January 1st – New Year 2017

Wish you a Happy New Year

Spain is known for its national sport called bullfighting. A mother was crying while watching the bullfighting. The person seated next to her was a priest and was wondering why this woman was crying. He asked her: “Why are you crying?” “I’m afraid that the bull would kill my son. But I pray to God, Father, that my son will be spared and win the fight,” answered the mother.

“Don’t be afraid, madam,” said the priest. “I’m sure your son will win and kill the bull,” continued the priest. How sure are you, Father, that my son will win and kill the bull,” asked the mother. “It’s very easy, ma’am because the bull doesn’t have a mother who prays for his safety and victory. Unlike your son, he has a mother praying for him and that’s you,” answered the priest.

Today is the first day of the New Year. And we are celebrating too the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, a Mother who always prays for us…she is our role model..

Back at home in India this is what happens on the New year’s day in the Catholic villages. After the Mass the leaders of the village together with the people go with a musical band to greet their pastor and get a special New Year blessing. They also present their plan for the upcoming year. Once they have done this customary greeting then each individual family go and meet their pastor to get their New Year blessing. Of course people also take gifts for their pastor on this day.

My uncle’s family have this custom that I used join them on New Year’s day. Evening before the dinner, we all kneel to say our prayer before meal and my uncle and aunt would bless every one of us. After the blessing, they also give us New Year’s gift.

This certainly seems to be the mind of the church because on this first day of the New Year our first reading is a blessing, the famous blessing of Aaron from the book of Numbers.  This is an ancient Jewish blessing.  We can trace it back some 800 years before Christ’s birth.  The blessing is simple and strong: “May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The blessing is filled with powerful imagery: shining one’s face on someone is a way of expressing delight on the person who is beheld.  This blessing tells us that God delights in us and in our presence.  Lifting up one’s countenance to another person is a way of saying that the gaze creates a bond.  This prayer tells us that there is a bond between us and God that cannot be broken.  This blessing of Aaron is a beautiful blessing, and we should make it our own.

In order to do this, I would like to clarify what a blessing is and what it is not.  I think many of us have a mechanical and perhaps a magical notion of a blessing.  When we bless a person, a house, an automobile, a religious medal, we do not believe we are changing that person, place or thing—as if before the words were spoken that thing was unblessed. Nor do we believe that a blessing prayer changes God—as if before the words were spoken God was unwilling to be gracious or give us peace.  We do not believe that our blessing prayers change God or the person, places or things we bless.  What we believe blessings do is give thanks to God for the goodness that is already present in the person, place or thing. Blessings celebrate what our world is and who we are.

And who are we?  Today’s second reading makes it clear.  Paul says, “You are no longer a slave, but a child and if a child, also an heir through God.  Paul says we are children of God. We are those who are to inherit eternal life.  Now, it was not our blessing prayers that made us so. God made us so.  We are already blessed because God created us and saved us and made us God’s own.  Every time we bless one another we celebrate who we are and we remind one another we are truly children of God.

Have we made mistakes? Of course we have.  Have we sinned? Yes we have.  But those mistakes and sins are not who we are.  Have others hurt us or rejected us?  Perhaps. But that hurt and rejection does not define our status.  Are there losses in our life, people who have been taken from us, opportunities we have missed?  Very likely.  But none of those things negate who God has made us to be.  So if we can claim who we are, who God has made us to be, if we can go forward believing in our goodness and God’s presence with us, 2017 can be a very good year.

How important it is for us to claim our status and our dignity as we enter this New Year.  If we look forward to the next 12 months with fear and pessimism, we must ask ourselves whether such negative feelings result from our failure to claim who God has made us to be.

Last few weeks we have been reflecting on many mysteries surrounding the birth of Jesus. Many things were not clear for Mary and Joseph. How did Mary deal with it? Today’s gospel tells us: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”. Very important message that we can learn from our Heavenly Mother…

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