Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

2018. Can’t say we didn’t see that one coming. If we were looking upon earth from outer space, we would find ourselves in about the same spot on the planet’s orbit around the sun. Not the same exact spot, but about the same spot. And given the plane of earth’s orbit is not constant, the arbitrary point we refer to as January 1 will never be the same exact spot anyway. But no one really cares. It’s not even that important. The only inhabitants on the planet who even care about this arbitrary date on the calendar are humans. And not even all humans since a small percentage, about 4%—roughly a couple of hundred million people, rely solely on some other calendar system, although the majority who use a different calendar will also use our calendar alongside theirs.

That aside, the first day of the year is also the World Day of Prayer for Peace, established in 1986 by John Paul II, inspired by John XXIII’s 1967 encyclical “Pacem in Terris.” We mark this World Day of Prayer for Peace each year on the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, and make a public proclamation among other things of our deep longing for peace, which is God’s gift first and foremost, but an impossibility without our cooperation. And with the passing of each previous year, we come to the realization that peace was for the most part merely a thought in our minds and a prayer on our lips. We long for it, probably with a more ardent desire each year, after witnessing horrors that keep intensifying and shattering any hope true peace is even attainable.

With the unhindered march of paralyzing fear and random violence in our country and across the globe just this past year alone, we have begun to tire of hearing people offer their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families. Probably intended as words of comfort and solidarity with those who have suffered grief, pain, and loss, they ring more and more hollow and meaningless each time they are repeated. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Somehow, it is not unreasonable to expect that those who so easily send their thoughts and prayers might also send clean water, food, emergency medical assistance, and especially if they have the political conviction, later down the road, state and federal aid to help people rebuild their lives and their livelihoods. Just sending thoughts and prayers while you have the power to do so much more only adds insult to injury. We see a similar complaint in the letter of James who asks, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?”[1] Full disclosure. James was attempting to put to rest a controversy regarding which was more important—faith or works. That is not what we are dealing with exactly. But it does address the question of our cooperation in the healing and reconciliation we desire for those who hurt to appropriately accompany our deepest hopes and expectations. Ultimately, we cannot sincerely claim to pray for peace if our actions do not also offer to achieve it in those areas of our lives and in the unfolding of human history where we have some influence or opportunity to bring it about.

So like the Virgin Mary did in the midst of all the wondrous events that have taken place in her life these last few days and weeks, we need to pause intentionally and deliberately that we might observe and absorb in all its depth the wonder and delight that we have seen unfold before us. Like Mary we need to reflect on the blessings of the past year and marvel at God’s wonderful and mighty deeds in our lives. We usually don’t need much help recalling the hurts and slights we have endured, whether inflicted on us by chance or with malice, the indignities and embarrassments we have suffered, and the misfortunes big and small we have faced. But do we ever pause to reflect on the good that has lifted us up, that has nurtured and healed us, and that has brightened our day? It isn’t much of something to do, which we might tend not to take as seriously as those that move us forward with energy and enthusiasm. Sitting back and pondering in the quiet and stillness is much like doing nothing at all. And yet, it is something very important that we should do. It is only when we behold and reflect on wonder and mystery that we are moved to a genuine appreciation of the good we have received and have been part of. And it allows us to await with more eager longing all the many blessings that God still desires to send our way. And perhaps it might give us the incentive to find opportunity to cooperate with God in realizing these blessings. So when we pray for peace and courage and healing and renewal, we might also place ourselves at the service of the Holy Spirit that we may become bearers and agents of God’s wonderful and mighty deeds.

Pope Francis in his homily at the Midnight Mass on Christmas pointed out how Jesus was not welcomed when he was born a child in Bethlehem. There was no room for him at the inn, which would have been the place where we would expect to find people. Mary and Joseph were the first to receive him, and yet Israel to whom he came were hostile at worst, oblivious at best. So Jesus was born in a lowly stable where the animals were sheltered. God came among us as a child, though we gave him a place among the animals unfit for a fellow human being, and embraced us without distinction, unbelievers, sinners, and foreigners, that he might give us the privilege of becoming God’s sons and daughters. It is a great privilege, but it also comes with a challenge. The task God sets before us is to follow his example, and receive our sisters and brothers where they are, even though they are unbelievers, sinners and foreigners, because we will find God where we least expect him, exactly there among them.

Welcoming God in our fellowmen and women is a first step to achieving the peace and courage and healing and renewal we so deeply desire. Once we make room for God in a place where we least expect to find him, we will soon notice that we have room in our hearts and our lives for others besides, and we will be able to embrace God in them, who often are also unbelievers, sinners, and foreigners.

This new year is a great opportunity, rather a series of many great opportunities for us to desire peace, to pray for peace, to proclaim peace, and to be agents of peace. We need to open more doors, and put out the welcome mat more often. We need to reach out with a smile more, a word of kindness and encouragement, a handshake, and an invitation to friendship. We will not achieve peace with thoughts and prayers alone. We need to bridge the divide that separates us from one another, as God did when he sent his Son among us. And may Mary who reflected on her blessings guide our efforts.

Rolo B Castillo © 2018

[1] James 2: 15-16