Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dealing With Distractions


4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)


Sisters and brothers, have you ever tried talking to someone who is distracted? Someone whose attention is drawn to something else? Someone playing a game on her phone, for example. Or watching TV. Or reading a book. What is it like? It can be quite frustrating, right? Frustrating because you can tell that the person is not really listening to you. And what if you have something important to say? What to do? How to get the person to give you her undivided attention?

One way is to say or to do something that the person finds even more attractive than the distraction. So, if you know that the person likes to eat durians, for example. You can buy her some. And, hopefully, the person’s love for durians will be strong enough to make her stop whatever it is she is doing. In other words, one way to capture a distracted person’s attention is to overpower the distraction. To drive it out with something stronger.

But that is not the only way. There is another. We see it happen often enough. When a girl likes a boy, for example. What can she do to get his attention? Without appearing too desperate. Well, I don’t know for sure. But I’ve been told that one thing she can do is to get involved in whatever the boy likes. So if he is interested in soccer, she can learn more about the game. Find out all about the team he likes. His favourite player. The position he plays in. And so on. So that the girl now has something in common with the boy. Can capture the boy’s attention. Not by overpowering his distraction. But by entering into it. By transforming the distraction into an opportunity for connection.

Driving out a distraction. And entering into it. These are two ways we can make a distracted person give us her undivided attention. We find something similar in our Mass readings today. In the gospel, Jesus teaches in a synagogue, where he encounters a man who is very badly distracted. And not just with any ordinary distraction. This man is unable to listen to Jesus, unable to receive the good news that Jesus proclaims, because the man is possessed by something else. An unclean spirit. Which has captured his attention so completely, that his heart is hardened to everything else. Everything good. Everything Godly. What does Jesus do? How does he deal with this terrible distraction? He uses the first method. Speaking with the authority, the attractive force of almighty God, Jesus overpowers the unclean spirit. He drives it out. Freeing the man to finally receive the word of God, and so to enter into the fullness of life.

Sisters and brothers, it is helpful for us to remember this story. For even if we may not be possessed by an unclean spirit in exactly the same way as the man in the synagogue, don’t we sometimes allow ourselves to become very badly distracted? And I don’t mean when we daydream or doze off at Mass. Or during the homily. There are even worse distractions than these. Such as when we are unable to let go of our petty jealousies. Or when we hold onto a grudge against someone for something that the person did or said twenty years ago. Or when we are trapped in troublesome obsessions and addictions. Not just sex and pornography. But also money and success. Or the desperate need to look and to feel good all the time. These things can possess us. Harden our hearts. Prevent us from receiving the good news of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus.

And just as the man in the gospel was able to enter the synagogue even while possessed by an unclean spirit. So too is it possible for us to come regularly to church, and still remain badly distracted by serious sin. What to do? We must allow the Lord to do for us what he did for that man in the gospel. We must allow the Lord to overpower our sin. To drive it out. By confessing our sin. And by praying daily. We must allow the Lord to turn our attention back to him alone. To let him become the main attraction in our life. Leading us into Eternal Life.

But it’s not just sinful and unclean things that distract us. Even good and wholesome things can too. Like the things that St. Paul is writing about in the second reading. Paul wants the Corinthians to give their undivided attention to the Lord. But he worries that they are distracted by the worries and burdens of daily life. By the normal stresses and strains of having to care for a spouse, and of bringing up children. So how does Paul deal with these distractions? Like Jesus in the gospel, he adopts the first method. He tries to overcome them. To drive them out. He suggests that the Corinthians who are unmarried should remain single. So that they can avoid being distracted by the affairs of the world. So that they can focus only on the affairs of the Lord.

Now this is a very drastic solution. If we were to accept it, then all the single people among us will never have the chance to marry and have children! Not an inviting thought. But it’s important to remember that Paul makes this suggestion only because he believes that the end of the world is coming very soon. So there is no point in starting a family, when the time is so short. But if we don’t follow Paul’s suggestion, how are we to deal with the distractions of daily life?

