Merry Christmas, everyone! And Happy New Year!
Have you ever been at an event where you’re supposed to be happy but you’re not? It’s a common human experience. It’s good to admit that we struggle with this. There could be a legitimate reason why we’re not happy. For example, we’ve had a tragedy about which no one knows, or someone has deeply hurt us, or we’re having an interior struggle. On the other hand, there are many times when we’re with family, at Mass, having a meal, and we can’t see the goodness in front of us because something’s stealing our peace, and, to tell the truth, this problem isn’t bad enough to blind us from the good. Something is wrong, and, praise God, we can do something about it.
The first truth to keep in mind from today’s readings is that God the Father wants to bless us. The Church has chosen today’s First Reading as the first reading for every calendar year to remind us that the Father wants to bless us for the whole upcoming year. God instructs Moses that the priests are to give the people the following blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). What’s the key word here? ‘Lord.’
This is important because, three thousand years ago, people didn’t know God’s name. Different people believed in different gods: Osiris, Amon-Re, Baal, etc. But none of them are real. So, what is the true God’s name? No one knew, until He revealed it, written like this in Hebrew, YHWH. Knowing someone’s name establishes a relationship and intimacy. When we call our parents ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad,’ we can expect a unique love from them. In the same way, because we know God’s name, we can expect a special love from Him. And, today, as we celebrate the motherhood of Mary, we can go to her for consolation because she’s our mom.
Think about people who have no religious background: When they’re in desperate need and try praying, they don’t know whom to call. In the great 2013 movie Gravity, with Sandra Bullock, this astronaut is all alone in space and scared that she’s now going to die, and says, “I’d say [a prayer] for myself but I’ve never prayed in my life. Nobody ever taught me how”. Yet, when we’re feeling low, we can call God the Father and know that He wants to bless us.
A number of times during my life, when I was young or an adolescent and in a bad mood, my parents would come to my room where I shut myself in. Either I was hurt, or I had failed at something, or I was just sulking, and they would ask, “Do you want to come down?” that is, join the family? And I would say, “No,” because I wasn’t ready to be happy again. Then they would leave me, oftentimes saying nothing but kissing me on the head, communicating, in effect, ‘You can come down when you’re ready. You can join the family and the fun when you’re ready.’
God the Father offers us something similar: ‘You can receive the blessing when you’re ready,’ when our hearts are ready to receive His goodness, and when we’ve let go of our anger, resentment, entitlement, and rash judgments of other people.
With this in mind, and for those who would appreciate it, it’s time that we start offering the optional solemn blessings at the end of Mass, and we’ll start incorporating them more often. They’re very short ways of asking the Trinity’s blessing on us.
The second truth to keep in mind is that we sometimes have to act against our spiritual sadness. Now, if it’s a legitimate sadness, as when we’re grieving the loss of someone we love, then we let sadness take its course. And, if it’s something psychological, we treat it differently. However, when it’s spiritual, such as when we’re frustrated with people or are having a bad day, or we’re just being immature, then we should act against it.
The Gospel says that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). St. Bede says that our Mother was pondering the prophecies of God that had now been fulfilled, like the new Davidic king, Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace, her conceiving as a virgin, and what had been spoken of by St. Gabriel (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke, 43). What’s amazing about her pondering is that so many things around her had gone wrong: the tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, being pregnant and yet being rejected at the inn, searching for a place to sleep and give birth to her child, and accepting an animal’s manger for her son. She would have been tempted to unjust anger and resentment, but her gaze is on how God has come through for her.
Pope Benedict, who passed away yesterday (God rest his soul), wrote this: “In all this… Mary remains even-tempered, she does not get agitated, she is not overcome by events greater than herself; in silence she considers what happens, keeping it in her mind and heart, and pondering it calmly and serenely. This is the interior peace which we ought to have amid the sometimes tumultuous and confusing events of history, events whose meaning we often do not grasp and which disconcert us”.
This is why St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches that, if the devil or we ourselves push us in the direction of spiritual desolation, where we lack faith, hope, charity, gratitude, or become spiritually lazy, etc., then we have to act directly against it. If all we’re thinking about is how bad things are, then we must think about how good things are.
Like our mother Mary, perhaps we should think about the times when God has been faithful in our lives. When did He come through for us? Where did He give us strength to love? When did He give us a share in the Cross?
I’d like to thank everyone for the amazing Christmas celebration we just had, because the focus was, first of all, on Jesus, but the love of neighbour was palpable and it was spectacular. Thank you! During Advent, we focused on getting ready for Christ’s Mass, avoiding commercialism, and being hospitable, and we did a great job. Thank you to the decorators, the hospitality and Name Tag teams, the choirs, servers, lectors, gift bearers, ushers, and Tech Team.
I say this because you deserve gratitude, but, on a personal note, I also say this to work against my temptation to ingratitude. You may want to do the same in some way. God gave our parish family a beautiful 2022, and we finished spiritually strong, especially with events like the Dinner & Dance and Christ’s Mass.
If we can work against our sadness, praise God! But, if we’re not yet ready, remember that God, Dad, wants to bless us, and we can receive His blessing when we’re ready.