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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mary, Mother of God

Mary, Mother of God
January 1, 2012
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

          Mary is a rightly revered person in Christianity and we owe much to her example of faith. She holds a special place in our hearts for her willingness to become the mother of Jesus, which led her to become the "Mother of God," which today's feast honors. Her openness to God's will is an example for us to keep ourselves open to God's many invitations. The possibilities are boundless when we learn to say "yes" as Mary did.

          For some, however, images of the Catholic portrayal of Mary makes her inaccessible to them. She comes across as someone so pure, chaste, and good that many cannot relate to her because those characteristics appear otherworldly. For people who make daily mistakes, Mary seems to be inerrant in her morality and too remote as one who we are to imitate. She is practically god-like and remote, and we are mere humans who strive each day and fail to live up to God's expectations for ourselves. Jesus of Nazareth is easier to connect with because he was a man who experienced humanity fully. Some portrayals of Jesus makes him more reachable than his mother.

          I often suggest to spiritual seekers who struggle with Mary to connect with her primarily as the earthly mother of Jesus . I ask them to consider their own mother's characteristics and check to see if the find similarities and differences with Mary. Mary is special because she was a human mother who did the best for her family. She had her particularly ways of relating to her family as our mother's do. She uniquely cared for her son the way that our moms care for us. I like the way she cherishes memories in her heart the way my mother fondly remembers my childhood. The Mary I know likes to sing while she bakes. The Mary I know has a special song reserved for me as my mother once did for me. As I become more familiar with Mary, the more greatly I honor what she did and does for me. It is in her humanity that I find her greatness.

          This day is also the day in which Jesus was given his name at his circumcision. (This is a special feast day for Jesuits as it is our titular feast: the giving of the name of Jesus to the Society that bears his name.) Naming someone is a powerful act. Naming a child allows us to recognize our gratitude for previous generations, to remember a dear friend, or to honor someone who has made a deep impression upon our lives. For that child, we desire that he or she grows up imitating a virtue or characteristic of one whom we deeply admire. A lasting bond is forged between peoples.

          The naming of Jesus reminds us that the angel Gabriel suggested to her that her son be named Jesus, that is, "Yahweh saves." He shall be Emmanuel - God is with us. This name carries a weighty significance. Paul in his letter to the Galatians tells us that it is through Jesus as the Son of God that we are adopted into God's family. Jesus is the one who brings us into God's paternal family as his children in intimate terms. The power of God's familial protection remains with us. In the Book of Numbers, Moses tells Aaron that he is to give the Israelites a blessing in God's name. When the holy name is invoked, the Lord will bless them abundantly. This is the reason we today continue to bless believers, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

          Notice those people, places, and events that we specially name. It could be a favorite family vacation spot, a newly acquired pet, a colleague's nickname, or a room in the house. We also name characteristics to a condition we are dealing with, like alcoholism, narcissism, depression, or powerlessness. Once we identify an appropriate name for something, we have power over it and can relate to it from a position of privilege. We regain power over something once we give it a voice or a name.

          As the new year begins, name your desires. Tell God what you want. Ask for what you need. You may first have to discern most appropriately what you seek. Once you have rightly identified it, the pursuit of that goal is much easier and straight-forward. As we stand at the cusp of a new year, we benefit from all the spiritual resources we can muster. The Trinitarian God is there to aid us, and so is Mary, the Mother of God, who once helped her Son clarify what he wanted and needed. She will gladly do the same for us. Seek out her counsel. She is wise beyond the ages.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  We continue hearing 1 John as he tells us about what it means to follow the Christ. As Christ is the Word of God, if we accept the Word and honor it, we will be honored by Christ. God's love is clearly seen because he adopted us as his own children and we have his protection as a father cares for his own clan. Pay attention to the one who acts righteously. Be cautious of the one who sins because that person belongs to the Devil. We remain in God when we act righteously. We are to love one another and take care of our brothers and sisters. The world will hate us because of our goodness and because our mercy is inexplicable to others. As we belong to the truth, we don't have to worry about the judgments of others. The world's victor is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. As we are baptized, the Spirit, Blood, and water testify for us. We have powerful agents working for our behalf. As we have confidence in God, we can ask anything in his name and he hears us. The One begotten by God protects and cares for us. God will help us discern the important matters in the world.

