Stories Seldom Heard
246th Edition - January
Feast of Mary,
Mother of God
World Day of Prayer for Peace
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard.
I would especially like to welcome the members of Mission Santa
Barbara Parish, Santa Barbara, CA.
January 1st is the Feast of
Mary: The Mother of God. Over the centuries many titles have been
given to Mary: Morning Star; Our Lady of Sorrows; Our Lady of
Lourdes; Our Lady of Guadalupe, which means the one who crushes
serpents. Islam also has titles for Mary: She Who Believes; the
Mother of the One who is Light. In the United States we have 16
feast days that celebrate different aspects of Mary's life. Even
though the Second Vatican Council directed our attention in
liturgical celebrations towards Jesus' life, death and resurrection,
many feast days of Mary continue to shape our devotional lives.
Mary, the Mother of God is the oldest
title and feast day that celebrates the special place Mary has in
our lives. The Byzantine and Syrian churches began celebrating this
feast in the 6th century. They, however, chose December
26th to commemorate Mary, the Mother of God. Throughout
history this feast has been celebrated on different days. In more
recent years, after the Second Vatican Council, January 1st
became the designated date for this feast of Mary.
The feast occurs on the octave of
Christmas which is a way of emphasizing her importance as the Mother
of the Savior, the One who has become the bearer of blessing for the
whole world. But this feast also offers us another invitation since
it comes on the first day of the civil year. It's as though, by
placing this feast on January 1st, we are saying, look
towards Mary. Mary’s life has something very important to teach us.
The holiday parties and celebrations might have blurred our vision
as to what Christmas really means, but this feast sets us straight
once again. God became one with us to show us how divine we are.
God became one with us to show us what love looks like. God became
a human person to give us an unforgettable experience of
unconditional love, not just for some of us, but for all of us.
Mary said "yes" to God's invitation to
physically birth God's son into our world. Mary's "yes" not only
filled her life with mystery, but also directed her life on the road
of suffering. Mystery, confusion, fear: "a sword will pierce your
heart.” From the very beginning Mary knew the situation was far
beyond her understanding. Dorothee Soelle, an author and
theologian, calls the experiences that challenged Mary's faith, the
crucible in which Mary's faith was forged (1).
During these times of suffering, Mary
must have had many questions. Would she succumb to bitterness? Whom
would her grief serve? Would she be strong enough to mentor Jesus
through his grief to Divine courage? Peter Daino, a spiritual
writer, asks these questions and uses a poetic image that helps us
capture the importance of Mary's many faithful "yeses": "Just as
with Mary's answer to Gabriel,…the angels, the principalities, and
the powers of heaven and earth awaited Mary's decision with fear and
hope" in the many difficult situations she faced throughout her life
Mary, however, is not the only person
who is invited to "birth" God into our world. Our "yeses" do not
look the same as Mary's, but "yes" is "yes"! This is what we have
said by our baptism, confirmation, and continue to say in our
Eucharistic celebrations, private prayers, devotions, our works of
charity and justice, and the many other ways we proclaim Jesus as
the One sent by God. Our "yes" is not Mary's "yes", but it is an
important "yes" if Jesus is to be birthed into our world today.
Meister Eckhart’s words are not just for the Christmas season. They
call us to a way of life everyday and in every season:
What good is it to me, if this eternal
birth of the Divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take
place within me?
What good is it to me if Mary is full
of grace and if I am not also full of grace?
What good is it to me for the Creator
to give birth to His/Her son if I do not also give birth to Him in
my time and my culture?
This, then, is the fullness of time.
When the Son of God is Begotten
It sounds like a tall order to fulfill
and it is. But, along with Mary we are not on our own to bring this
mystery into being. This “birthing” is primarily God's work. God
promises to give us the grace, as God did for Mary, to help us live
out our desire and vocation (call) to continually birth this Savior
in our world in our time.
