Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27; Ps. 66: 2,-188.8.131.52; Gal. 4:4-7; Gospel of Luke 2:16-21
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 1st January 2020
It is very heartening to have our Cathedral fully packed with all of you for this Eucharist this morning as we begin this New calendar year 2020. I believe all of us wish to begin the new year well and on the right footing. All these hopes are good and important, but it is good for us to reflect on what our “hopes” for this year are all about. This is because we cannot presume that all of us here are clear about what we really want in life. And even if we do, we may not necessarily be hoping for the right thing in life. So, our first question to reflect on in this homily is to ask ourselves, “What type of life do I wish to live during this year, 2020?” Will my 2020 year be a more meaningful and fulfilling year in my life?
Last night, after the New Year’s Eve Mass, when I mentioned to someone (David, not his real name) that I do not have “whatsapp” he immediately responded, “Father, I wish I am also not in whatsapp; but, it’s too late.” By this, I suppose David may be saying that it’s very difficult for him to back out of whatsapp as he is overly connected with too many people in too many group chats, and have built up expectations with them. At a deeper level, David may also be saying, “I am too “caught” up in the social media that I do not have enough of quality space and quality time and quality silence to enter into the deeper meaning in life that I am looking for.”
Put it differently, David who could represents many of us, is saying to himself, “My daily living is so busy and life is so hectic, that the anxieties of life are choking the true meaning and peace that I long to have. And, the temptations, trials and tribulations of the secular and materialistic world are drawing me away from what life is truly about.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if what I describe of David’s life makes sense, then David is articulating a common and widespread feeling about being caught up in living a social media type of life that is superficial and meaningless, that you and I need to break free from this “New year 2020.”
Let us first remember that as Catholic Christians, we are not here to hope that this new year 2020 would be a “luckier” year. As believers, we cannot live a life that is built on “luck” because “luck” is where you place your bets in the Toto, 4 digits or in a casino. And, in all probability, such luck rarely come our way . . . and to hope for a big lucky windfall is to live in a fantasy world. And so, as Christian believers, we do not and cannot depend on “luck” to keep our hopes up.
In other words, as Catholic Christian believers, we have first to pray for God’s abundant blessings, Merciful care and love for us, in all our needs and challenges of our lives. We need to pray that these special blessings will bring “new beginnings”; new hopes and new joys and fulfilment in life. In saying this, we are each led to the next important question, “What are these new fulfilment about, and how can we embrace these ‘new beginnings, new hope and new joys’ that God want to give us?”
A few days ago, a young couple came up to me after Mass and the husband asked me, “Father, could you kindly bless us and our family, and especially so that I can love my wife more?” I asked, “How many children do you have?” He answered, “seven”!
My sisters and brothers in Christ, these are the type of prayers and hopes we should ask God for this year. As a priest, my prayer should be something like, “Lord, bless me and help me to be a better priest. Give me the wisdom to become a holier priest that deeply desires to seek and live Your Will daily, and in all that I do, so that more people will be drawn closer to You, for Your Greater Glory; not mine.”
However, what if our daily prayers are, “Lord, help me to get a promotion and be more successful in my work, so that I can earn several more millions of dollars this year?” While such prayers are not wrong, they are not what will catch the attention of God, and we could say, are not the top priority prayers that He would be too keen to respond to. Why is this so you may ask.
Whether we are single, a married person, priest or religious, God’s primary concern for us is our faith and our Eternal Salvation, after we die. While becoming successful, rich, popular and powerful are in themselves not wrong and not a sin to have, they do not guarantee that the riches, power and popularity will necessarily give us a more meaningful, more peaceful and more fulfilling life. However, if we pray and strive to become better and more wholesome spouses, or become holier priests, then God would surely answer our prayers.
Have we come across people who have become too caught up in their working life, that the hectic demands of their work have taken them away from their families so frequently, so much so that they return home as strangers to their spouse and children because they no longer know them, let alone love them? The priesthood vocation likewise can be disastrous, if a priest is working very hard, but have lost the true purpose of serving God Will.
