My Dear Friends,
As we celebrate Epiphany, I wanted to share my New Year’s Day homily for those who did not hear it and to offer for reflection for those who did two words to ponder upon: Surrender and Obedience. It also offers a reflection on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI whose passing we still mourn as a Church.
“Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2: 19).
As we (close a year) begin a new year, there are two words that I have been pondering in prayer during this Christmas Octave: surrender and obedience. Two words that come to life as you behold the wonder of a manger. It is a simple scene. A Divine Child with his Virgin Mother and her chaste spouse. On this first day of the year, we celebrate the Motherhood of Mary. She who surrendered to God’s will and was obedient to it. As we heard two Sundays ago in the gospel, Joseph surrendered as well when he obeyed the angel and took Mary into his home. We do well by following the examples of Mary and Joseph in the new year. Totally submissive to the will of God.
This day, we come to church with our hearts a little heavy because as a new year was about to dawn, the Catholic Church lost a gentle shepherd, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He was a reluctant pope, but like Peter, his predecessor, he embraced the cross the Lord asked him to carry. He spent his life teaching us, and towards the end of his life when most of us are ready to retire, he was given the pulpit of the papacy to amplify the gifts of wisdom and theological knowledge granted to him by the Holy Spirit. Here was a faithful son of the Church who surrendered to the will of God and was obedient. This obedience and fidelity to his bride, the Church, led him to take one of the most heroic decisions in the history of the papacy. Realizing that his health was too frail, he handed the keys of St. Peter to someone else while still breathing. Something that had not been done since 1415. And yet he continued to serve the Church by pledging obedience to his successor, and praying for us during the last nine years in solitude in a tiny monastery in the Vatican Gardens.
Surrender and obedience. Pope Benedict would want us to return our attention to Mary on this day as we seek to make these words part of our daily spiritual regimen. The gospel tells that as Mary heard the shepherds tell them the message they had heard from the angel; she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Here I will cede to the brilliance of Pope Benedict to explain what this verse means:
The Greek verb used, sumbállousa, literally means “piecing together” and makes us think of a great mystery to be discovered little by little. Although the Child lying in a manger looks like all children in the world, at the same time he is totally different: he is the Son of God, he is God, true God and true man. This mystery – the Incarnation of the Word and the divine Motherhood of Mary – is great and certainly far from easy to understand with the human mind alone.
Yet, by learning from Mary, we can understand with our hearts what our eyes and minds do not manage to perceive or contain on their own. Indeed, this is such a great gift that only through faith are we granted to accept it, while not entirely understanding it. And it is precisely on this journey of faith that Mary comes to meet us as our support and guide. She is mother because she brought forth Jesus in the flesh; she is mother because she adhered totally to the Father’s will. St Augustine wrote: “The divine motherhood would have been of no value to her had Christ not borne her in his heart, with a destiny more fortunate than the moment when she conceived him in the flesh” (De Sancta Virginitate, 3, 3). And in her heart Mary continued to treasure, to “piece together” the subsequent events of which she was to be a witness and protagonist, even to the death on the Cross and the Resurrection of her Son Jesus.
Dear brothers and sisters, it is only by pondering in the heart, in other words, by piecing together and finding unity in all we experience, that, following Mary, we can penetrate the mystery of a God who was made man out of love and who calls us to follow him on the path of love; a love to be expressed daily by generous service to the brethren. May the new year which we are confidently beginning today be a time in which to advance in that knowledge of the heart, which is the wisdom of saints. (Homily 1/1/2008)
Like Mary, may this new year find us “piecing together” the mystery of who Jesus is so that we can imitate him. We can only do this in one way: by being surrendering and being obedient like Mary, our Mother. The other day I heard a phrase in a homily by a brother priest that said, and I am paraphrasing, “we can only be joyful if we surrender our existence to Jesus Christ.” Sounds drastic, but that is what is required of the Christian. In this new year, surrender your existence to Jesus. We saw Mary and Joseph do it quite radically in the gospels. And on this earth, we saw a simple, quiet man from Bavaria surrender everything he had to Jesus Christ to proclaim His glory. Eternal rest grant unto your servant Benedict, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
God bless you all,