Thankfully, there is another way. A second method. In the first reading, the people of Israel have been finding it difficult to listen to God. God is too holy for them. And their hearts are too distracted by worldly affairs for them to give God their undivided attention. They are torn between God and the world. So they beg Moses not to let them hear again the voice of the Lord, or they shall die. In response, God promises to help them. But not by driving out or overpowering their distractions. Instead of forcing the people to turn away from the world, God promises to send a prophet into the world. To transform worldly affairs from disturbing distractions into opportunities for connection.

This promise, which God makes in the first reading, God fulfils in the gospel. In the person and ministry of Jesus. He is the new Moses. The Prophet who is more than a prophet. In Jesus, God’s Word becomes Flesh. In him, God enters into worldly affairs. Like a girl learning to play soccer to get close to a boy, God gets involved in the messy and worrying business of ordinary human life. To get close to us. In Jesus, God transforms the distracting world into a holy place. A place for meeting God. In Christ, God can now be found, not just in church, but also in our homes, and in our workplaces. In the shopping malls, and on our streets. In good times, and in bad. In people who are happy, and also especially in those who suffer. But we need to develop the eyes to see him. The ears to listen to him. The hearts to give him our undivided attention. And to help others to do the same. Isn’t this why we are here this evening?

Sisters and brothers, this is our call. Not to run away from the world. But to enter into it. And to seek and to find God there. In the ordinary situations and people of everyday life. This is our call. This is our dignity. O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts.

Sisters and brothers, how is the Lord helping you to deal with your distractions today?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Attending to the Alarm


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Picture: cc Jean L.

Sisters and brothers, do you use an alarm clock? I think many of us do. And we know what we use it for. We know why we need it. We need it because we all have a tendency to lose track of time. And the alarm clock helps to remind us what time it is. When we are sleeping, for example, the alarm clock tells us when it is time to wake up. So that we won’t be late for work. Or school. But the alarm is only be effective if we obey it. If we ignore it. Or switch it off and go back to sleep. As sometimes happens to me. Then it will do us no good. We will oversleep. And have to pay the price for it.

But clocks are not the only kind of alarm. There are others. On an MRT train, for example, the announcements also act as a type of alarm. They remind us when it is time to get off. Also, someone recently gave me a small potted plant. Whenever I forget to water it, the leaves of the plant will start to droop. And that is a kind of alarm for me too. Reminding me that the poor plant is thirsty. That it is time to water it. Otherwise it will die.

And it’s not just plants that give off alarms. People do too, don’t they? When a baby cries, for example. It’s a reminder to the parents that it’s time to feed it. Or change it. Or let it go to sleep. And not just babies. Even adults give off alarms too. What does it mean, for example, when a wife starts nagging her husband even more than usual? Or when a husband starts spending more and more time away from home? Or when children suddenly start getting into trouble at school. All these things can be alarms as well. Signs to us that it is time to do something. Or to change whatever it is we have been doing. But, like the alarm clock, these signs will only be effective if we pay attention to them. If we do not ignore them. Otherwise we will continue to lose track of time. And have to pay the price for it.

I mention all this because, in each of our Mass readings today, we also find alarms ringing. In the first reading, God first sounds an alarm in the ear of the prophet Jonah. Telling him that it is time for him to go to the great city of Nineveh to proclaim the word of God. After some resistance, Jonah obeys. He goes to Nineveh and proclaims a message that is itself also an alarm. An urgent reminder to the Ninevites of what time it is. Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed. The Ninevites’ own evil behaviour is like a train carrying them to destruction. Jonah reminds them that it is now time for them to get off this train. To turn back to God. Otherwise they will miss the chance to experience God’s mercy. Thankfully, the Ninevites are willing to obey God’s call. They pay close attention to the alarm. They repent. And the city is saved from destruction.

