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Monday, December 26, 2011

“The shepherds made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:17-19)

Mary Statue Ireland 

January 1, 2012
Mary, Mother of God
Luke 2:16-21 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

New Year’s Day – the bustle of Christmas is winding down, thanks be to God! That was the sentiment at our house, anyway, when we were growing up. As I remember it, Mom and Dad were mellower by this day – mostly due to exhaustion, I suspect. But with the assurance that we kids would soon be returning to school, they were nearly giddy with joy. The holiday decorating was done – actually, it was already becoming undone. Gifts had been bought, wrapped, exchanged, returned and refunded already. Yes, much of the season’s energy had been expended by New Year’s Day.

More was this the day for flopping in front of the TV for parades and football between casual visits from long-time neighbors Betty, Millie, Ed or Larry, contemporaries of Mom and Dad with whom they often huddled for support in a smothering world of kids. Sitting at the kitchen table sharing a cup of coffee or a beer, holiday adventures of the various families emerged. Especially imaginative in the telling of such were Ed and Larry once the mid-morning brew had loosened a tongue. We six kids were always welcome interlopers once the stories began – mostly, I think, because Ed and Larry really enjoyed an audience, and we could certainly provide that.

One story told long ago on a New Year’s Day at our kitchen table remains with me for both its hilarity and enduring lesson. I think it was probably Ed, our neighbor two houses down, who told the story since he was Catholic (unlike Betty, Millie and Larry). Somehow the sharing of tales devolved into this one which, while probably exaggerated for the entertainment of the audience, seemed plausible enough. Whatever its origin, I share it pretty much as Ed told it.

It really happened, this incident told to Ed by an elderly parishioner after Mass one Sunday morning, she claiming to have been an onlooker to the original calamity. As retold at our New Year’s Day kitchen table, the elderly female victim, hereafter identified as “Grandma,” arrived at church in expectation of attending the 9 AM Mass. Delivered by her daughter’s vehicle to the church’s front entrance, Grandma struggled out of the car with the assistance of her solicitous 8 year-old grandson. As the two of them slowly ascended the church steps, Grandma’s daughter went looking for a parking space in the crowded lot.

Cane in her right hand and the shoulder of her 8 year-old grandson on her left, Grandma slowly made her way down the long center aisle, insistent, not surprisingly, that the second pew on the left was hers. Honing in on her targeted seat with bleary eyes, she determinedly made her way past already seated parishioners who were seen leaning in toward one another in whispered comment about Grandma’s declining health and, no doubt, also commenting on the kindness of her crutch-like grandson.

Just as the two reached the second pew on the left, the one apparently bequeathed her by God himself, the inspiring scene collapsed into sudden mayhem. Grandson, still sharing half the burden of Grandma’s infirmity, found himself having to make a split-second decision of eternal consequence. While Grandma needed the boy’s upright strength, God expected a reverent genuflection before entering the pew. God won. Grandma lost.

Her arm still looking to his shoulder for support, Grandson suddenly fell gracefully to his knee in genuflection. Grandma likewise executed a sudden graceful move, a sort of slow motion forward tumble that left her a disheveled heap on the carpet.

Gasping parishioners hurried to the site, up-righting her once she’d defiantly assured them that nothing hurt. A blessing for her that the church had recently installed lush carpet in the aisles! Once back on her feet, Grandma straightened her clothes, gave her terrified grandson a whack on the backside with her cane, then settled into her seat – second pew on the left.

This New Year’s Day, on which the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, we hear an ancient account of story-telling in the gospel passage as St. Luke writes, “The shepherds made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:17-19)

Yes, Mary listened intently – proudly, no doubt – as the shepherds told of marvelous revelations given them regarding this newborn child. And these stories became the treasures of her heart as in the years ahead she watched her child grow in fulfillment of the shepherds’ revelations. Catholic tradition celebrates these events, naming them The Seven Joys of Mary (the Annunciation; the Visitation; the Nativity of Jesus; the Adoration of the Magi; the finding of Jesus in the temple; the Resurrection; the Assumption of Mary).

Soon enough, though, Mary also heard other revelations – that there would be great suffering in her own life because this son of hers was destined for a greatness that would lead to his early death. And Catholic tradition commemorates these events also, naming them The Seven Sorrows of Mary (Simeon’s prophecy; the flight into Egypt; Jesus lost in the temple; the road to Calvary; Jesus’ death; Jesus placed in his mother’s arms; Jesus’ burial).

New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is for story-telling. We remember the joys and sorrows of her life as we take stock of our own. We look back over the past year with remembrance of our tumbles and recoveries, some graceful as Grandma on the church carpet, others not so. We also recall wounds that have left permanent scars. All of these comprise the treasures of our hearts, experiences that mark us as, perhaps, battered but surely not beaten. Like Grandma, we have picked ourselves up and taken our seats – second pew on the left.

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