1 January 2017 — Mary Mother of God — A Non-Violent Peacemaker
Note: Today is is the 50th anniversary of the World Day of Peace, which was inspired by Pope John XXIII in his encyclical Pacem in Terris and established by Pope Paul VI in his letter Populorum Progressio in 1967. It is also the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God on the Catholic calendar. Happy New Year!
Shakespeare used it. John Toynbee used it. It’s a phrase engraved on the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. “What is Past is Prologue” creates a context for understanding and shaping current events.
Aaron’s blessing recorded in the Book of Numbers calls upon the people of his time to be aware of all that God is and all that God has done for creation — humanity, animals, plants, the environment. The passage from the Letter to the Galatians speaks of developing our relationships with God, as children of God, gifted by God. It reminds us we are coworkers with God called to share the blessings we have with others.
In today’s gospel we hear again that Mary, Theotokos, God Bearer, the Mother of God, stunned the world in birthing the boy, Jesus. In this story Luke reminds us also that Mary took time to ponder and treasure what was happening to her, what was going on all around her.
Life was not any easier at that time in the Middle East than it is today. Jesus and his mother Mary participated in the events of their lives just as we do. Together they shaped history by taking actions against the oppression of the Roman empire which had ruled over Judea.
As a prologue for the future whenever we practice what we believe to be true, everything we’ve learned from these two Jews about seeking peace and justice, everything we say and do is bound to have influence on other human beings.
Mary is often shown in Christmas cards, on our church calendars, in artistic renderings as a meek, mild, pure, even mindless woman. Nancy Rockwell writes that this image has slowed down the advancement of women for centuries when they hear over and over how the obedient and humble Mary was a perfect model for womanhood.
But Luke offers another side of Mary’s personality, one that reveals a spunky young woman who was radical, bold, full of grit and bursting with convictions about justice in her community. The first clue about her sense of self came when she questioned the angel “Wait a minute, Gabriel, how can I be pregnant?”
Shortly after the angel’s call Mary’s Magnificat resounds as a political bombshell delivered right in the home of a temple priest Zachariah, husband of Elizabeth, father of John the Baptist. Mary was pursued by God for her daring, independent spirit. And, she said “yes, OK I am going to do it! I can do this!” I am going to scatter the proud, bring the mighty down from their thrones, fill hungry people with good food and send the greedy rich away empty handed.
This message is surely timely for us on the first day of a new year, a day of world peace. Mary’s “yes” charges us from then to now to be strong and unafraid when confronting the unknown. It is a call to grab a hold of whatever comes our way without knowing exactly the outcome.
Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace,” challenges us to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, refusing to harm the environment, or refusing to win at any cost. To do so, Francis reminds us, requires “the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process.”
The miracle of Christmas began with Mary and Jesus of the past and continues with each one of us today. What they did way back then serves as a prologue for what lies ahead for us but … with a caveat.
We remember the past as a way to direct ourselves not to repeat the past, nor to be discouraged by it, but to be buoyed up with a new enthusiasm, a vigorous and feisty hope for the future.