Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – New Year’s Day 2012 C.E. – Milk and Love

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Mary, Mother of God B – January 1, 2012 C.E. – Milk and Love

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67: 2,3,5,6,8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

In ancient Egyptian tradition we find images of the goddess Isis breastfeeding her son Horus. Horus was the god of Egypt and a great cosmic power, the creator of everything. In ancient Hindu religion we find Yashoda suckling her son Krishna, the god who destroys all pain and sin. In the Christian religion we have images of Mary breastfeeding Jesus the incarnate god, the messiah promised by the prophets of ancient Israel. How similar are these motifs, these stories.

The depiction of Mary nursing Jesus is very popular in Portugal, Spain, and Italy but strangely and curiously never seen in the United States. What a wonderful story it tells. Imagine a peasant girl like Mary nourishing the infant God Jesus with her own warm, sweet milk.

A member of this parish, Jeanne Qualters, sent me a poem about Mary, the mother of God. It is entitled Annunciation by Denise Levertov. 

to bear in her womb infinite weight and lightness; 

to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; 

to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power –

in narrow flesh, the sum of light.

Then bring to birth, push out into air, a [Man] child needing, like any other,

milk and love –

but who was God.

There is probably no more affectionate and loving experience than looking into the tiny face of a newborn baby cradled in your hands. What a feeling of warmth and tenderness when nestling that infant’s smooth face gently against your own. We can imagine the joy Mary felt when she gave birth to Jesus and nursed him. Mary treasured the acclamations of the shepherds that her son was the savior. Those words also troubled her as she wondered what was in store for him.

The same is true for every parent. Gazing at any infant today raises questions about what may lie ahead for him or her. What will life on this planet be for our children? Will there be enough for them to eat and drink? How will they afford education or find jobs? Will they be safe? In his message for today, the world day of peace, Benedict, the bishop of Rome, called upon present generations to create conditions that will offer future generations opportunities to fully realize themselves and to build civilizations of truth, freedom, love and justice for all persons.

How can you and I create these conditions?

Levertov began her poem with this line, “Hail Space for the Uncontained God.” Mary found space in her life to bear the prince of peace. What does it mean to trust in God and have a relationship with that God who lives well beyond any limit or boundary we might impose? We do need images to make God real in our lives — mother, father, lover, friend, creator, navigator, instigator. Do we also unwittingly try to confine God just to meet our expectations?

Mary the Mother of God cuddled and nourished Jesus like other goddesses mentioned earlier who breastfed their sons. Fragile at birth their children grew to become heroes like Jesus became a hero in our tradition. Every time we gather to worship we experience a similar intimacy when we embrace the word of God and share the body and blood of Christ. In this uncontained, eternal space, you and I find the strength and courage to carry on regardless of dire circumstances or predictions.

We begin another year on a day dedicated to the mother of God and world peace. We look to Mary and to one another to find ways to make space in our lives, and the lives of our children; to work for justice, personally and globally. Mary looked into her infant’s face and saw the radiance of God. Complex as it may seem we see in each other the splendor of God’s face. In the word’s of Levertov the poet, you and I respond to one another, providing each other with basic human needs — “milk and love.”

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Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

3 thoughts on “Homily – New Year’s Day 2012 C.E. – Milk and Love

  1. very touching Richard!…I liked the inclusiveness of your presentation. We catholics have so often thought we have a corner on the market of mystery of human and spiritual experience…..obviously not so. Reality centered reflections always appeal to me and of course this homily was one of them.
    Thanks! jb

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  2. Thank you Richard, for reminding us that Mary was a woman who suckled her child, a reality check for many of us, and a real-life situation in my care of infants. We hide that fact for women and children, placing them and sadly ourselves at jeopardy for confusion about life and love.
    I also thank you for helping us to see that the story of Mary is so similar to other cultures and their stories of goddesses. The origins of these stories are crucial in our understanding of how people in Jesus’s time viewed the world and each other.
    For ourselves today though, as we discussed, I see Mary as a real live spirit, a person who has appeared to people on this earth. I’m not sure if any other religion might have those types of experiences with their gods or goddesses. The Great Spirit has given this person a wonderfully powerful presence and miraculous ability, to truly affect this space we live in. Mary surely continues, with the grace of God, to open up space for us to God’s presence and LOVE for each of us.
    Thank you again. Debbie

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  3. Beautifully done – as always. And I love the imagery of Mary feeding Jesus – it is so rich and a reminder of so many things; what you have said and so much more.

    We have such an image where I work and it is something I note with gratitude each time I gaze upon it.

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