Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (January 1)

Happy New Year! Prospero Ano Nuevo! Bonne Annee! Gutes Neues Jahr!

I played a “men over 60” basketball game in a New York City athletic club during the Christmas holidays. Believe it or not, we didn’t have to jump for the ball. The referee simply put the ball on the floor and whoever could bend over and pick it up first got possession. Now that's my kind of game.

I'm not paying any attention to predictions in 2019 but I am wondering what the new year will be like. Everywhere there seems to be questions about the future: political, economic, moral, scientific and religious. Yes, there's so much grandeur and yet so much misery on the planet. The future seems to offer as many possibilities of death as it does of life. 

To some extent, we may be our own worst enemies. We have freed ourselves from so many tyrannies especially in the G-20 group -- for example, poverty, disease and illiteracy -- only to create new tyrannies: for example, the spread of nuclear arms.

Perhaps we might want to make this prayer our mantra in the new year: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time…trusting that God will make all things right...that I might be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with God forever in the next.” 

That prayer can be an anchor as a new, unpredictable global order begins to take shape.  But the  key question remains: how respond to the shape of the future? There's only one Christian response: hope. Let me explain.

Many people today put their hope in wealth, or a successful career, or a long-term relationship. Now there's nothing wrong with any of these things—but none of them is a solid enough foundation upon which to anchor one's life. 

Hope is not just a feeling or an emotion. It's not dependent on circumstances. Real hope is a constant positive attitude that, no matter what the circumstances, things will change for the better.

The horizon for Christian hope is, “Jesus Christ shall come again in great glory and power” and “we look for the coming of the Lord.”  That horizon is what makes it possible to be hopeful and therefore to find life meaningful in what we do and how we live.

At the very core of Christianity is the central reality that Jesus appeared alive to the disciples after his death. The tomb was empty. There were many appearances. God by the power of the Spirit transfigured the earthly Jesus into a new kind of spiritual embodiment. And one day we, like the Risen Christ, will make an evolutionary leap in the mystery of death into a similar kind of spiritual embodiment. 

Christian hope is the conviction that the universe in which we live has ultimate meaning, that Christ in his second coming will bring to completion the process of transformation begun in his resurrection. And that is why hope is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian life. And with that hope, we can gaze into the future with a positive attitude.

The word of God from the Book of Numbers highlights a magnificent blessing: “May the Lord bless 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!” That is also my prayer for all of us this new year.

Paul in his letter to the Christian community in Galatia, central Turkey, proclaims that we are sons and daughters of God our Father, co-heirs to the kingdom of God. Yes, we are called to live a god-like life worthy of our new status as adopted sons and daughters of God.

In the Gospel according to Luke, we have the shepherds or Bedouins giving homage to the Christ-child and shouting their amazing experience everywhere they could. And then Mary and Joseph name their child Jesus which means “God saves.” He is indeed our Savior: our way, our truth and our eternal life.

Mary is truly the model of discipleship for all of us as we begin the new year. And what made Mary a disciple? In the Gospel according to Luke, the author says that God mysteriously broke into her life and asked Mary to believe that she would bear within herself an extraordinary child. But the author goes on to say Mary “was quite perplexed” by this. God revealed very little to Mary:  the basic call, the bare bones. God simply asked Mary for faith or trust in his mighty word. God didn’t promise Mary the “so-called good life”; he simply promised to be with Mary always – in her moments of joy and sorrow.

And Mary simply said: let it happen to me as you say.

These words—let it happen to me as you say—tell us what discipleship is all about. We can very easily say these words when everything is going our way, so to speak.  Problems arise only when what is happening to us is not what we want to happen; when what is happening to us is the opposite of what we want to happen (for example, a life-threatening or chronic illness; an unexpected death; a job loss; a broken relationship). 

And so, we, like Mary, will be quite perplexed many times as we go through the cycle of our own human development from adolescence through young adulthood to old age. Yet despite our perplexity at times, the ongoing call to discipleship demands a ceaseless faith: God will always be near us, closer to us than we are to ourselves. And God will work his wonders in us as He did in Mary. And in faith we will be able to sing the song of Mary: “my soul proclaims the greatness (the glory) of the Lord.”

I conclude with some favorite New Year resolutions, worth repeating:
The greatest joy............................................ Giving
The greatest “shot in the arm” .................. Encouragement
The most powerful force in life................. Love
The worst thing to be without..................... Hope
The greatest asset........................................ Faith
The most prized possession..................... Integrity
The most contagious spirit...................... Enthusiasm
The most powerful communication……. Prayer

A healthy, happy and prosperous New Year to one and all.

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