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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

MARY, MOTHER OF GOD January 1, 2019

Numbers 6: 22-27; Galatians 4: 4-7; Psalm 67; Luke 2: 16-21

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

This is a very familiar scene in Christian art – the shepherds at the manger with the Christ child, Mary and Joseph. I see it not only in churches and chapels, but walking by store windows in Manhattan when I visit home for the holidays. It is so simple, picturesque and tranquil looking. But artists through the ages and modern commercial artists as well, have tamed the truth of the scene. The story notes that Mary reflected in her heart on the things she heard from the shepherds. We join in her reflection on the significance of these events.

What brought about this scene, a child birth away from home and family support? This Jewish couple was subject, as so many are families are today, to the decision "from on high." Remember how Luke’s gospel for Christmas night began, "In those days a decree went out..." (Luke 2:1), The Roman emperor issues an edict for a census to collect taxes and a pregnant couple at the outskirts of the empire has no choice but obey. The couple has become like so many through the world, displaced for a while (or permanently), because of state policy, civil war, political persecution, or economic oppression. They remind us too of our own city streets and shelters where so many have taken refuge, among them, pregnant women. We reflect and wonder how national and local economic policies adversely affect the most vulnerable in our society. Also, think of the families at our southern border, fleeing gang violence and domestic abuse in their homeland and parents being forcibly separated from their children. Matthew’s gospel tells us that the young family, like modern refugees, will also have to flee to another country under the threat of violence by the forces of a crazed king (Mt 2: 13-15).

On this feast of Mary, we realize she stands with the world’s displaced and vulnerable. The store windows may romanticize this scene, even make it look attractive – but we can’t. A stable, or cave is no place for a woman to give birth. A manger for animal food is not where any mother wants to place her newborn. Imagine what must have been running through Mary’s mind. Imagine her distress. No grand entrance for the messiah into our world! Rather, he entered, with his parents, through the world’s back door where the beggars and outsiders are huddled.

The previous gospel section gives the account of Jesus’ birth. One can only imagine Mary’s exhaustion. Now, as the shepherds arrive and relate the message they received from the angels, Mary enters into an internal labor, reflecting on the meaning of the events. The Greek word used here suggests mulling something over, or putting together pieces of a puzzle to make a "full picture."

Throughout her life Mary will have to contemplate the meaning of the angels’ message the shepherds bring to her, trying to get a "full picture" of what God is doing in her and her son’s life. She will do what we do when things happen that we only partially understand. We invite Mary to stand with us in prayer as we mull over certain things in our lives that confuse us, or leave us puzzled. We ask her to help us remain faithful even when the pieces don’t come together to make a clear picture. We invite the Spirit that overshadowed Mary to gift us with understanding, patience and courage so that we do not give up on what may now befuddle us.

In the first reading from Numbers, God instructs Moses how the people are to be blessed. The reading shows that God wants just that for us – a blessing. Our God is not one who wants to lay heavy burdens on us, test our faith, push us to the limits – or do whatever hard things we often attribute coming from God. Rather, the revelation to the Israelites at this key moment in their history, and to us, is that God is gracious, looks kindly on us and wants to give us peace. Not exactly the harsh stereotype of the infamous "Old Testament God" we often hear spouted.

Jesus is the Numbers’ reading made flesh. He is the concrete manifestation of God’s good inclinations towards us. In Jesus, God has blessed us and turned a shining face towards us – Jesus is Gold’s "kindly" look upon us. God has always been on our side and Jesus is the full assurance of that. Isn’t it awkward to meet someone we have met before whose name we have forgotten, or gotten wrong? Or, to be with a person we haven’t met and not be introduced? In Jesus, God has revealed a name to us, one that assures us we are on a "first-name basis" with God. ("So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites and I will bless them.") We call on that name and in doing so know that we have a special relationship with God because of what Jesus has done for humanity.

Perhaps we feel distant from God, or our lives are not going well and we wonder if God is off on holiday and forgotten about us. Or worse, we may think that God is punishing us for some past wrong, or testing us. These states of confusion and fear can compound our difficulties and leave us overwhelmend. Where is God in our mess? Well, we have been given a name we can call upon, Jesus, who is God’s face turned with concern in our direction. In him, God "look(s) upon you kindly and give(s) you peace." Jesus is the expansion of Moses’ blessing over the Israelites and we believe that in Jesus, all people’s have been blessed.