On the contrary, we too have heard of families who deliberately choose not to accept promotions and much higher incomes, and have preferred to accept a lower paying, job or prefer to serve in the archdiocese because such a life is more meaningful and fulfilling? These people prefer to live a “simpler” lifestyle which is much more meaningful and fulfilling than the corporate success that will give them material comfort, and recognition and status, but do not really bring true fulfilment in their lives?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the next question that you and I need to ask and reflect on is, “How then do you and I live this new year differently as God Wills of us”? If you and I sincerely desire to live this new year 2020, in a truly meaningful and fulfilling way, then we have much to learn from Mary.
It is the wisdom of our universal Catholic Church to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God on the first day of each calendar year. This is because Mary being the Mother of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, is also our Mother and the most perfect of all Disciples for us to draw inspiration from and to seek the needed graces, to live the Father’s Will.
Let us first affirm that Mary is the Mother of Jesus who is fully divine and fully human. It is a heresy to hold the view that Mary is only the Mother of the human nature, but not the divine nature of Jesus. This is because in God’s Plan of Salvation, Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. And so, the child Jesus in the womb of Mary, did not lose His divinity.
As such, for Mary to be chosen as the Mother of God our Lord, is the highest and the greatest honour that no other human person that God had created, has been accorded.
However, the great honour that God bestows on Mary comes with the great responsibility of having to conceive and bring up the child as her own, according to God’s Plan of Salvation. How is God’s Will in His Plan of Salvation to take place, Mary does not know.
Mary, with God’s grace and Light, accepts God’s Will with great humility and courage by responding, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Your Word, which is according God the Father’s Will. This response of Mary is done with great faith and trust in the Lord.
In Mary’s acceptance of God’s Will, she knew very well that, according to the Jewish law, she would cause her parents deep confusion and great shock, and her neighbours much ridicule, and she herself to be subjected to being stoned to death in public for the false accusation of having committed adultery, Nevertheless, Mary’s fidelity to God’s Will was totally selfless and unconditional.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us then remind ourselves that if we sincerely wish to live this new year 2020 in a meaningful and fulfilling way, then let us become aware that we must ask ourselves sincerely, “Do I really want to gain gift of Eternal Life” and live with God and all the angels and saints forever, in God’s Glory and Happiness?”
If this is what we truly wish as the goal and purpose of our lives, then it is obvious that you and I are called to embrace a Christ-centred lifestyle, where our attitudes, behaviour and values must be built on Jesus who is our Lord and Saviour. This means that we have to take our faith more seriously, and do all that we can to deepen our love for Jesus, so that we can live God’s Will more wholeheartedly.
As I conclude, let us remember that in living God’s Will, we have much to learn from Mary. Like Mary, we are each called to trust God more fully and wholeheartedly in all our needs, instead of drawing upon the secular and materialistic world; which cannot fulfil the deep longings of our hearts for true and lasting meaning, fulfilment, and happiness in our lives.
One way of living in such consciousness, as Mary lived, is to say to Jesus, several times daily, “Lord, how can I love You more” . . . and then in everything that we do and how we relate and live daily, bring this desires of our hearts to a deeper level. And even when we encounter difficult people, and painful challenges, keep asking the Jesus, “Lord, how can I love You more.”
When we do this daily and more sincerely, and at the end of each day, review the day to find out how much we have consciously and personally loved Jesus or otherwise. When we are able to do this faithfully and sincerely, we can be sure that Jesus who resides in our hearts, through the Light and Love of the Holy Spirit, will enlighten and empower us to live His Father’s Will daily.
And if we should face challenges and pain that are beyond us, then like Mary in today’s Gospel, we are then called to surrender everything to God’s Merciful Love and say to the Lord, “Father, may Your Will be done”. We are then to ponder on our pains and challenges more deeply in our hearts; knowing and believing that we are not alone; that Jesus is with us . . . and God’s Will, will triumph . . . And in living in this way, of being daily in union with Jesus, we can be sure that this new year and the coming years will be one that will be filled with God’s Peace, Love, Mercy and Happiness . . . regardless of the challenges we face.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.