Jan 1: Mary, Mother of God and New Year

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Dear Friend,
 One of our traditional invocations when we want to wish people well is to say ‘God bless you’. A Blessing implies finding favour with God. On the first day of the New Year it would be good to bless and thank God for the gift of yet another year and ask for his blessings on every day of the New Year. One of the blessings we have received is the gift of Mary Mother of God and our mother. It would be great if we could count the marvels God does for us every day! ‘Have a blessed New Year!’

The blessing from today’s first reading is one of the best known sections of the entire Torah, a priestly blessing upon the people. The blessing is threefold, and was used by the Jewish priests to bless the people at the end of the sacrifice in the temple of Jerusalem. The words of the blessing are almost self-explanatory; three times the name of Yahweh is mentioned to remind us that He is the source of all blessing. The blessing firstly recognizes the people’s dependence on God. Secondly, it wishes that God gives the recipients a sign of his pleasure. Thirdly, it wishes ‘Peace’ that precious gift of not only internal tranquility, but prosperity and happiness as well. In summary, what is being said is that we are blessed because we are children of Yahweh, his favoured sons and daughters!

Live the day before you die for God
A group of students being a bit puzzled by problems, went to one of their favourite teachers for advice. This teacher had gained their confidence because he seemed to have something the rest lacked. The teacher tried his best to help them, and in concluding said to them “Live the day before you die for God.” “But”objected one of the boys, “how can we do that? We don’t know the day we are going to die.” “Then,” smiled the teacher, “live every day as if it were the day before you die. It’s as simple as that.”
Antony Kolencherry in ‘Living the Word’

The Gospel reminds us of the journey of the shepherds to Bethlehem. They had heard the good news of the birth of Jesus, they believed and journeyed to discover the child born to be the Saviour of the world. Each one has to make this journey during one’s life. The journey becomes meaningful if we are ready and willing to move on, to journey solely guided by God’s word and God’s promise. This too is the call of every Christian: to listen, believe, and proclaim what we have heard, seen, and experienced in our lives. There is another journey of faith alluded to in today’s gospel narrative, the faith journey of Mary. The faith journey is not necessarily an external journey, but it could very well be the longest journey of one’s life. To discover the face of God, we need, like Mary, to listen, to treasure all these things and ponder them in our heart. One needs to be a contemplative in action. When Mary said ‘yes’ to God she did not understand, but she journeyed in faith. At the revelations of the shepherds, though the others were active in amazement, Mary was silent and pondered all these things in her heart. Mary was blessed at the Annunciation, blessed at the birth in Bethlehem, blessed by the visit of the shepherds, as she contemplated them in the depth of her heart. Each time we reflect, we pray, we let God be born in us and through us. The last part of the gospel says that on the eighth day Jesus was circumcised and given the name Jesus, which means ‘the one who saves’ the one who earns for us the privilege to call God ‘Father’. Thanks to Jesus, we have the greatest blessing, for He is as close as the mention of his name, and in and through His name alone are we saved. Today as we begin a New Year we also thank God for Mary, who gives us Jesus, who makes known to us the face of God, shining on us, looking kindly and tenderly upon us and brings us His peace.

Giving birth to God
Chinua Achebe, the well-known Nigerian author, made an interesting remark in his book ‘The Anthills of the Savanna’. He tells us how in both the Bible and his African traditions, women are blamed for all that went wrong in the world. In our biblical tradition it is the familiar story of Eve. In Achebe’s tradition, women were the reason that God, who once lived very near to his human creation left it. God was so near that the women, who were pounding their millet into flour hit God. God warned them against this. They would be careful for some time, but they would start to chat again, forget about the divine presence, and hit God again. Finally God gave up and left. In both cases, Achebe writes, men told these stories. They knew they weren’t true stories and because they felt somewhat guilty about them, they added another story in which they relate that final salvation will come through a woman, different from all other women, who cooperates with God. That is why it is good to consider that every woman is invited by God to be like Mary, cooperating like Mary, to give birth to God in themselves and in the world in which they live.
Joseph Donders in ‘With Hearts on Fire’