Gospel: The Jews from Jerusalem sent priests to John to ask him, "Who are you?" John the Baptist tells them that he is not the Messiah, but that the Messiah is already among them. After they left, John points out to his disciples, "Behold. There is the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." Two of John's disciples turned and followed Jesus. They became his disciples. Andrew becomes a disciples and brings Simon to the Messiah, where he is renamed "Cephas." Jesus went to Galilee. Philip brought Nathanael to him to become a disciple. Nathanael at first was dismissive, but comes to realize Jesus is the Christ. John the Baptist again declares that he is not the Messiah, but Jesus comes to him to be baptized in accordance with the Scriptures. Jesus attends a wedding in Cana where, through the urging of his mother, performs his first miracle.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Basil the Great and Gregory Nanzianzen, bishops and doctors (fourth century), are two of the four great doctors of the Eastern Church. They are known for their preaching especially against the Arian heretics. Basil began as a hermit before he was named archbishop of Caesarea. He influenced Gregory who eventually became archbishop of Constantinople. Their teachings influenced both the Roman and Eastern Churches.

Tuesday: The Name of Jesus was given to the infant as the angel foretold. In the Mediterranean world, the naming of person stood for the whole person. Humans were given the power to name during the Genesis creation accounts. If one honors the name of the person, they honor the person. The name Jesus means “Yahweh saves.”

Wednesday: Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious (1774-1821), was born into an Episcopalian household where she married and had five children. When her husband died, she became a Catholic and founded a girls’ school in Baltimore. She then founded the Sisters of Charity and began the foundation for the parochial school system in the U.S. She is the first native-born American to be canonized.

Thursday: John Neumann, bishop (1811-1860), emigrated from Bohemia to New York and joined the Redemptorists in Pittsburgh before being named bishop of Philadelphia. He built many churches in the diocese and placed great emphasis on education as the foundation of faith.

Friday: Andre Bessette, religious (1845-1937), was born in Quebec, Canada. He joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross and taught for 40 years at the College of Notre Dame. He cared for the sick and was known as a intercessor for miracles. He built St. Joseph’s Oratory, a popular pilgrimage site in Canada.

Saturday: Raymond of Penyafort, priest (1175-1275), was trained in philosophy and law and was ordained in 1222 to preach to the Moors and Christians. Though he was appointed bishop of Tarragon, he declined the position. Instead he organized papal decrees into the first form of canon law. He was later elected Master of the Dominican Order.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Jan. 1, 1598: Fr. Alphonsus Barréna, surnamed the Apostle of Peru, died. He was the first to carry the faith to the Guaranis and Chiquitos in Paraguay.
·         Jan. 2, 1619: At Rome, John Berchmans and Bartholomew Penneman, his companion scholastic from Belgium, entered the Roman College.
·         Jan. 3, 1816: Fr. General Brzozowski and 25 members of the Society, guarded by soldiers, left St. Petersburg, Russia, having been banished by the civil government.
·         Jan. 4, 1619: The English mission is raised to the status of a province.
·         Jan. 5, 1548: Francis Suarez, one of the greatest theologians of the church, was born at Granada.
·         Jan. 6, 1829: Publication of Pope Leo XII's rescript, declaring the Society to be canonically restored in England.
·         Jan. 7, 1566: Cardinal Ghislieri was elected pope as Pius V. He was a great friend of the Francis Borgia and appointed Salmeron and Toletus as apostolic preachers at the Vatican. He desired to impose the office of choir on the Society and even ordered it. He was canonized as St. Pius V. 

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