1 January 2022 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
Numbers 6, 22-27 + Psalm 67 + Galatians 4, 4-7 + Luke 2, 16-21
I have always been just a little bit uncomfortable with the Church’s use of words to name this feast that in my own life-time has had several other names. “Back in the day” I can remember this day on the Church’s calendar as the “Feast of the Circumcision.” Then in 1960 Pope John XXIII removed the term “Circumcision” and simply called this day, “The Octave of the Nativity” which of course means the eighth day when, according to the religious law at the time required the ritual of circumcision for Hebrew children. Because the that ritual of Circumcision also included the formal naming of the child, this date was also called: “The Holy Name of Jesus.” Then in 1974 Pope Paul VI changed the name of this Holy Day to “The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God” which gets us to today. The research of this Liturgical Trivia took longer than the preparation of some homilies! In the end, no matter what the Church wants to call this day, it’s New Year’s Day to most of us.
Father M. Joseph McDonnell was my pastor through my High School years, and he had a custom of not preaching on New Year’s Day, and I always think of him on January 1 with the temptation to carry on his tradition. It was a relief to us all because, as a teen ager in those days, he never seemed to know when to sit down.
With a nod to his memory and tradition, I simply want to propose that we begin this year with a renewed respect for the holy name of Jesus and perhaps resolve to respect that name in our discourse and fits of anger and impatience. I would also propose that we all take another look at our devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. In my opinion the choice of this Gospel allows us to miss the reality of her role as Mother. Luke’s narrative which we just proclaimed does not push us much beyond the Nativity. Her role as mother was far greater than simply sitting back as shepherds came to see her child.
This is the woman who was at a wedding with her son and told him to do something when there was a problem. She was a bit pushy, and he pushed back as any son might, but he ended up doing something. This is the woman who stood at the foot of the cross perhaps wondering: “What did I do wrong?” as mothers sometimes do when they see their children in trouble. In the few occasions when she appears in the Gospel, she never has a better line than the one John’s Gospel puts on her lips speaking to the servants at a wedding in Cana. “Do whatever he tells you.” That might be our best way to begin this New Year with a resolve to do whatever is asked of us by God without complaint or whining, but joyfully remembering that God has come to live among us, and that truth should change the way we live together.