–– Sito di FORMAZIONE PERMANENTE MISSIONARIA –– Uno sguardo missionario sulla Vita, il Mondo e la Chiesa A missionary look on the life of the world and the church –– VIDA y MISIÓN – VIE et MISSION – VIDA e MISSÃO ––
Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
The council taught us to look upon Mary as a “figure” of the Church, that is, as the Church’s perfect exemplar, as the first fruits of the Church. But can Mary be a model of the Church even as “Mother of God,” the title with which she is honored this day? Can we become mothers of Christ?
Not only is this possible, but some fathers of the Church have said that, without this imitation, Mary’s title is useless to me: “What does it matter,” they said, “if Christ was once born to Mary in Bethlehem but is not born by faith in my soul?”
Jesus himself was the first to apply this title, “Mother of Christ,” to the Church when he declared: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21).
Today’s liturgy presents Mary to us as the first of those to become mother of Christ through attentive listening to his word. The Church has chosen for this feast the Gospel passage where it is written that “Mary, for her part, treasured all these words, meditating on them in her heart.” How one concretely becomes a mother of Christ is explained to us by Jesus himself: hearing the word and putting it into practice.
There are two types of incomplete or interrupted motherhood. One is the old one which we know: early termination of the pregancy. This happens when a woman conceives a life but does not give birth to it because, in the meantime, either for natural causes or the sin of men, the child dies. Until a short time ago this was the only known form of incomplete motherhood.
Today, however, we know another which consists, on the contrary, in giving birth to a child without having conceived it. This happens when child is first conceived in a test tube and then inserted into the womb of a woman. In some terrible and squalid cases, the womb is borrowed, sometimes rented, to bear a human life conceived elsewhere. In this case, that which the woman gives birth to does not come from her, is not “first conceived in her heart.”
Unfortunately, also on the spiritual plane there are these two sad possibilities. There are those who conceive Jesus without giving birth to him. Such are those who welcome the word without putting it into practice, those who have one spiritual abortion after another, formulating plans for conversion which are then systematically forgotten and abandoned at the halfway point; they behave toward the word as hasty observers who see their faces in a mirror and then go away immediately forgetting what they looked like (cf. James 1:23-24). In sum, these are those who have faith but not works.
On the other hand, there are those who give birth to Christ without having conceived him. Such are those who do many works, perhaps even good ones, which do not come from the heart, from love of God and right intention, but rather from habit, from hypocrisy, from the desire for their own glory or interests, or simply from the satisfaction of doing something, acting. In sum, these are those who have works but not faith.
These are the negative cases of an incomplete maternity. St. Francis of Assisi describes for us the positive case of a complete maternity which makes us resemble Mary: “We are mothers of Christ,” he writes, “when we carry him in our hearts and our bodies through divine love and pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through holy works, which should shine as an example before others!”
We — the saint says — conceive Christ when we love him with sincerity of heart and with rectitude of conscience, and we give birth to him when we accomplish holy works that manifest him to the world.
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the passage read during the Midnight Mass. Beside the manger of Jesus, the shepherds again appear. Following the news received from heaven, they go to Bethlehem and find Joseph, Mary, and the baby in a manger. One notes: they do not find anything extraordinary. They see only a baby with his father and his mother. Nevertheless, from that weak being, needing help and protection, they recognize the Savior. They do not need extraordinary signs; they do not verify miracles and prodigies. The shepherds represent all the poor, the excluded that, almost by instinct, acknowledge in the baby of Bethlehem the Messiah from heaven.
In the depictions, the shepherds appear in general to be on their knees before Jesus. But the Gospel does not say that they were prostrated in adoration, as the magi did (Mt 2:11). They simply observed—amazed in ecstasy—the marvelous work that God has done in their favor. Then they announced to others their joy and all were astonished at what they heard (v. 18).
In the first chapters of his Gospel, Luke often reveals the marvel and the immense joy of the persons who felt involved in the plan of God. Elizabeth, having discovered herself pregnant, repeats to all: “This for me is the Lord’s doing” (Lk 1:25). Simeon and prophetess Anna bless God who has granted them to see the salvation prepared for all the people (Lk 2:30-38); Mary and Joseph are also amazed and astonished (Lk 2:33,38).
All of them have eyes and heart of a baby that accompanies with a glance each gesture of the father. He remains raptured by his gesture and smiles. He smiles because in all that the father does he captures a sign of his love. “For the Kingdom of God belong to such as these—Jesus says one day—and whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk 10:14-15).
The first worry of the shepherds is not of an ethical type: they do not ask what they must do, what corrections they need to bring to their not so exemplary moral lives, what sins they must undertake to avoid … . They stand to enjoy that which God has done. After only after feeling being loved, they are able to listen to advice, the proposals of a new life poured on them by the Father. Only in this way,will they come to find themselves in a right condition to trust him.
In the second part of the Gospel (v. 19), the reaction of Mary to the story of the shepherds was emphasized: “She treasured all these words, and pondered them in her heart” (literally: she put them together).
Luke does not mean to say that Mary “had in mind” all that happened, without forgetting any detail. And he does not even want—as some have sustained—to indicate Mary as the source of information on the infancy of Jesus. The theological significance of his affirmation is far greater. He says that Mary “gathered together all the facts,” bound them and she captured the meaning; she discovered the connecting link; she contemplated the realization of God’s plan. Mary (a 12-13-year-old girl) was not superficial. She did not pride herself when things went well and did not lose heart before difficulties. She meditated, observed with an attentive eye each event in order not to be conditioned by ideas, convictions, and traditions of her people and be receptive to and prepared for God’s surprises.
