Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God in Year A 2017 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta 1 January 2017
New Year’s celebrations in Sydney are renowned around the world for the spectacular fireworks. Some people are prepared to pay large sums of money just to be close to the action. It is a popular way of seeing out the old and bringing in the New Year. The ancients believed that the turning of the year was a vulnerable moment, a changeover that had to be watched carefully lest witches, ghosts and demons slip through the gap between the years and get up to all kinds of mischief. We may not give much credence to this old wives tale. But if the truth be told, few of us would want our demons scared away in the blaze of light and explosion of noise.
The liturgy today is in some ways the antithesis of the popular celebrations. It is not that such celebrations as those on Sydney Harbour are anti-Christian and that Christianity is a kind of a killjoy religion. Rather, the liturgy for this Sunday calls us – above all else – to enter the New Year with a profound sense of God’s presence and a spirit of contemplation so that we can live with renewed hope, trust and purpose.
In the first reading, we hear the blessing of Moses to his brother Aaron who was to carry on the baton and lead the people to the promise land. “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May he uncover his face to you and bring you peace”. They say the face never lies. It reveals what is hidden in the heart. In biblical language, the face is considered the most sacred and visible manifestation of a person. For example, Moses’ face became radiant after he had seen God on the mountain. To have God’s face shine on us means that we become imbued with his sacred presence and able to shine that presence to others.
We are like Aaron facing the unknown journey into the promise land. We, too, need to have God’s face shine on us and guide us amidst the challenges that shall come our way this coming year. St Paul reminds us that Jesus is the visible face of God and it is by being grounded in him and his Gospel that we can journey to the future with hope.
At Christmas, we contemplate the face of God revealed to us through a vulnerable, helpless and homeless child. It is an incredible and subversive claim of Christianity that God should identify himself with in the poor, the marginalised and the forgotten. We cannot love God whom we cannot see, Saint John tells us, without loving the least of our brothers and sisters whom we can see. We cannot be authentic disciples of Christ without having compassion and solidarity for those deprived of justice, humanity and dignity: our indigenous people, those driven to the edges of society, or like Faysal Ishak Ahmed, another asylum seeker who died while in the care of our country. Christmas commits us to discover, to unveil and behold the beauty of God in the disfigured faces of our brothers and sisters.
Today we honour Mary under the title Mother of God. Mary is a woman on a mission – one who literally carried Christ to the world. Yet she accomplished her mission mostly by a witness of love, of nurturing, of caring, of prayer, of silent suffering, of walking in the darkness of partial understanding, of hoping against hope, of complete and unconditional surrender.
In the Gospel, Mary is said to have “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart”. Mary is presented as a contemplative in action. She does not take things simply at their face value but interprets them through the perspective of God. She is able to live the sacrament of the moment, that is with the mindfulness that aligns us to the presence and action of God in the here and now. It is vitally important for us to live like Mary, with the capacity to treasure and ponder the ways of God. Jesus spoke about this in the parable of the vine. “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing”. Mary teaches us by her example of treasuring, pondering and reflecting on what God is doing in our lives and in history.
Through contemplation, we are able to acquire an alternative consciousness that aligns our minds and hearts to that of Christ. We are able to discern and to judge the true value of everything that is in the world. It is Mary, the Mother of God who teaches us the art of immersing ourselves in the mystery of the Incarnate God and of drawing our wisdom, strength and hope from him.
We are at a threshold of a new year. It is time to renew our hope and confidence, our commitment, and courage. With Pope Francis, I truly believe that God has revealed to us the new Kairos, the favourable moment. Learning from his words and examples, we can live the kairos of mercy and compassion, the kairos of outreach and inclusion, the kairos of humility, simplicity and joy which comes from our being rooted and grounded in God’s love.
Christmas reminds us of the God who reaches out to us, who walks in our shoes and who humanises our relationships. May we like Mary, Mother of God, learn to immerse ourselves in God’s unconditional love and manifest that same love to others. May God’s face shine on us and enable us to shine his presence to others.
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