Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

The Octave Day of Christmas
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God


Lectionary: 18



Mary Mother of GodThen the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen, 
just as it had been told to them.


In his poem, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, William Carlos Williams noted how the painter Brueghel described a Greek tragedy. The boy Icarus, flying too close to the sun with jury-rigged wings of wax and feathers, plunged to his death in the sea when the wax melted. In the landscape, a farmer plowing his field, a shepherd, a fisherman, a passing ship,  and the indifferent ocean failed to notice. Even the viewer of the painting searches to find the boy's legs vanishing in the water. 


I thought of that as I read this morning's story of the shepherds. Saint Luke's spotlight does not long rest on the birth of Jesus, though he gives us more detail than Saint Matthew. The first-born son was brought forth, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. But Mary and Joseph did not see the angels or hear their announcement. They were only told about the choirs of angels singing. 


Except for the angelic announcement to Mary and Joseph, their experience of the child's birth was as ordinary as the birth of a first-born child might be. Exciting, certainly, for first-time parents, but nothing ethereal. They would be astonished again when they arrived in the Temple and the old man Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God. 


"Mary," we're told, "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." Only with reflection do we know what "these things" mean. 


I think we will be reflecting for a long time on the year 2016. It might be remembered as the year a sea change, sweeping the earth, arrived in the United States. In my memory 1968 was such a year. 1861, 1941 and 2001 also brought dramatic change, although each is remembered for a different reason. 2016 might be the year democracy ebbed throughout the world and tyranny resumed its reign. 


The NRA is quick to assume any political event means they will lose their second amendment right to bear arms; devout Catholics should be equally apprehensive about the loss of our first amendment right to the free exercise of religion. 


Because so many baptised Americans refuse to practice their faith, we stand to lose what we take for granted. Particularly in Europe and the United States where the laity cannot provide enough candidates to the priesthood, we may lose our freedom of religion. 

Unlike the NRA, disengaged Catholics assume the Church will be there -- and should be there -- when they're ready. The priests should be in the parishes and the chaplains should be in the hospitals, prisons and military. But, like Icarus, the Catholic faith might be swallowed up without a splash in an indifferent sea and no one will notice. 


Mary pondered strange, marvelous things in her heart, as did Joseph. They practiced their faith in a hostile environment, and acted politically despite their poverty. They knew enough to flee Bethlehem when the child was born and to avoid it twelve years later. Catholics should be more wary about the threat and more eager to practice our faith in the face of indifference and secular scorn. If we don't use our faith in 2017 we will certainly lose it. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.