In the gospel, too, we find alarms sounding. John the Baptist gets arrested. And Jesus treats John’s arrest as an alarm. A sign that it is now time for Jesus to begin his public ministry. To start proclaiming the word of God in Galilee. And Jesus obeys. Like Jonah before him, Jesus himself also sounds an alarm. The time has come, he says, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.

But Jesus’ alarm is not just a call to repentance. Not just a reminder to turn away from everything that displeases God. It is also a call to discipleship. An invitation to the people to turn towards Jesus himself. To follow him. To live in the same way that he lives. To value the same things that he values. To put God at the centre of their hearts. To give God the highest priority in their lives. And when they do this, then the people will become fishers of people. Like Jesus, they themselves will become alarms ringing in the ears of others. Proclaiming to them the good news that the time has come for everyone to experience the mercy of God. For everyone to live in the joy of the Lord.

We find the same thing happening in the second reading. We all know the story of St. Paul. We know how, on the road to Damascus, like Jonah, Paul heard God’s alarm. How he repented. Turned his life around. Became not just a follower of Jesus, but also a fisher of people. How he himself became an alarm, reminding everyone what time it is. And this is exactly what Paul is doing in the second reading.

He sounds the alarm for the Corinthians. He reminds them that our time is growing short. That the world as we know it is passing away. The world that revolves around the hunger for fame and fortune. And the thirst for power and pleasure. The world that busies itself with buying and selling. With eating and shopping. With fighting and competing. The time is coming when this world will be no more. What to do then?

For Paul, the answer is simple. What we have to do is to live as though we were already part of another world. A different world. A world that revolves not around ourselves and our own cravings. But around God and God’s priorities. Around God’s love and God’s mercy. A world that is built not on the pleasures that pass too quickly away. Pleasures that we cannot bring along with us when we die. But a world that is built on the joy that will never end. The joy that comes from knowing the love of God shown to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. The same love that we are gathered here, around this altar, to experience and to celebrate.

Sisters and brothers, the alarms that we find in our readings do not ring only for the people who lived a very long time ago. These alarms continue to ring out loudly for us today. For like the Ninevites of Jonah’s day. Like the Galileans of Jesus’ day. And like the Corinthians of Paul’s day. We too live in a world that revolves around things that will very quickly pass away. Things that may make us feel good for a while. But are unable to bring us lasting joy. Things that separate us from God and from one another. Things that we fight each other for. Sometimes even kill one another for. But how many of us are able to remember this? How many of us are able to resist the temptation to live as though this is the only world that we have?

If we do find ourselves in such a situation of forgetfulness. Of losing track of time. Then our readings can help us. They act as an important alarm for us. Reminding us that there is another better way to live. Another better world to live for. A world that Jesus came to proclaim. Through his Life, and Death, and Resurrection. The same world for which he taught us to pray. In the Our Father. Whenever we say, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Sisters and brothers, the time has already come. This is what we believe. The time has already come, for us to live no longer according to the values of this world. But according to the values of another world. A new world. God’s world. A world of love and mercy. A world of justice and peace. The time has already come. The alarm is already sounding. Loudly and clearly. What must we do, you and I, to obey its call today?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Meeting Halfway


Feast Of The Baptism Of The Lord

Video: Youtube Link

Ooh ooh, I can't go any further than this.
Ooh ooh, I want you so badly, it's my biggest wish...
Can you meet me halfway, right at the borderline?
That's where I'm gonna wait for you.
I'll be looking out night and day.
Took my heart to the limit, and this is where I stay…
Let's walk the bridge to the other side, just you and I.
I will fly, fly the skies for you and I
I will try until I die for you and I...


Sisters and brothers, I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with these words. They are taken from the song Meet Me Halfway. Released in 2009, by the hip-hop group, The Black-Eyed Peas. The song is sung by a pair of lovers, who have somehow gotten separated. And now they are pining for each other. Yearning to be reunited. I want you so badly, it’s my biggest wish… But there’s a problem. Neither seems able to make it all the way to where the other is. So each one promises to go as far as s/he possibly can. Hoping that they will meet somewhere along the way. Can you meet me halfway, right at the borderline?… I’ll be looking out night and day. Took my heart to the limit, and this is where I stay… Not quite the full distance. But only halfway. At the borderline.

