“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.” (Nm. 6:24-26)
This beautiful blessing, proclaimed in the First Reading of today’s Eucharist, is Yahweh’s instruction on how to bless the children of Israel. On this New Year’s Day, it is our Church’s blessing for all. It is a tender blessing. Against alienation and insecurity, it is God’s benediction and commitment to sustain us; against darkness and depression, it is the radiance of God’s face turned towards us; against the wickedness and meanness of this world, it is God’s graciousness and kindness. It is very personal. Where in our sinfulness we might wither in his holy presence, it is God’s looking at us with compassion and forgiveness. It is his gift of peace.
On this day, the world explodes fireworks to dazzle and entertain. It may even believe that in doing so evil spirits are frightened away for the duration of the year. But as year in and year out the show bursts forth in awesome color, a fascinating spectacle all too quickly spent, the dark spirits of greed and envy, of hatred and violence, of frustration and sadness, of desolation and despair continue to haunt our lives. We are scandalized at how these evil spirits manifest themselves in the lives of people we know. How deeply people can intentionally wound others! We are horrified at how these evil spirits manifest themselves even in our own lives. We fall prey to pressures, victim to folly, accept to compromise, and compromise anew, till we are fully estranged from ourselves, hollow within and without joy.
Happy New Year! May it be truly happy for you and me! Against all that is plastic and disappointing, ignoble and degrading, depressing and sad, may “the Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.”
It is a prayer, I imagine, that Mary, a child of Israel, prays for us. Where the world greets the New Year with deafening fireworks and noisy revelry, the Church recommends to us the tender image of Mary mothering her Child, laying it in the manger on a silent night. With the shepherds who “went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary, and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger” (Lk 2:16) we are invited too to go in haste to find Mary, Joseph, and the Infant lying in the manger. “In haste” because we may already have wasted too much time; “to find” because for all of the Christmasses and New Years we may have celebrated in our lives, we may have found nothing in the manger but straw.
Happy New Year! At its beginning in the Philippines the excitement is intense over the arrival soon of Pope Francis. For all of the frenzied preparations and the desire to finally see him in person, or even meet him personally, or even have a selfie taken with him, we must not overlook the key message of this phenomenal pastor. Feeling for people burdened by the “desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverous pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience,” their interior lives invaded by selfish concerns with no room for others, their inability to hear God’s voice and feel “the quiet joy of his love,” this Pope wishes for people “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them.” What he asks is what we might resolve, even at the outset of this New Year: to open ourselves to the joy of this encounter “unfailingly each day” since “’no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’ The Lord does not disappoint those who take the risk…” (Evangelii Gaudium, 2-3)
Encounter the love of Jesus, and find deeper joy and fulfillment in sharing the joy of this encounter with the world. Joy and joy intensified in sharing joy is the core of the new evangelization. It is certainly Pope Francis’ wish for us all as the New Year begins. “’Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others’” (EG, 10). This is life that conquers desolation and dying in boredom and frustration, this is joy that conquers the depression and sadness in self loss and self abuse.
In the New Year, joy and more joy in this profound sense, not the fleeting joy of fireworks flared and spent, but the joy of self-fulfillment achieved in sharing life – life in its fullness. “Joy to the world!” in Mary entrusting her Child to us, as his Father entrusts him to us, his Word of love, of acceptance, of challenge, his Word of contradiction against the mighty and powerful, his Word of encouragement for the downhearted and discouraged, that we must in joy share.
The Church’s celebration this day of Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of us all, is also the celebration of her, as Pope Francis describes her, as Mother of Evangelization, Star of the New Evangelization. He points to her peculiar “Marian style” of evangelization. “Whenever we look to Mary we come to believe in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves. Contemplating Mary, we realize that she who praised God for ‘bringing down the might from their thrones’ and ‘sending the rich away empty (Lk 1:52-53) is also the one who brings a homely warmth to our pursuit of justice. She is also the one who carefully keeps ‘all these things , pondering them in her heart’ (Lk 2:19). Mary is able to recognize the traces of God’s Spirit in events great and small. She constantly contemplates the mystery of God in our world, in human history, in our daily lives. She is the woman of prayer and work in Nazareth, and she is also Our Lady of Help, who sets out from her town ‘with haste’ (Lk 1:39) to be of service to others. This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes our ecclesial community look to Mary as model of evangelization” (EG, 288)
In this context, a joy-filled New Year! Joy in joy shared! Joy in translating the encounter with Jesus in the manger as with Jesus on the Cross to revolution against injustice, revolution against the poverty, exclusion, arrogance and violence that oppress people and prevent their flourishing in the fullness of life that Jesus has come to bring! Joy in revolution within that transforms our skepticism to faith, our self-absorption to concern for others, our cynicism to hope, our arrogance to humility, our fear to courage, our complacency to revolutionary action. Yet joy not in the hard activism of a self-arrogated messiahnism, but in the quiet encounter with the Messiah looking into our hearts from the Cross. Joy in being ever able to savor the encounter. Joy in the tenderness of contemplation, in being able to find God in the Sacred Scriptures, in sacred worship, in prayer and in all things, even in the most horrifying events where wounds are most painful. Joy in the care for the heart touched by the heart of Jesus; joy in the care for the person, in Jesus’ love for persons; joy in the care for creation, in the Spirit present in the breeze rustling the leaves, in the warmth of a friend’s embrace, and in the astonishing miracle of a child’s smile. In this tender joy, the revolution against injustice, death and sin is won. In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high breaks upon us.