We join Mary as she ponders and reflects in her heart the wonderful things God has done in Jesus for us. Think of the consequences of God’s acts on our behalf. God has taken our flesh, walked our earth and swept us up into loving arms. In Jesus a blessing has been said over us and a new name given us. We are outsiders and aliens no more. In Jesus’ name we are blessed, brought in and called children of God. Many, or most of us, have made new year’s resolutions about exercise, weight loss, or being kinder, more patient and loving. Mary’s response to what was happening around her should encourage us to do the same. Her example invites us to take a step backwards from the rush of our lives to ponder who we are; where we are going and how well we are doing on our journey. This Eucharist might be just the occasion to begin that process of reflection as we invoke the blessing Jesus’ name brings to us.

The birth of the Messiah was a turning point in the history of the world. A very important event indeed! So, who showed up for this momentous event? Where were the presidents, kings, queens, the "movers and the shakers?" The usual luminaries were preoccupied and distracted by their important concerns that day. Even the religious leaders, who should have been attuned to God’s unusual workings, missed what was happening. People who might have gained from being there, politicians and local celebrities just didn’t show up. They never got the invitation. Fame and fortune don’t get you to the place where new life is found. Instead, your faith invites you and faith accompanies you there. You make the trip because you have a need that isn’t met by the usual things that satisfy most people.

Maybe you are weary of a world stained with suffering, war, depression, fear, greed, torture, terror, sickness and sadness and you hunger for peace and a light in the darkness. Maybe you are looking to start all over again, or to energize a lagging faith. Then, if any of these describe you, receive the invitation and enter the story. Arrive with the shepherds in haste from the outer darkness. Look and see the one God sent to us who is God-with-us, in a babe. Feel quite at home, no matter how inadequate your reputation or accomplishments. Let the hillside shepherds, still smelling of sheep and fields and the poor Jewish parents, reassure you – "Here you are welcome; here is your true home." The most unlikely people find a home here today. Ponder that with Mary as she reflects on all these things "in her heart."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010119.cfm

QUOTABLE

MARY, MARY

 

What else did the Angel tell you?

While you nurtured his message

And pondered the wild potential

Of a womb, did you envision those

Who would come after, the generations

That would Balkanize your heart,

Stamp your image on their banners

And lead you into battle;

That the wind would carry your name

From a German Soldier’s lips

As he lay dying on the Eastern front,

A Polish captain would wear your medal

Up the heights of Monte Cassino?

Do you grow weary of false sightings

And forced tears, the rote of rosaries,

The bargains of Novenas?

Oh, Lady O Guadalupe,

Madonna of Czestochowa,

Queen of Patriarchs,

Mystical Rose,

Do you sometimes long to cry out

To the complaining Daughters of Eve,

To the rapacious Sons of Adam:

"Stop, Be silent. Listen, Hear me.

I’m Miriam, the Jewish girl from Nazareth

Who said ‘yes’ to life."

 

By Alice Tarnowski, in The Christian Century

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"The Lord look on you kindly and gives you peace!"

Numbers 6: 26

A new year has arrived and, on this Solemnity of the Holy Mother of God, Catholics observe a World Day of Peace. Pope Francis urges families, faith communities, government leaders, and the international community to practice non-violence and work to build a just peace. Look for reflections on his World Day of Peace message on ToGoForth.org.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: 1. Pray. Use the Prayer for Peace in Our Communities (below) with your family, school, faith community, or in other settings.

2. Learn. Read USCCB’s The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace (bit.ly/harvestofjustice) especially the section on "Nonviolence: New Importance." How can Gospel nonviolence challenge each of us personally, and as a nation? Learn how other communities are working for peace around the United States (bit.ly/peaceCCHD) and world (bit.ly/CRSpeace). How might the Holy Spirit be calling our community to respond?

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

"And Mary kept all these things,

reflecting on them in her heart."

Reflection:

Mary stands with the world’s displaced and vulnerable. The store windows may romanticize the nativity scene, even make it look attractive – but we can’t. A stable, or cave is no place for a woman to give birth. A manger for animal food is not where any mother wants to place her newborn. Mary has much to ponder about God’s surprising and confusing ways!

So we ask ourselves:

  • Has this Christmas season helped turn our eyes to the neediest families among us?
  • What can we do to relieve their confusion and distress?

POSTCARDS TO WOMEN ON DEATH ROW

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

[Did you know there are women on death row too? Check below for the names of three who would appreciate a letter or postcard.]

  • Carlette Parker #0311386 (On death row since 4/1/99)
  • Blanche T. Moore #0288028 (11/16/90)
  • Christian Walters #0626944 (7/6/00)

NC Correctional Institution for Women, 1034 Bragg St, Raleigh, NC 27610

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - 1rãWhere you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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