Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Blessing for the New Year

The feast of The Solemnity of Mary is celebrated on January 1 in the Catholic Church. It is also a Holy Day of Obligation--which means, we have to go to Church. As I grow in "wisdom and grace" (or try to), I've come to see that starting off the new calendar year by going to Mass and praying for peace, as Mary is the Mother of Peace, is not a bad idea at all.

The readings for this feast day remain the same through the A-B-C cycle, which means the Church thinks the ideas and blessings contained in these readings are very important.

The Old Testament reading is from Numbers 6:22-27:

The Lord said to Moses:
"Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them:
This is how you shall bless the Israelites.

"Say to them:
The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let His Face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly
and give you peace!

"So shall they invoke My Name upon the Israelites,
and I will bless them."

The New Testament reading is from Galatians 4:4-7:
"Brothers and sisters:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law,
to ransom those under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
As proof that you are sons,
God sent the Spirit of His son into our hearts,
crying out, 'Abba, Father!'
So you are no longer a slave but a son,
and if a son then also an heir, through God."

The Gospel is from Luke 2:16-21, which repeats the Gospel traditionally read at the Christmas Mass at dawn, with this bit added:

"When eight days were completed for His circumcision,
He was named Jesus, the name given Him by the angel
Before He was conceived in the womb."

Fr. P, our current pastor, tends to give homilies that explore the meanings behind the readings, spending time on more accurate translations of the Greek or Hebrew words used in the earliest translations. He emphasized the following verse: And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. According to Catholic tradition, Mary told the story of Jesus's birth and early years directly to Luke, and they became the foundation of his Gospel. By then, Mary would have had a lot of time to go over all that she had been told and all that had happened during Christ's short life. Fr. P used the analogy of how rocks are polished: ordinary rock is put into a cylinder with some grit and water, then tumbled around for days. The dull outer layer and sharp edges are worn smooth and a beautiful pattern emerges. According to Fr. P, the Greek word used was more active than what the English word "reflect" generally means. Mary didn't just store her memories of Jesus's birth and childhood away, but actively tumbled them around, trying to discern their pattern and beauty.

And here we are, 2000 years later. God is still blessing us, still being gracious and kind to us, still granting us peace. He has adopted us and made us His Sons and Daughters. We are no longer Sons of Adam, not just Daughters of Eve. We are the Children of God and we will inherit His Kingdom.

Like Mary, we need to hear this message and reflect on it, actively tumbling it around in our minds and our hearts, keeping the message polished and bright.

So the Church reminds us, every year. Not a bad way to begin the secular New Year--as sons and daughters of God.