Sunday, 6 January 2013

Happy Epiphany!

It's the twelfth day of Christmas (although with all the media hype leading up to Christmas it seems to feel like it's lasted an awful lot longer and Christmastide doesn't actually finish until January 13th) and the day we celebrate the three wise men coming to worship the Christ child, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

I learned something new about this feast earlier this week (and I do so love learning new things); the word Epiphany means appearance. You may well have already known that but I'd never come across it before. It brought home the significance of the light appearing in the sky and the magi travelling hundreds of miles to follow it, of the light mentioned in Isaiah in the first reading having come and God's glory shining on us and the importance of our witnessing to our faith in everyday life. Today in Rome Pope Benedict spoke in his homily of how bishops (he consecrated four new archbishops today) need to be courageous "How can we not think, in this context, of the task of a Bishop in our own time? The humility of faith, of sharing the faith of the Church of every age, will constantly be in conflict with the prevailing wisdom of those who cling to what seems certain. Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking, even in our own day. Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs. Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous. And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking. The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves. “Those who fear the Lord will not be timid”, says the Book of Sirach (34:16). The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates." Christ has appeared to us in his incarnation, he comes to us daily in the Eucharist, he is our light which we cannot keep hidden. No matter how hard it may be, no matter how much to world does not want to hear it we need to spread the Good News, to attest to what God has done for us in our lives. Just as much as the bishops need to be courageous, so do we. The magi took a huge risk in travelling so far, they risked so much for something that many would've considered utterly foolish. We are more lucky than they, we have a grounding in faith and don't have to go out on a whim, we have the Church to back us up, to sustain and support us.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year!

When I was at primary school each new month was welcomed with hordes of children running though the playground grabbing each other by the arm with loud exclamations of "a pinch and a punch, it's the first of the month!" This was then immediately followed by an even louder shout of "no returns!" and a mad dash in the opposite direction as whoever had done the pinching and punching didn't really fancy the idea of having the same thing done to them. I dread to think what our mothers thought we had been up to in all day when we presented them with our red and bruised arms as we were collected from the school gates. I would certainly hope that your New Year was ushered in with a little more maturity and joy and that, instead of arms, there aren't too many sore heads this bright and sunny morning.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (if you're in Horsham Mass is as 12:00 today instead of 10:00). I've always loved the fact that our calendar, our new year, begins with a meditation on the motherhood of Mary and on the Incarnation of Christ. It is all too easy these days to be sucked into the secular notion that Christmas is just December 25th and by Boxing Day it's all done and dusted and time to put the decorations away for another 12 months. With the standard hullabaloo that comes with New Year's parties it becomes even easier again as we face 1st January (possibly) slightly worse for wear and thinking about the long month ahead. It is all too tempting to forget the beauty and majesty and glory of the feast we have been celebrating and simply return to the grind of normal life. But with this feast we are invited to stop and to contemplate once more the awesome mystery of the Nativity. Our Lady's confident yet humble "yes!" to God doesn't just apply on Christmas Day, her fiat radiates throughout the year for through her our Lord and Saviour came into the world, from her Jesus took his flesh and lived with us here on earth, growing as we do, living and loving as we do. Because of Mary's fidelity to God we are able to see with our own eyes, though clouded and darkened by sin, the splendour of Christ's birth and, by following her example, become children of God.

The mind totally boggles when you try to fathom what it means that a poor, young virgin from the middle of nowhere was chosen to bear God's only son. On one level it doesn't make sense, how could this possibly happen? Why Mary, why not someone of greater influence in society? Through this fantabulous (I'm running out of adjectives...) mystery that we celebrate today we are shown what it is to be a part of the family of God. Being a son or daughter of the Father is not about how much money we make, what clothes we wear, what presents we were given for Christmas, how well respected we are by our peers, what house we live in; it has nothing to do with who we are in the world and to others, it is about who we are before God. Mary was not just materially poor, she was truly poor in spirit. She understood better than any of us her total need of God, she trusted him completely, depended on him for everything and when he called she answered. As we begin 2013 why don't we try to open ourselves up more and more to God, give ourselves totally to his will, to his love and mercy. It sounds easy but it is harder than many think but is well worth the effort. Mary is living proof of that.