Sisters and brothers, have you ever had a similar experience? Of wanting something or someone so very badly. And yet, finding yourself falling short? Not having what it takes to go all the way? Wishing that the distance could somehow be shortened for you? That someone would meet you halfway? And what a relief it is. What a great comfort and consolation. When that happens.

Well, sisters and brothers, believe it or not, this is what we celebrate today. In the first reading, God invites the people to come to the water. To seek the Lord. To turn to God, from whom alone they will receive everything they need for their happiness and survival. The satisfaction of their deepest desires. Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk. The gracious invitation could not be any clearer. The promised rewards no more enticing. All you have to do is come. Come to the water. And God will provide everything you need.

But there is a catch. To turn to the Lord, the people have to stop feeding themselves on other foods. To stop clinging to things less than God. Things that may look attractive. But don’t fill the soul. Why spend your money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy? And, of course, there are those who will fall short. Those who, try as hard as they might, will not be able to do this. Those who will find it difficult to travel all the way to the water of God’s presence.

So what to do if I find myself among people such as this? How to meet and be nourished by God, if I have not the strength to go the full distance? If I keep getting trapped in my own sinfulness. Imprisoned in my own blindness. Lost in my own addictions. My petty resentments. And worldly preoccupations. The gospel provides the answer. Since the people are unable to go the full distance. God allows them to come only halfway. If not to the brilliant glory of God’s holy presence. Then at least to the murky depths of the river Jordan. To the waters of repentance. Here, by being baptized by John, the people express their determination to turn away from idols. Their desire to turn back to God. And, even if they may not have what it takes to go all the way. Even though they may not be strong enough to live out their commitment to the full. Something marvellous happens. God actually comes to the water and meets them halfway. Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptised along with them.

Of course, being the Son of God, Jesus himself needs no repentance. He has no sins to be washed away. He plunges into the Jordan not to be cleansed. But rather to make its waters holy. In Jesus, God comes to meet us halfway. Through the baptism of  Christ, the Jordan river becomes a borderline. Filled with the powerful presence of God. Father, Son, and Spirit. So that all the weak and hungry people. All the tired and thirsty people. All the hesitant and fearful people. People who can’t make it all the way. People like me. Can at least stumble to the river of repentance. Can fall headlong into its forgiving waters. And find life.

Nor do we actually have to travel to the Middle East to immerse ourselves in the Jordan. The second reading reminds us that Christ himself is the River of Life. Christ himself is the borderline where God comes to meet us. Who can overcome the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. The ones who immerse themselves in the river of blood and water flowing from the side of Christ. As he hangs on the Cross. The ones who are baptised in the Blood of the Lamb. The ones who share in the One Bread and the One Cup. The Broken Body and Precious Blood of Christ. The ones who draw strength from this River. To do what they would otherwise not be able to do by themselves. Overcome the world. This is the victory over the world–our faith. Our faith in Christ, by whose Dying and Rising, God comes to meet us halfway. At the borderline between sin and grace.

Sisters and brothers, this is what we celebrate today. The merciful love of a God who, knowing well our weakness, our inability to go the full distance, travels tirelessly to seek us out. Even to the extent of taking up and laying down his life for us. Meeting us at the limits of our endurance. So that, weak though we may be, we may yet find our way home. May yet enjoy not just food and drink. But life to the full. At the table of our Lord. At the altar of our God. As we do here at this very Eucharist.

And that’s not all. God calls us not just for ourselves. In the first reading, the people are told that God has made of them a witness to the peoples, a leader and a master of the nations. You will summon a nation you never knew… Not only are we called to meet God and to find life for ourselves. We, in our turn, are sent to bear witness to what we has been done for us. To call others to the life-giving waters of God’s love and mercy. And we do this by meeting them halfway. By offering others, who are weak and needy, what we ourselves have received in Christ. A helping hand. A listening ear. A forgiving heart. A life laid down in mercy and compassion. And isn’t this what this painfully divided and disconnected world of ours needs most of all today? People able to meet halfway. People willing even to lay their lives on the borderline. Not in violence and revenge. But in mercy and compassion. The same mercy and compassion shown to us by the God who first laid down his life for us.

