Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Some of the special days in our calendar are called “feasts” and some are “solemnities”. What’s the difference? A solemnity is ranked much higher than a mere feast. According to Catholic Answers, “a solemnity is the highest ranking feast. These commemorate an event in the life of Jesus, Mary or the Apostles central to the Christian faith. The celebration of mass on a Solemnity includes proper readings, the singing of the Gloria and the recitation of the creed.”

 

There are a lot of rules regarding solemnities that you really don’t need to know, but the main thing you do need to know is that part about commemorating an event in the lives of Jesus, Mary, or the Apostles that’s central to our faith. So, why is this celebration, just one week after Christmas, central to the faith?

 

It’s the day that the shepherds came to Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus. Notice that the shepherds “went in haste”. In 2016 we don’t have a lot of contact with shepherds. We don’t know much about them. But one thing we do know is that the don’t go anywhere “in haste”. They spend their days hanging out with sheep, not known to be speedy animals. Shepherd is a pretty low-key job. But here we have them hurrying to Bethlehem to see this little baby. Something important was going on here.

When they got there, they told Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them. Luke says, “All who heard their story were amazed!” What was so amazing? Well, the story itself was pretty outrageous. But the fact that the angels had delivered this message to these sheep herders, the absolute lowest rung on the social ladder was even more amazing. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

 

Then Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary was the central player in the greatest event in the history of the world. Everything that had happened to her in the last nine months had to be pretty overwhelming. She wasn’t an educated girl. She was a young girl from a small town whose life had been turned upside-down and I’m sure she spent many hours reflecting on what had happened.

 

She knew from the time that Gabriel had visited her that she was going to give birth to the Messiah. The angel had also visited Joseph and told him what was to come. On Christmas night Mary gave birth to the Son of God. She knew it. Joseph knew it. So what makes the visit of the shepherds an event “central to our Christian faith”? What makes it a “solemnity”? Why do we have to go to mass on New Years Eve (day)?

 

I think it goes back to the shepherds. Over the centuries, God has chosen the most surprising people to deliver His message. Look around at the statues of the saints in our chapel. There are a couple of kings, and Saint Michael, the Archangel. But for the most part they were ordinary people. Yet God chose them to be His messengers. The first in this long line of ordinary messengers were those shepherds.

 

Why didn’t the angels appear to somebody important; somebody with some influence; somebody who didn’t smell like a sheep? The most obvious answer is because the shepherds lived a quiet life. They were available to hear the message. They listened. Then, when they had received the message they went “in haste” to Bethlehem. It may have been the first time in their lives that they hurried anywhere.

 

If the shepherds were the first New Testament messengers, and if all these saints were messengers, then who are His messengers today? Take a look at the person sitting next to you. Better yet, take a look in the mirror. That’s where you’ll find His twenty-first century messengers. It’s you and me. We’re called to spread the Good News of the Gospel in this place and time. And, like the shepherds, we’d better hurry! There’s no time to waste!

 

If we’re not just as amazed by this story as the people who heard it first-hand from the shepherds, then we haven’t been paying attention. In the first reading the Lord told Moses to bless Aaron and his sons saying, “The lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

 

“Let His face shine upon you.” Nobody had ever seen God’s face. How could the Lord let his face shine upon them? That’s what this solemnity is all about. Now God has a face! It’s the face of a little baby lying in a manger. And the shepherds couldn’t wait to see it. This is what the world’s been waiting for for centuries. It’s an event that’s central to our faith.

 

The all-powerful God has chosen to show Himself to us in the form of a little baby. Halleluia!

 

On this day when we celebrate this awesome event, and on a day when we celebrate the changing of the secular calendar to a new year, we should keep in mind our neighbors who are suffering greatly from the recent rains and the catastrophic flooding. Please keep them in your prayers and, do what you can to help them. We will be taking up a second collection today and at both masses this weekend to help our neighbors. Please be generous, as you always are.

 

Feast of the Holy Family

 

Isn’t it remarkable that in just a few hours we’ve jumped from the Birth of Christ to His being twelve years old?   But the Church thinks it’s important that, in light of Jesus’ birth, we reflect on the importance of our families.

 

You know, Jesus didn’t have to be born into a human family. He could have just appeared as an adult. He could have ridden into town on a magnificent white horse surrounded by an army of angels. He was God. He could do that. In fact, that’s what many people expected. But that wasn’t His plan.

