January 1, 2021
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
The Scripture readings for this 8th day of Christmas begin with a blessing prayer from the Book of Numbers, acknowledging the truth that God is always blessing his people, whether they are aware of it or not. On this Solemnity of Mary as Mother of God, Mary teaches us how to recognize and receive God’s blessings.
A quick glance at Mary’s life would seem to reveal not blessings from God, but trials. She goes through an unexpected pregnancy like none other. She lives under occupation. She is poor. Her beloved Joseph dies. Then her only son suffers terrible torture and dies a horrific death. Blessings? She would appear to be cursed by God.
But because Mary ponders what is said about her son, she sees blessings in the midst of trying times. Because Mary reflects on all that her son says and keeps these things safely guarded in her heart, she receives God’s blessings even in times of suffering.
For her unexpected pregnancy is a blessing, bringing her a child like none other. She lives under Roman occupation but experiences the blessing of profound freedom because of her faith. She is materially poor, but rich in God’s love shown her by Joseph and Jesus. Even Joseph’s death bring blessings back to light, as she recalls how he provided for her in Bethlehem a place to give birth, protected Jesus and her from King Herod’s murderous wrath, and provided and protected for their family as refugees in Egypt.
Because Mary pondered and treasured all that her Son said and did, because she meditated on his life and held him in her heart just as surely as she had held him in her womb, she was even able to trust that God would bring blessings from his death. Though even Mary could not have imagined the great gift of Jesus’ resurrection.
As Mother of the Church, as our mother, Mary teaches us how to recognize and receive the blessings of God. As mother of gratitude, she teaches us how to be grateful for all God has done for us.
In order to move into 2021 with hope, we need first of all to give thanks to God for the blessings of 2020. Many people would like to take the Year 2020 and toss it in the trash can. However, Mary teaches us that we need to ponder what God has done for us in and through Christ in this past year, even to take a second or third look below the struggles to the blessings hidden there. She teaches us that even from the sorrow of the loss of a loved one we can experience anew the blessings of God that flowed into our life through them.
As we worship today, we are enjoying one of God’s blessings from 2020— the gift of this holy place raised up for the glory of God. God provided this building in a nick of time, or what faith-filled people would call “Kairos” time—the fullness of time.
We began celebrating Mass in this building at the end of May a week or so after the Catholic Church in Oklahoma had reopened for communal worship in the celebration of the Eucharist. We could not ask for a better place to worship safely during a pandemic— a large, airy building with plenty of space for physical distancing that can seat almost 300 people. It would have taken three Masses in the old church building to allow for all the people who come to one of our Sunday morning Masses to safely distance. In addition, the blessing of having the newest technology to livestream our Masses to people who could not attend for fear of their safety, and to be able to do it in high quality, to make it the best experience possible to connect those not physically here with us.
If we join Mary in meditating on the blessings of God, we will begin to see many of these blessings hidden underneath the struggles of 2020, such as creatively finding new ways to connect with others, new ways to reach out and share the love of God. We now recognize as daily blessings all those whose work is essential to our life together, people who we most likely took for granted before the pandemic. But it takes time in solitude in silence, time alone with our Blessed Mother, to recognize and receive these blessings from God.
Gratitude expressed to God propels us into 2021 as a hope-filled people. Instead of making resolutions for this New Year, we can instead dare to dream with Jesus about God’s Kingdom. Mary, as Mother of God and our mother, also teaches us how to first receive Jesus as God’s dream in order for us to dream with him about the transformation of our world.
Pope Francis says it this way in his post-synodal exhortation to young people in 2019 entitled, “Christ is Alive:”
“Jesus can bring all the young people of the Church together in a single dream, a dream whose name is Jesus, planted by the Father in the confidence that it would grow and live in every heart. A concrete dream who is a person, running through our veins, thrilling our hearts and making them dance” (#157).
These very words could have been spoken by Mary, the one who gave birth to the dream of the Father, the one who experienced Jesus thrilling her heart and making her heart dance for joy.
These words of Pope Francis, directed to young people, are actually directed to all of us who are spiritually young enough to remain open to imagining a future full of hope. So, we reflect with Mary upon the words of actions of her Son which reveal his dream of the Kingdom of God. Joined to Mary’s Son and filled with the Holy Spirit at baptism, we now dare to call God, “Abba, Father” and to rejoice in the truth that we are adopted sons and daughters of God. By baptism, we are now as close to God the Father as God the Father is to his very own Son whom he sent into the world. By baptism, we are able to see how all people on the face of the Earth are brothers and sisters to each other, with one Father.
With Mary’s help, we can enter more profoundly into the dreaming of her Son, which moves us into a life lived in relationship to others, not to things or to “screens.” Turning away from the “passive” watching of TV together, couples can spend more time talking and listening to each other, especially sharing their dreams and acting on them. Parishioners can share their dreams for our parish, rooted in Jesus’ dream of God’s kingdom. Citizens can move away from spending way too much time in social media “echo chambers” and instead participate in ways to make their communities better.
By dreaming in Jesus and with Jesus, we can move from the virtual to the real, to real encounters with Him living in those who are on the margins, who are different from us.
We can dream with Mary, His Mother, about a world transformed, where God lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things.