Sisters and brothers, as for The Black-Eyed Peas, so too for us. Separated lovers can hope for reunion only by meeting one another halfway. At the borderline of God's undying love. How willing are we to go at least this far, to meet and be reconciled with God and with one another today?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

You Don't Have to Be a Star


Solemnity of the Epiphany


Don't think your star has to shine, for me to find
out where you're coming from.
What is a beauty queen, if it don't mean
I'm your number one.
And I don't need no superstar, ‘cos I'll accept you as you are.
You won't be denied, ‘cos I'm satisfied
With the love that you inspire.
You don't have to be a star, baby, to be in my show.


Sisters and brothers, I’m not sure if any of you still remember these words. They’re taken from a song, from the nineteen seventies, entitled You Don’t Have to Be a Star. Performed by the husband and wife duo of Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. The song is addressed, presumably, to someone who’s working very hard to make a name for herself. Someone preoccupied with becoming a big-time celebrity of some kind. But, in the process, has neglected her lover. Has taken their relationship for granted. So, in the song, the lover reminds the beloved that she really doesn’t have to be rich and famous to enjoy the lover’s love. To be part of the lover’s life. The song is the lover’s way of presenting the beloved with an invitation. A call. To stop chasing after the passing glitter of stardom. And, instead, to simply step into the enduring light of the lover’s love. You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show...

I’m reminded of this song today, because I believe our Mass readings present us with a similar call. A similar invitation. In the first reading, Jerusalem is encouraged to arise, to shine out. In such a way that, attracted to her light, all her children, who have been scattered in foreign lands, will come streaming back to her. And not just her children, but all the nations as well. At the sight of all these people flocking to her, Jerusalem herself will shine out all the more. Will become even more radiant. Her heart throbbing and full...

All of this is obvious enough to us. But there is one more very important point that we cannot afford to overlook. The light in which Jerusalem is being called to shine is not really her own. The reading is clear about this. The glory of the Lord is rising on you… Above you the Lord now rises... above you his glory appears… Although Jerusalem is asked to arise and shine out. She is not called to become the star of the show. She shines in the light and the glory of Someone Else. The Lord is the real Superstar. The One to whom all the nations will be attracted. So the invitation to Jerusalem is clear. To step into, and to shine out with, the light of her divine Lover. She doesn’t have to be a star, to be in God’s show…

This prophecy in the first reading finds its final fulfilment in the gospel. In the newborn baby Jesus, God’s glory shines upon the people. Attracting and calling everyone to step into its light. To bask in its brilliance. And to reflect this light to others. So that all may enjoy its life-giving effects. In the gospel, although there is a star shining brightly in the sky, it is not the centre of attention. The star’s role is only to guide people to Christ. He is the true Light. He is the real Superstar. The One who calls everybody to arise and to shine out in His radiance.

But that’s not all. The gospel also describes for us two very different reactions to this call. On the one hand, there are the wise men. Foreigners, who hear and heed the Lord’s call. Who accept His invitation. They travel a great distance in search of the Light. And when they finally find Him, we’re told that they’re filled with delight. On the other hand, however, and in stark contrast to the wise men, we have a wicked king, Herod. He too hears the Lord’s call. But instead of delight, what he experiences is disturbance. He is perturbed. And, in his perturbation, Herod refuses to step into the Light. Instead, he tries to smother it. To snuff it out. He pretends to be interested in worshipping Jesus. But he wants to find the child only so that he can kill him.

