Dear Parishioners & Friends,
The Lord bless and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!
What better way to begin the new year than with this blessing? The Virgin Mother herself probably heard it pronounced over her and her people. How might she have understood her own blessedness?
The summary phrase of the blessing is “The Lord give you peace.” Of course, Mary would have heard the word “shalom” for peace, a word almost exactly replicated by our Muslim brothers and sisters with their word “salaam.” “Shalom” expresses the depth of the concept of peace. The Hebrew shalom means more than peace; it means peace, justice and integrity in relationships. It implies safety and growth in wholeness as if the entire universe was woven together and functioning as God intended. The blessing of shalom prays that humanity and the entire universe may live the communion God created us to enjoy.
Today we celebrate the “Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.” That title would have surely overwhelmed the simple woman of Nazareth. But she didn’t have to concern herself with theology, dogma, titles and solemnities. Instead, she had a new baby, a confused but faithful husband and unexpected visitors coming to witness the scene where her family was trying to make do in spite of the inhospitable circumstances in which they found themselves.
What do we know of this young woman? First, we learned that God looked upon her kindly, or in Luke’s words, she had found favor with God. Then, we witnessed her humble self-description: “Here I am, the handmaid of the Lord.” In spite of the inconceivable dimensions of what she had been told, Mary’s response exhibited shalom. She trusted, gave birth to her child and simply cared for him.
When the shepherds appeared on the scene they knew far more than Mary could have expected. Delighted to discover her son in the manger, they started spreading the word as if they understood exactly what was going on. Like many of us, those shepherds were quick to make proclamations about what they thought God was up to in their midst. Like Jesus’ own disciples, these first witnesses may well have had the right vocabulary, but it’s highly unlikely that they fully comprehended what they had encountered. The shepherds talked, others were “amazed,” and we don’t hear a single word from Mary.
Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Her name would be remembered in the scriptures of Christianity and Islam. Generations to come would call her blessed, and the Fathers of the Church would defend her title as “Mother of God.” But, from the day of Jesus’ birth until his death, the little we hear from her amounts to no more than one question, a subtle request on behalf of others and a reflection of her own discipleship: “Son, why have you done this to us?” “They have no wine,” and “Do whatever he tells you.”
When Luke tells us that Mary kept things in her heart, the word he uses indicates a long process of mulling, a life of discernment, trying to put together disparate pieces of a mystery. While the process didn’t lead to quick conclusions, it doesn’t mean she gave up on it. Luke’s statement about her ongoing reflection is one of the reasons some conclude that Mary herself gave Luke the Nativity story.
Whether or not the narrative originated with Mary, Luke portrays her as the contemplative in action. Mary had more to ponder than anyone else in this story. She had to question her experience and her response. She had to make sense of all that she had encountered while balancing it with the traditions of her people. She must have accepted living with more questions than answers and far more hope than certainties. In addition to all of that, she had to change the diapers and fix dinner.
Mary, Mother of the God who came in the flesh of a needy infant, learned to remain open to God’s shalom, to allow her faith to exceed her uncertainties and her hope to give her resolve beyond her power to imagine. She sought to do God’s will as she baked their daily bread. We look to the Mother of God to teach us how to live simply as contemplatives in action.