The Christmas mysteries need more than one liturgical event to express the fullness of the story of the Incarnation. It begins with Christmas Eve, continues through Christmas Day, the feasts of the Holy Family and Mary, the Mother of God, right through to the great Feast of the Epiphany. Each of these liturgies has a part to play in telling the story of how God became one of us in the person of Jesus.
While the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, has much to say to us about Mary and her role in salvation history, it really was meant by the church to proclaim the dual nature of Jesus. “Born of a woman, born under the law,” as Paul says in the second reading, but also having this connection to the Divine family: “so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters.”
So the title of Mary as “Mother of God” has been one way the church underlines the Divine nature of Jesus. Still, as if to hold these dualities in tension, we hear again the story of the shepherds coming to Bethlehem and how Mary “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The place of Mary in the unfolding of this mystery is the place of all disciples. I love one line in the song Mary, Did You Know? when it says, “Mary did you know that the son you just delivered will soon deliver you?”
Jan. 1 and the beginning of a New Year can always be a time for fruitful reflection on where our life’s been and where it is going. Moments of grace and mystery have touched us over this past year and we can ask ourselves some important questions. Where has God been revealed in my life over the past year? What are those marking moments that have shifted my awareness, my compassion, my understanding and my direction in life? What has stretched me? What relationships have become important to attend to? Of great importance is to ask the question: “What am I truly grateful for in my life?”Taking time for some prayerful reflection can lead us to more fully give ourselves to God’s loving plan for us. It can lead to a new opportunity for surrender and dedication. It can also help us to refocus and take stock of the really important things in life.
Doing this kind of self-examination might help us to see a thread that runs through our life — something consistently weaving its way through our experience. There’s a lovely poem written by William Stafford that expresses this, called “The Way It Is”
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it, you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die, and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you can do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
At the bedrock of my spiritual life lies a deep-seated “thread” of a childhood memory of going to church with my mom. We attended the Redemptorist Parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Vancouver and each week, when I was a grasshopper, we would trudge off to Perpetual Help Devotions to pray. On the way there, my mom would direct me to think of something or someone to pray for at that time. I remember studying the icon of Our Lady. It was large and was above the left side altar.
I remember being more impressed with Mary’s hands than with her crown. Royalty meant little to my five-year-old mind, but her large hands meant something more, something deeper. As I walked to church holding the warm and protective hand of my own mother, Mary’s large hands enveloping Jesus’ tiny hands had a deep meaning of strength and protection.
The Redemptorist priests I grew up with were very much a reflection of that strength and protection. They went out of their way to make people, even little children, feel like part of the family. That has been a strong thread winding its way throughout my life. Through my childhood years these priests were fatherly and caring. Through my teenage years they were “kind of cool” to be around. Through my adult life and ministry, they have been brothers to my wife and I, older and younger, uncles to my children, men full of faith and loving kindness. The grace of that “thread” has blessed me and my family throughout the years.
So here we are at the beginning of another year and how appropriate to start with a liturgical prayer that is mindful of Mary’s love and protection. The year fittingly begins with a blessing, the blessing of Aaron from the first reading: “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.”
You have been named as a child of God. Carry that title with you as a strong thread throughout the whole year! Blessings on 2017!
Williston gives parish missions and is a former missionary with the Redemptorists. He is also a song writer and recording artist.