Monday, January 2, 2017

Christmas: Marvelous Things - Homily for January 1

Readings for Sunday, January 1 / Mary, Mother of God: Nehemiah 6:22-27  |  Psalm 67  |  Galatians 4:4-7  |  Luke 2:16-21

Have y
ou ever thought about how weird the word "spoon" is? What about the word "fork" or "knife" or "plate" for that matter? Who was the first person who thought "spoon" was an adequate description for the object we know as a spoon? Have you ever looked at your fingertips, looked at the patterns to see how they work, to how they go? Interestingly enough, all my fingerprints point the same way except one; it's backwards. I don't understand it. Maybe all of you are the same. It's the way it is. 

Those are odd questions to ask, and I can tell it by the looks on your face, presuming I had a little too much to drink last night to celebrate New Year's. But I ask those questions because they are questions we don't normally ask, things we don't normally think about. We say the words spoon, knife, fork and plate and we use them frequently, daily. We use our fingertips all through the course of our day, but how often are we mindful of them? How often do we reflect on why we are the way we are, why things are what they are, and their names and descriptions? 

Whenever I came to our parish, a couple years ago now, one of the things I did was I went around and took pictures of a bunch of random things: inside the churches, outside the churches, cemeteries and so on and I posted it on Facebook and asked, "Do you know where these things are?" Some of you may remember that. There were of course some things that were rather notable: statues of St. Vincent, stain glass windows, and various other things around here and at St. Ann. But there was one thing in particular caused a lot of people confusion because they didn't know where exactly it was, they hadn't seen it, and yet they were confused because it was so beautiful, but they wanted to know where it was. It was a little icon over the door at the back of the church here. How often we walk to the back of the church and we look down to make sure we don't miss a step, but we fail to look up to see a beautiful image right over our heads. And how many times we simply just walked out of the church without being mindful of it. That and so many other things that are so normal to us - spoons, forks, fingertips and things around us in the world - that they become simply, ordinary things, and they lose some of the marvel that ought to be rightly theirs, some of the awe that should strike deeply within our hearts. 

We celebrate a feast this weekend entitled "Mary, Mother of God." It's a title that should shock us, and usually it doesn't. In the early Church, there were great fights, literal fights, over the title "Mother of God" in regards to Our Lady. There were different bishops who were fighting among one another saying that she's the Mother of God and others who were saying that it was way too strong of a word, that she should be called the mother of the human nature of Jesus - She gave Jesus flesh. But to say Mother of God, no, that's too much. There was great division in the early Church. Many reflections that ultimately came down to bring to us this title of Mary, Mother of God which highlights certainly the maternity of Mary, that she is in fact the mother of God, Jesus Himself. But more importantly it spoke to Jesus, who was not just a human person, but fully God. These were things that shocked them. 

Indeed the scriptures we heard this past weekend, this weekend, the one we'll hear next weekend, and the ones we'll hear through the course of daily Masses, they are all ones where people are shaken. You hear stories of Elizabeth, who though barren, bore a child, John the Baptist, and how his father, Zechariah, while serving in the temple, saw a vision from an angel, and was told that his son would be the forerunner of the Savior. There was the incredible of recounting of how Zechariah doubted the angel's word, and he was struck mute. But on the day his son was born and he said his son's name was John, he scratched it on paper, he was healed and able to speak fully once more. Angels appeared to Our Lady to announce the good news and to St. Joseph. Angels appeared to the shepherds. A great star in the sky appears to the three magi, the three kings. All of these stories are things of incredible events. Our Lady, reflecting on all of these things in her heart and rightly so. And the news spread all through the region. Almost every one of those accounts indicates that little phrase with it: and the news spread all through the region, throughout Galilee, through the whole land, etc. Everybody heard. 

And yet, as time went on, the good news became normal. Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of David, God With Us, over the course of 30 years quietly working with his father in the workshop became no longer the Son of God to the people around Him, but became Jesus, the son of the carpenter. Mary, the Mother of God, the virgin who bore God in her womb, became Mary, another of the ladies living in Nazareth. St. Joseph, the one who heard the angel speak and was the caretaker of the Mother of God and God Himself became Joseph, the carpenter. So many normal things. And in the course of their days that's how they lived; they lived the exact same life as every single person around them despite the fact that there was something you unique about each of them. The extraordinary was right there in the midst of the ordinary things of daily life. And so many people likely missed it. How many people came to the workshop with St. Joseph and failed to recognize that his son was God - He was just working on a table. How many people sat alongside Mary at the well getting water to go home to take care of things at the house failing to recognize that she had bore God in her womb. How many people? As we reflect upon that aspect of Nazareth, the quietness, the hidden of the extraordinary in the ordinary things of daily life, it's an invitation for us to see again, to have our eyes opened up once more. 

One of the things I appreciated whenever I was working for my parents in the grocery store was that in the store, we could get used to things. In your workplace, things become part of the normal condition, and then someone comes in and says, "Hey, have you every noticed that you need to work on such and such." "No. It's just part of other things. I never thought about that. Thank you." It takes an extra set of fresh eyes to help see again, and it's that that the Church brings to us today. We come and we rest in the midst of Nazareth, in the quietness of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Mary the Mother of God. The Church simply says, "Have you noticed? Have you seen this? Have you let this speak to your heart lately?" To let it bring us to a state of awe, when we can't help but simply go, "Wow! How incredible!" 

This Christmas season has become a celebration that is very comfortable to us. We use the nativity scene, the magi and all the lights, the decoration, and all of these things. And it's good. But at the same time they are opportunities for us to see once again, see with new eyes, fresh eyes, the mystery of God before us. 

What I want to invite you to this week is to allow yourself to marvel at normal, even foolish, things. Marvel at them. Think about the word spoon for a while, look at your fingertips, think about the things of the Mass, the words we say each week. Look at your favorite scripture passage again and read it slowly with new eyes. Those prayers we offer that are so familiar to us, various prayers to saints, Our Lady, to Our Lord, various things we offer throughout the course of our days, to pause and say them differently and allow them to become fresh once more. To look at our churches and to see the beauties they possess and the ways in which they speak to us. Maybe it's our family and friends, people who we may take for granted, people are part of the normal scenery of our daily life, and to see the gift that they truly are to us. Opportunities for us to look around us, even in just the world, and to be in awed by God. Shock and wonder. Inspiration to be filled with the Holy Spirit and enjoy that moment of the things that God has done for us. 

As we allow ourselves to see incredible things in the course of our daily life, it becomes more and more easy for us to recognize that ordinary life is rather extraordinary because our Lord is with us. He has taken on our flesh, born of a virgin, lived among us, did the same things as you and I, and He comes to be with us even more still. Let us prayer for the grace of the Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Our Lady and St. Joseph, that we might be able to see with those new eyes the things that God desires to see with us and things He desires to show us, He who is "God With Us."