So what accounts for this difference in response? This contrast between the wise and the wicked? Between the delighted and the perturbed? The answer is simple. Herod refuses to step into the Lord’s Light for one reason. He has a desperate need to be, at all times, the centre of attention. The star of the show. His whole existence is built upon self-interest. Self-glorification. Self-assertion. Ego-inflation. He wants everyone to come to him. Instead of to the Lord. He cannot tolerate anyone else sharing the spotlight with him. In contrast, the wise men’s lives are centred not in themselves. But in something else. They desire and search for the light of Truth. And they are willing to go to great lengths to seek and to find it. Unlike Herod, they know and accept that they don’t have to be the star, to be in God’s show...

And this is the same admirable quality that we find in St. Paul. In the second reading, Paul speaks of having been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you. For Paul’s readers. Like the wise men, Paul knows, and is willing to accept, that he is only a steward of grace. Only a witness to the Light. Only a servant of the Lord. His concern is not to become the centre of attention. But only to continue stepping into, and shining out with, the light of Christ. So that more people may be drawn to the Lord. May find life in His name. Like the wise men, Paul accepts that he doesn’t have to be a star, to be in the Lord’s show...

All of which should lead us to reflect upon ourselves. We who profess to be followers of Christ. Like the wise men and St. Paul, we too are called to continue stepping into, and shining out with, the Light of Christ. So that, through us, more people may come to know Christ. May find life in His name. And we are only really able to do this to the extent that we are willing to keep resisting the temptation to constantly be the centre of attention. The need to be the stars of our own individual self-glorifying performances.

And this is a great challenge for us. A great challenge for me. Especially because we live in a culture that encourages, even pressurises, us to do just that. To keep striving to become stars in our own right. To keep performing for others to see. To keep working to outdo the competition. In order to glorify ourselves. And, as Herod’s example teaches us, it’s possible to do this even with apparently religious activities. Even while claiming to worship God. While professing to work for God’s greater glory. Except that it’s not really God we’re glorifying. But ourselves. Whether we realise it or not, we’re not really shining out with the Light of Christ. But seeking only to snuff it out.

Pope Francis has a name for this. He calls it spiritual worldliness. And to succumb to spiritual worldliness is to forget, even to reject, the good news we are celebrating today. That, in Christ, the Star of God’s love is already shining in our world. Calling everyone to step into, and to shine out with, its brilliant light.

Sisters and brothers, it’s such a consoling message. If only we are open enough to receive it. You don’t have to be a star, to be in God’s show. How willing are we to accept this truth more fully? What must we do to heed God’s call more generously today?

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Sight, Sound & Spirit


Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
(Octave Day of Christmas)
  
Picture: cc  Lori Greig

Sisters and brothers, have you ever been moved to tears while watching a movie or a show on TV? Do you ever find a lump rising in your throat when you listen to someone sing a song or deliver a speech? Do certain sights and sounds touch a chord within you and make you cry? Without you knowing exactly why? And when you remain with those feelings, sit with those tears, you may discover something about yourself. About the world. And even about God. It’s as if, through your tears, something new was being born within you. And, through you, into the world.

For some of us, this kind of experience happens quite frequently. But, for others, only rarely. Maybe never. What do you think accounts for this difference? Why are some of us so easily moved by what we see and hear? While others seem so unaffected? So impervious? Perhaps it has something to do with our psychological make-up. Some of us are just more emotional than others. Or perhaps it’s got to do with the sights and sounds themselves. Maybe we just haven’t been exposed to the right ones. Those powerful enough to move us deeply. Strong enough to bring something new to birth within us. Or perhaps the reason lies elsewhere. Maybe what is required are not just sights and sounds, but something else as well. Something that makes us more attentive, more open, to significant situations. Allowing them to move us deeply. To bring something new to birth within us. And, through us, into the world.

Something that makes us more open to significant sights and sounds. Something that makes us give birth to new things. This, my dear friends, is also what our Mass readings speak about today. In the first reading, God teaches Moses how to bless the people. And the blessing has everything to do with sights and sounds. Moses is taught the words to use, the sounds to make, that will enable the people to see the sight of God uncovering God’s face to them. To recognise and appreciate the brilliance of God’s smile. Shining upon them. Illuminating the darkness of their hearts and their lives. Giving birth to true and lasting peace.