The big difference
A shoeshine boy was plying his trade in New York’s Grand Central Station. A silver medal danced at his neck as he slapped his shine cloth, again and again, across a man’s shoes. “Sonny,” said the man curiously, “what’s the hardware around your neck?” It’s a medal of the mother of Jesus,” the boy replied. “Why her medal?” said the man. “She’s no different from your mother.” “Could be,” said the boy, “but there’s a real big difference between her son and me.” The boy’s devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, invites me to ask: What role does Mary play in my life? How might she play an even bigger role?
Mark Link in ‘Vision 2000’

Come to the stable
“A Legend from Russia” is a poem by Phyllis McGinley about Christmas. The poem begins as the old grandmother, Babushka, is about to retire for the evening: ‘When out of the winter’s rush and roar came shepherds knocking upon her door. They tell her of a royal child a virgin just bore and beg the grandmother to come and adore. Babushka is good-hearted, but she likes her comfort, and so her reaction is to go later. “Tomorrow,” she mutters. “Wait until then.” But the shepherds come back and knock again. This time they beg only for a blanket: With comforting gifts, meat or bread, And we will carry it in your stead. Again Babushka answers, “Tomorrow.” And when tomorrow comes, she’s as good as her word. She packs a basket of food and gifts: A shawl for the lady, soft as June, For the Child in the crib a silver spoon, Rattles and toys and an ivory game . . . but the stable was empty when she came.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

Being given a name
In his book Roots, Alex Haley tells how his African ancestors name their children. Eight days after the child’s birth, the father took the child into his arms whispered its name into its ear. That night the father completed the ceremony. Carrying the child out under the stars, alone, he lifted the baby up to the sky and said, “Behold the only thing greater than yourself.” This naming rite helps us appreciate better the two rites that surrounded the birth of Jesus: circumcision and presentation. Circumcision initiated Jesus into the community of God’s chosen people. Presentation consecrated Jesus to God.
Mark Link in ‘Daily Homilies’

Thanks for all that has been!
In the popular musical 'The Fiddler on the Roof' someone asks the wise Rabbi: Is there a blessing for the Czar?” The Rabbi replies, “May God bless and keep the Czar....far away from us!” Indeed, there is a blessing for everything and everyone. So, don’t hesitate to breathe a Spirit-blessing upon your whole world –your body, your work, your studies, your friends and the New Year. Let everything and everyone fill your mind as you whisper the words, “I bless you with the holy name of Jesus!” Remember, God has created you to be a blessing. May the New Year find us being a blessing unto all. Thus, with the name of Jesus under the protection of Mary, and with the breath of God’s Spirit, let’s pray the prayer of Dag Hammarsjold: “Lord, for all that has been, Thanks! For all that will be, Yes!”

May we be blessed each day of the New Year!
1. Did you know that New Year's Day is the one holiday that is almost universal? It is the world's most observed holiday.  

I trust you've made your New Year's resolutions one of which is to be in worship each week. Well done for this first Sunday. I won't ask you if you've resolved to lose the weight you gained between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or if you're planning on joining a health club, or if you're going to run five miles a day. Five miles, by the way, is my total aggregate of a lifetime of running.  

The late Erma Bombeck made some memorable resolutions over the years:

1. I will go to no doctor whose office plants have died.
2. I'm going to follow my husband's suggestion to put a little excitement into my life by living within our budget.
3. I'm going to apply for a hardship scholarship to Weight Watchers.
4. I will never loan my car to anyone I have given birth to.

2. Joke writer Ed McManus has some words of comfort for those of us who are setting resolutions: "Don't worry about [keeping] those 2013 News Year's resolutions," he says. "You only have to deal with them until the end of February and then you can give them up for Lent." It sounds like he has been spying on some of us. 

Resolutions are good, especially if there are changes we need to make in our lives. I heard about one poor guy who dialled his girlfriend and got the following recording: "I am not available right now, but thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes."

It's good to make changes, for the most part. As we are often reminded by our critics, our spouses or our children, none of us is perfect. In fact, some of us might have some deep regrets about the way we've lived our lives. 