A certain Marian devotion has distanced her from our world and from our human condition, anguishes, doubts, and uncertainties, and from our difficulty in believing. It wrapped her in a cloud of privileges that—according to cases—made her admired or envied but not loved. Luke presents her in a right perspective, as a sister who fulfilled a journey of faith, similar to ours.
Mary does not understand everything from the beginning: she marvels at what Simeon says of the child. She is almost taken by surprise (Lk 2:33). She was amazed as were the apostles and all the people before God’s works (Lk 9:43-45). She does not understand the words of her son who chose to commit himself to the Father’s affairs (Lk 2:50) as the Twelve had difficulty in understanding the words of the Teacher: “They could make nothing of this; the meaning of these words remained a mystery to them, and they did not understand what he said” (Lk 18:34).
Mary does not understand, but observes, meditates, reflects and after Easter (not before), she will understand everything; she will clearly see the meaning of that which happened.
Luke will present her, for the last time, at the beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. He will put her in her place, in the community of believers: “All of these together gave themselves to constant prayer. With them were some women and also Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). She was blessed because she believed (Lk 1:45).
Today’s Gospel concludes with the report on the circumcision. With this rite, Jesus officially enters to be part of the people of Israel. But this is not the principal reason for Luke to recall this fact. He is interested in another detail, the name given to the child, a name that was not chosen by the parents but was indicated directly from heaven.
For the people of Ancient Orient, the name was not only to indicate the person, to distinguish the animals or to identify the objects. It was more than that. It expressed the very nature of things; it formed one with the bearer. Abigail tells of her husband: “He is just what his name says. He is called Nabal (literally “a fool”) and his is a fool” (1 Sam 25:25). To be called with a name of the other meant to impersonate him, to make him present, having his very own authority, to call on his protection (Dt 28:10).
Keeping in mind this cultural context, we are able to understand the importance that Luke attributes to the name given to the child. He is called Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.” Matthew explains: he was called such because he will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).
In the commentary on the First Reading, we said, that the name of God—JHWH—could not be pronounced. But without a name, he remains anonymous. If one does not know our name, only a superficial relationship is possible.
If God wants to enter into dialogue with a person he must tell that person how he would like to be called; he must indicate his name and reveal his identity. He did. Choosing the name of His Son, God said who He is.
Here is His identity: He who saves, He who does nothing but saves. In the Gospels, this name is repeated 566 times, almost to remind us that God’s images that are not compatible with this name must be deleted. Now we understand the reason why in the Old Testament God did not allow his name to be pronounced because only in Jesus he would have told us who he was.
It is interesting to note those, in Luke’s Gospel, who called Jesus by name. They are not the just, the perfect, but only the marginalized, those at the mercy of the forces of evil. They are the possessed (Lk 4:34), the lepers: “Jesus, teacher, have mercy on us” (Lk 17:13), the blind: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me” (Lk 18:38) and the criminal who dies on the cross beside him: “Jesus, remember me when you enter into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42).
Peter will remind the religious leaders of his people: “No other name in fact under heaven is given to people, through whom they are saved” (Acts 4:12).
At the beginning of the year it is beautiful to exchange good wishes. In this way we renew for one another the hope that the year which awaits us may be somewhat better. It is fundamentally a sign of the hope that enlivens us and invites us to believe in life. We know, however, that with the new year, everything will not change, and that many of yesterday’s problems will still be here tomorrow. Thus I would like to express to you a wish supported by real hope, which I have drawn from today’s liturgy.
They are the words by which the Lord himself asked that his people be blessed: “The Lord make his face to shine upon you…. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you” (Num 6:25-26). I too wish you this: that the Lord lay his gaze upon you and that you may rejoice, knowing that each day his merciful face, more radiant than the sun, shines upon you and never sets! Discovering the face of God makes life new. Because he is a Father enamoured with man, who never tires of starting with us all over again in order to renew us. The Lord is patient with us! He never tires of starting over again each time we fall. However, the Lord does not promise magical changes, He does not use a magic wand. He loves changing reality from within, with patience and love; he asks to enter our life gently, like rain on the ground, in order to then bear fruit. Always, he awaits us and looks at us with tenderness. Each morning, upon awakening, we can say: “Today the Lord makes his face shine upon me”. A beautiful prayer, which is a reality.
The biblical benediction continues in this way: “[The Lord] give you peace” (v. 26). Today we celebrate the World Day of Peace (…). Peace, which God the Father wants to sow in the world, must be cultivated by us. Not only this, but it must also be “won”. This leads to a real struggle, a spiritual battle that takes place in our hearts. Because the enemy of peace is not only war, but also indifference, which makes us think only of ourselves and creates barriers, suspicions, fears and closure. These things are enemies of peace. We have, thanks be to God, a great deal of information; but at times we are so overwhelmed by facts that we become distracted by reality, from the brother and sister who need us. Let us begin this year by opening our heart and calling attention to neighbours, to those who are near. This is the way to win peace.
May the Queen of Peace, the Mother of God, whose solemnity we celebrate today, help us with this. Today’s Gospel states that she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Hopes and worries, gratitude and problems: all that happened in life became, in Mary’s heart, a prayer, a dialogue with God. She does this with us as well: she safeguards the joys and unties the knots of our life, taking them to the Lord.