 

Jesus had to be born into a family. He had to experience what our lives are like. He also had to be an example to all of us of how we should behave. In the first reading, from the book of Sirach, the author tells us “God sets a father in honor over his children’ a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” He goes on to tell us that “whoever honors his father atones for his sins.”

 

That seems reasonable, and as a parent, I think it’s good advice. Sirach also tells us that a son should take care of his father when he gets old, even if his mind fails. I especially like that part.

 

We really don’t know all that much about Jesus’ growing up, but as a Holy Family, we have to believe that Jesus knew and followed Sirach’s teaching. I imagine it was a little touchy for Joseph to exercise authority over his Son who also happened to be God, but the Scriptures don’t give us any of the details about that, and it may be just as well.

 

Then we have today’s Gospel. Jesus is twelve. Anyone here who’s ever been a parent of a twelve-year-old knows they can be a little difficult to handle. They’re almost teen-agers but they’re still kids. They definitely think they know more than their parents, and in Jesus’ case that was probably true, while Mom and Dad still think of them as children.

 

So they take Jesus to Jerusalem for Passover. When it’s time to go home, Jesus decides to stay. It’s a whole day before Mary and Joseph realize that He’s missing. In a panic they rush back to Jerusalem trying to find Him. AND IT TAKES THREE DAYS! Can you imagine losing your child for a total of four days??? What a nightmare! Poor Mary and Joseph. Not only have they lost their only child, they’ve lost the SON OF GOD! For a devout Jewish couple, their fear must have been unbearable.

 

But, then they find Him and Mary says something that seems very mother-like. “Why have you done this to us?” Not, “Oh thank God, we found you”, but “Why have you done this to us?”

 

Jesus’ answer about being in His Father’s house must have been very painful to them, especially to Joseph. Jesus’ actions in the Gospel seem very contrary to what Sirach tells us in the first reading. Apparently, even for the Son-of-God, twelve was a difficult year. Every kid, whether it was 2,000 years ago, or today, has a tough transition to go through. Jesus, being who He was, still must have had a hard time growing up sometimes. This feast of the Holy Family shows us that every family has its issues.

 

Is there anyone here who hasn’t seen the movie “A Christmas Story”? It’s one of my all-time favorites and it runs on cable continuously Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Every year I watch it at least once, usually more than once. I love it because it reminds me so much of my own childhood, even though I never had a Daisy BB Gun. (My mother told me, “You’ll shoot your eye out”.) I also didn’t have a little brother. But the family dynamic, the atmosphere in northern Indiana, and all the rituals that surround Christmas are so similar to north Saint Louis in the fifties that I can’t help but relate.

 

There’s absolutely nothing religious about this movie. In fact, the producers seem to have gone out of their way to exclude religion. There’s never a Nativity Scene. Jesus’ name never comes up. It’s a strictly secular story that just happens to take place at Christmas time. But the Parker family fits Sirach’s model perfectly. The father is the head of the house. The mother has authority over Ralphie and Randy which is confirmed by “The Old Man”. The boys respect both their parents, even whey they’re trying to get away with something.

 

In the movie Ralphie is nine years old, not quite as old as Jesus in today’s Gospel, but nine-year-olds have their issues too. His reaction to the leg lamp is priceless, exactly what you would expect from someone his age.

 

There seems to be a similar message in this movie and in today’s readings. Every family, even the Holy Family, has its problems. Like they say, “kids will be kids” even if the kid is the Son of God. Parents aren’t perfect, even the Blessed Mother and Joseph. Things don’t always turn out the way we plan them. The humanity displayed by the Holy Family gives all of us hope.

 

Coming so soon after Christmas, this feast shows us that ecstasy can turn into disaster in the blink of an eye. One day we’re celebrating the birth of Christ, the next day He’s gone missing. Isn’t that what our lives are like sometimes? The Holy Family handled this catastrophe and went on with their lives, just like we have to. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are role models just like all these saints that are depicted here in our chapel. We study their lives to learn how to live our own.

 

Now that all the chaos of the secular Christmas celebration is past, we have the Holy Christmas season to relax and reflect. The Christmas decorations will remain in church for a while to give us time to reflect of Jesus birth without the distractions that get in our way leading up to Christmas. Let’s let the Holy Family be our example and our guide. “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways.”