3. Dr. Les Parrott tells about a guy in Fredericksburg, Virginia named Cliff Satterthwaite who helps people get rid of their regrets. Each New Year's Eve Mr. Satterthwaite sets up a booth there in Fredericksburg where those celebrating New Year's Eve can come for a moment of sober reflection. Put the emphasis on "sober" reflection. Those who come write their regrets on a scrap of paper, then they set a match to them and turn them to ashes in an adjacent canister. Literally, their regrets go up in smoke. At least, that's the general idea.  

We could do that. We could write our regrets on a piece of paper and bring them to the altar and watch them go up in smoke. That might be very therapeutic for some of us as we begin a new year. But our text for the day from the prologue to the Gospel of John puts the emphasis not on our past, but on our future. Not on our regrets, but on our possibilities.... 

4. Tom Ervin, Professor of Music at the University of Arizona was attending a conference for music teachers in New York. While at the conference he purchased a talking metronome. A metronome is a device for counting the beats in a song. Before Tom and his son boarded their flight home, Tom hefted his carry-on bag onto the security-check conveyor belt.

The security guard's eyes widened as he watched the monitor. He asked Tom what he had in the bag. Then the guard slowly pulled out of the bag this strange looking device, a six-by-three-inch black box covered with dials and switches. Other travellers, sensing trouble, vacated the area.

"It's a metronome," Tom replied weakly, as his son cringed in embarrassment. "It's a talking metronome," he insisted. "Look, I'll show you." He took the box and flipped a switch, realizing that he had no idea how it worked. "One . . . two . . . three . . . four," said the metronome in perfect time. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  

As they gathered their belongings, Tom's son whispered, "Aren't you glad it didn't go 'four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . '?" For the past few weeks we have been counting down the days until Christmas. Now we could count the hours until the dawning of a New Year. But we need to linger with Mary and Joseph for a little while longer, because what happened immediately after Christmas is a stark reminder of the world in which we live... 
 6. Stay Focused! 

We sometimes miss the great opportunities of life because we get sidetracked. I once heard the tale of a talented and gifted bloodhound in England that started a hunt by chasing a full-grown male deer. During the chase a fox crossed his path, so he began now to chase the fox. A rabbit crossed his hunting path, so he began to chase the rabbit. After chasing the rabbit for a while, a tiny field mouse crossed his path, and he chased the mouse to the corner of a farmer's barn. The bloodhound had begun the hunt chasing a prized male deer for his master and wound up barking at a tiny mouse. It is a rare human being who can do three or four different things at a time--moving in different directions. 

The Apostle Paul knew his number one priority in life was to live his life to the honor and glory of God by preaching the Gospel. However, we know that Paul is not in a plush hotel room but in prison. He receives a report that all is not well at the Church in Philippi. His very life could be ended at any moment. And the list goes on. However, the Apostle Paul would not allow anything to cross his path that would deter him from his priority. Paul knew that his new life was a gift from God, not from the promises of humanity. His life was to be lived for his master. Nothing would sidetrack him of that priority!

 Eric S. Ritz

7. Living by the Calendar Instead of the Clock (New Year's) 

"Leisure," from the Latin, means "to be free." Leisure is anything that restores you to peace while you are doing it. So, gardening, golf, reading, puzzles, and many other things can restore us to peace as we do them. Another cousin of leisure is the word "paragon." This little-used word means "the second thing that we do in life that keeps the first thing in tune." Hence, our work may draw energy from us, and we have then a "paragon," a leisure thing we do in order to restore us.  

Most often, to build toward leisure demands that we disassemble something else. In Thomas Moore's book Meditations, he tells of a pilgrim walking along a road. The pilgrim sees some men working on a stone building.  

"You look like a monk," the pilgrim said.
"I am that," said the monk.
"Who is that working on the abbey?"
"My monks. I'm the abbot."
"It's good to see a monastery going up," said the pilgrim.
"They're tearing it down," said the abbot.
"Whatever for?" asked the pilgrim.
"So we can see the sun rise at dawn," said the abbot. 

Richard A. Wing

8. Who Needs Resolutions? We Need a Revolution! 

Welcome to this New Year. I trust that one of your resolutions for this year is to be in worship every week. Good for you. That's one resolution you've kept for at least one week.