The responsorial psalm widens the scope of this blessing. Not just the people of Israel, but all the nations will enjoy its benefits. Will feel its effects. The psalmist asks God to let your face shed its light upon us. So will your ways be known upon earth and all nations learn your saving help. The psalmist prays that God’s justice and fairness may be born again, not just for the good of Israel, but for all the nations on earth.

This prayer for God’s blessing finds its final answer in the gospel. In the birth of Jesus, God literally uncovers God’s face to us. This is what the shepherds experience on that first Christmas night. The sights and sounds of angels announcing the Saviour’s birth. Of Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. And, like people deeply moved by a movie or a song, those shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. And not just the shepherds. Mary and Joseph too are so moved by the sights and sounds of that first Christmas night that they name their child Jesus. A name with means God-Saves. Even though they had to endure so much hardship to bring their baby to birth, they recognise in him the face of God shining upon them. And, through them, upon the whole world.

But we know that not everyone was moved by the sights and sounds of that first Christmas. Most of those in Bethlehem were oblivious to what was happening. Engrossed in celebrations or worries of their own. And we can probably understand their indifference. After all, what’s so significant about an unknown baby being born in a filthy stable? Isn’t that more of a tragedy than a reason for joy? And yet, some were deeply moved. So what accounts for the difference? Was it simply due to psychological reasons? Or because the sights and sounds were just not powerful enough? Or does the reason lie elsewhere?

For us to be moved by God’s blessing, for us to recognise God’s face, something more is required. And the second reading tells us just what this is. God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, “Abba, Father.” Sisters and brothers, it is not just through sights and sounds, but through the power of the Spirit, that we are able to recognise the signs of God’s blessing. To see the light of God’s face. To feel the warmth of God’s smile. And so to do what the people in the gospel are doing. Rejoicing in the saving power of God. Singing the praise and glory of God. Even partnering with God in giving birth to something new in our world.

And this is an important lesson for us on this last day in the octave of Christmas. When we celebrate the Motherhood of Mary. We remember not just the sights and sounds of that first Christmas night. But also, and above all, the powerful presence of the Spirit. Moving people to recognise, in apparently ordinary, even tragic, situations, the extraordinary blessing of God. Bringing something new to birth. In their hearts. In their lives. And in our world.

What we celebrate today, sisters and brothers, is not just the Motherhood of Mary, as an event in the past. But also the Motherhood of the Church, as an ongoing process. A process by which we attend to the sights and sounds of our lives, with eyes and ears made sensitive by the Spirit. So that we can partner God in bringing peace and justice to birth in our world.

And this is especially meaningful for us today. For even as we celebrate the joys of a New Year, we cannot ignore the tragic sights and sounds around us. We cannot remain unmoved by the plight of hundreds of relatives mourning the loss of loved ones to a plane crash in Indonesia. Or of tens of thousands of refugees displaced by flood waters in Malaysia. Perhaps some of us may think it inappropriate to speak of such sad situations on New Year’s Day. But is it really? Is it not rather our responsibility, as God’s holy people, to continue gazing upon these sad sights. To continue listening intently to these heartbreaking sounds. And to remain open to God’s All-Powerful Spirit. To be like Mary, who pondered the sights and sounds of her son’s birth in her heart. So that we may learn to recognise the light of God’s face, already shining out in the darkness. So that we may learn to sing the song of God’s justice and peace, already coming to birth in us. And, through us, into the waiting world.

Sisters and brothers, today God continues to bestow upon us a blessing that is also a responsibility. The blessing and responsibility of being the Mother of God. The blessing and responsibility of attending carefully to ordinary sights and sounds, with hearts open to the powerful movements of the Spirit. So that Christ might once again be brought to birth in us. And, through us, into our waiting world.

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to allow ourselves to continue being moved by the Spirit today and throughout this New Year?
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