Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – World Day of Peace 01.01.23
Our Lady & St. David’s Church, Naas
Once again I am delighted to join with you for Mass, honouring New Year’s Day, the 56th World Day of Peace, the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and very much remembering Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who entered eternal life yesterday morning.
On the first day of every year, the liturgy resounds throughout the world with that ancient priestly blessing from the Book of Numbers: “May the Lord bless you, and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace” .
Seeing the face of Jesus, the Shepherds in Luke’s account become the first responders to hear the news of the birth of Christ and to see His face. And not only are they responders but they in turn become evangelisers.
It’s not enough simply to hear the good news, to see His face. We have a duty to carry the message, to carry His image with us to others we meet. The first responders in every parish are very much you, the parishioners here of Naas, Sallins and Two-Mile-House.
Pope Francis this year entitles his message for this World Day of Peace: ‘No one can be saved alone. Combatting Covid-19 together, embarking together on paths of peace’. It is a challenging and very direct message focusing on how the world is emerging out of the global pandemic, and positioning it now very much in the indiscriminate war unfolding in Ukraine.
While thousands of kilometres away, we all suffer the collateral effects of that war when we fill up at the pumps, heat our homes or watch the world’s poorest die of starvation. He reminds us “the virus of war is more difficult to overcome than the viruses that compromise our bodies, because it comes, not from outside of us, but from within the human heart corrupted by sin” . As we reflect on that sin, we pray for God’s love and mercy …
We are back with the shepherds! It’s a week since Christmas Day and we take up the moment of their arrival to Bethlehem. They didn’t encounter stargazing problems, their visit was much earlier than the Magi, whose arrival we will honour on January 6th. Our religious Christmas Cards are in the main artistic impressions of the Nativity. Notice the shepherds are always depicted as standing and staring, maybe one of them on a bended knee, but no more. They have come to see the face of Jesus and don’t leave disappointed. They were privileged as the first to see His face unfold. Others would follow, including ourselves, but the shepherds will always be the first.
The shepherds stand in God’s presence and are deeply impacted by what they see. They receive His blessing not in a banquet hall or an apostolic palace but in a stable before a “baby lying in the manger” . From His name blessings come. From His face light radiates. And from His birth, God becomes the incarnate One, Emmanuel ‘God-with-us’.
The Church honours the beginning of every year with this solemnity celebrating the Mother of God. Luke’s text shows the silence that overcame Mary as she pondered everything: “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” . Mary epitomises calmness, she has that interior peace, a peace that is nourished by her initial response to the angel Gabriel and is built on, in every action since. This is an interior peace which we too often seek amid the turmoil and confusion life presents today.
The ancient priestly blessing in the Book of Numbers is a triple endorsement of the Holy Name of Jesus: “May the Lord bless you, and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace” . On Tuesday we will celebrate the memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus. On that day Pope Emeritus Benedict will lie in St. Peter’s Basilica allowing the faithful of Rome and the world an opportunity to pay their respects. Pope Benedict was a shy man of profound faith and a superb intellect. While many will focus on his momentously courageous decision to resign in 2013, we shouldn’t forget how he led the Church in a time of enormous transition.
In his homily as he was conferred with the pallium and ring at the beginning of his papacy in 2005 he spoke of his predecessor Pope John Paul II remarking how “he crossed the threshold of the next life, entering into the mystery of God. But he did not take this step alone. Those who believe are never alone – neither in life nor in death” . We can be confident, that Pope Benedict was not alone either. As one who sought to bring others into an encounter with Christ, he too, like the shepherds has indeed seen the face of God.
Luke’s gospel develops the Christmas narrative somewhat. We have gone beyond the awe and wonder, the falling on the knees bit. It’s time to stand up and go back out telling others “all they had heard and seen” . The shepherds do what shepherds are expected to do, go back into the hills and the valleys, the ravines and the dikes and spread that message of peace and joy. Pope Francis, in his letter for World Day of Peace back in 2017 quoted his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict who said too much violence, too much injustice can only be conquered by more love, more goodness . The too much is cancelled by the more! We are called to be generous people who live out of the ‘more’; let’s share that more with others, let’s be peacemakers.
This year’s message focuses the lens on emerging out of the global pandemic and finding ourselves in a war that is devastating so much of Ukraine and its people. Pope Francis reminds us “at the very moment when we dared to hope that the darkest hours of the Covid-19 pandemic were over, a terrible disaster befell humanity” . The only vaccination that can eliminate war is peace. And peace is even larger than the horrors unfolding in Ukraine, it is confronting the challenges of our world in a spirit of responsibility and compassion – ensuring public health for all, ending all wars that spawn poverty and death, caring for our common home, battling the virus of inequality on every front.
Peace begins at home, in every home. Our simplest of actions can contribute to the building of that peace. We place everything we say and do under the guidance and protection of Mary, our Mother, the Mother of God.
I conclude with a slightly adapted Prayer for Peace from a Diocesan Reach Out initiative some years back:
“Lord our God, Father of all humanity:
change the hearts of all peoples and their rulers,
so that peace may be established among the nations
on the foundations of justice, love and righteousness.
May the Spirit of Peace descend
upon the people of Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and upon troubled areas of our world until all conflicts cease
and peace reigns on earth. Amen” .