I heard about one poor fellow who decided to make only resolutions this year he could keep. He resolved to gain weight, to stop exercising, to read less and watch more TV, to procrastinate more, to quit giving money and time to charity, to not date any member of the cast of Baywatch, and to never make New Year's resolutions again.

Maybe he's onto something. Why torture ourselves when we never keep those resolutions more than a week anyway?

What we need, of course, is not another resolution, but a revolution. We need a turning point in our lives. Like the wise men of old we need to catch a glimpse of a guiding light, and we need to follow that light to a New Life in Christ.

King Duncan,

 9. Seven Resolutions

 I like a list of resolutions prepared by the Rev. Walter Schoedel. He calls them '7-UPS for the New Year.' No, this has nothing to do with the soft drink. These 7-UPS fall under the heading of attitudes and actions.

The first is WAKE UP--Begin the day with the Lord. It is His day. Rejoice in it.
The second is DRESS-UP--Put on a smile. It improves your looks. It says something about your attitude.
The third is SHUT-UP--Watch your tongue. Don't gossip. Say nice things. Learn to listen.
The fourth is STAND-UP--Take a stand for what you believe. Resist evil. Do good.
Five, LOOK-UP--Open your eyes to the Lord. After all, He is your only Savior.
Six, REACH-UP--Spend time in prayer with your adorations, confessions, thanksgivings and supplications to the Lord.

And finally, LIFT-UP--Be available to help those in need--serving, supporting, and sharing.

If you're going to make New Year's resolutions this year, let me suggest Rev. Schoedel's list.

Why do we bother to make New Year's resolutions in the first place? Why do we feel this need each January 1 to set new goals? Maybe it is because resolutions help us to identify our priorities. They answer the Question: how do I want to invest my time, energy, money, and talents in this New Year? The New Year reminds us that time is passing. It is up to each of us to maximize the potential of every moment.

Walter Schoedel

10. Keep Your Head Right 

Pastor Stephen Brown taught swimming and diving for a number of years. He tells about a young boy named Billy. Billy had watched so many professional divers and wanted so much to dive like them that he refused to take time to learn the basics. Time after time Brown tried to help Billy see that the most important thing about diving was to keep his head in the proper position. If his head entered the water properly, Brown explained, the rest of his body would enter the water properly--at least, more properly than it had been. Billy would dive into the pool, do a belly flop, and come up grinning, "Mr. Brown," he would shout, "were my feet together?"

"Billy, I don't care whether your feet were together or not," Brown shouted back. "Make sure your head is straight, then everything else will work out."

The next time Billy would stand on the edge of the pool and really concentrate. Then he would dive and, once again, make a mess of it. "Mr. Brown, were my hands together?"

"Billy," Brown would groan in frustration, "I'm going to get you a neck brace and weld it onto your head. For the hundredth time, if your head is right the rest of you will be right. If your head is wrong, the rest of you will be wrong."

And isn't that true in all of life? If our head is wrong, our marriage will probably suffer. If our head is wrong, our priorities will be fouled up. If our head is wrong, it may even affect our health in a negative way. God understands our distress and God seeks to make us new persons so that we can handle our distress more effectively.

Stephen Brown, When Being Good Isn't Good Enough, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. Adapted by King Duncan

11. Humor: Resolutions 

Wife to Spouse: "I don't want to brag, but here it is February and I've kept every one of my New Year's resolutions. I've kept them in a manila folder in the back of my desk!" 

Orben's Current Comedy

 12. Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. 

Proverbs 27:1

 13. Getting Started 

Some of us make resolutions like one man, named George, I heard about recently. He said to a friend: "There's nothing like getting up at six in the morning, going for a run around the park, and taking a brisk shower before breakfast." 

His friend Bob asked, "How long have you been doing this?" 

George said: "I start tomorrow."

 14. Humor: 90 Days 

We're only two days away from the New Year, and I can feel the anticipation--or dread, depending on your point of view--growing.

I heard one guy say he already dreads the New Year. He said, "The holidays aren't quite over and already I'm about 90 days ahead on my calories and 90 days behind on my bills." Some of you can identify with him.

King Duncan