The first reading for Mass on January
1st helps us understand our calling. The reading is from
the Hebrew scriptures, the First Testament, Old Testament. It is
from the Book of Numbers 6:22 - 27. The beginning of Chapter 6
gives the rules for the Nazirite. A Nazirite is any woman or man
consecrated to God for a limited period of time. Even though we do
not call ourselves Nazirites, we too are dedicated to God. For most
of us that decision was made by our parents at our baptism. Others
of us made the decision for ourselves when we were older. But no
matter who made the initial decision, each of us has made many
personal choices throughout our lives that reaffirm and continue our
commitment. There have been many big and small "yeses.” Like Mary,
in times of mystery, confusion, fear, joy and hope, we have
rededicated our hearts and minds to God.
Num 6: 24 -26 is "the priestly
blessing.” "May God bless you and keep you! May God's face shine
upon you, and be gracious to you! May God look kindly upon you and
give you peace!" This ancient blessing is also given to us, for we
too have been dedicated to God and we, too, are priestly people. At
our baptisms we were anointed priests, prophets and kings
(royalty). Thus, this is a two-fold blessing: as people dedicated
to God, we receive the blessing and as priestly people, we are to
offer this blessing to others.
This prayer sounds familiar to us. We
have heard it often in church liturgies. We also hear echoes of it
in the Irish Blessing and other familiar family prayers. It is a
beautiful prayer that expresses God's spirit of generosity and
abundance. To say that God's "face shines upon" us, is to say that
God takes pleasure in us. God is pleased with God's handiwork.
Divinity loves us, dotes on us like a lover, a parent or a
grandparent. God "favors" us and looks kindly on us with
"graciousness.” In Hebrew, the word "gracious" identifies an
attitude of total acceptance. It is the attitude that we are to
show towards others, but especially towards the needy, the poor, the
orphan, and anyone in distress. We, God's people, are to "show favor
to others by sparing them from punishment, by rendering assistance,
When this word is used for God, as it
is in today's reading, it reminds us of how God relates to us. God
is gracious. God has spared us. Because we have experienced God's
graciousness, forgiveness and freedom from punishment we have the
strength to be forgiving and gracious to others. When this happens,
we truly feel the "peace" announced in the first reading.
The Hebrew word for peace is
"shalom." It is difficult to define it in English with one word
since "shalom" is rich with meaning and filled with content and
nuances. It is an ordinary greeting, a wishing of good will, as
well as a condition in which nothing is lacking. It is a gift from
Yahweh and it is Yahweh. According to scripture, when someone
possesses peace, that person is in union with God. The blessing we
read in scripture today is a powerful prayer. When it is fulfilled
in a person's life, it has the power not only to change that person
from the inside out, but also to change those with whom she/he
I'm sure you have met or know persons
who are filled with peace. Their very presence in a room changes
the environment. Peace is powerful and those who act on behalf of
peace are Godlike. Peace is something for which we pray every day
in our own prayers, at the Eucharist and in our songs. It is
something that we desire for ourselves and for the world. But are
we willing to sacrifice for it?
I wonder what would happen if we said
this prayer as a blessing for ourselves each morning this year when
we first look at ourselves in the mirror? I wonder what would happen
if we prayed this prayer for our spouse, our children and our
neighbors each night when we turn out the lights or wake up in the
middle of the night? I wonder what would happen if we prayed this
blessing for "all" those we hear about in the news each day who are
suffering? I wonder what changes would take place within us? Would
we become more compassionate and more courageous so that we might
address the injustices in our cities and nation? Would we become
more peaceful and better peacemakers?
St Theresa of Lisieux said it well:
“Each small task of everyday life is part of the total harmony of
1. Dorothee Soelle, Suffering, Fortress Press,
Philadelphia, 1975 .
2. Peter Daino, Mary: Mother of Sorrows, Mother
of Defiance, Out of Print
3. John McKenzie, SJ, Dictionary of the Bible,
MacMillan Publishing Co., INC, New York. 1979. p. 324
"Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly article written by Sister
Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael,
California. This service is offered to the Christian community to
enrich one's personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used
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this ministry, please send your contributions to: Dominican Sisters
of San Rafael,
c/o Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P., 2517 Pine Street, San Francisco, CA
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Thank you. Bob McGrath.