate has allowed me to follow Mary as a grateful, lowly servant praising God.

QUESTION: Crying out Abba, Father, how can I replace my tendency to control with trust in the Lord?