Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 1, 2010 "Life and Salvation through Mary's Son, Jesus Christ"

It has been a tradition in Regina for the Archbishop to hold a Levee on New Year's Day. A Levee is simply a reception in which all the people of the Archdiocese are welcome to come to the Cathedral Hall, meet and exchange greetings with the Archbishop, have a light lunch, and enjoy one another's company. I enjoy the Levee. I meet some wonderful people and it's a real plealure to watch as they stay for a while and chat with each other and share some snacks. The Church is essentially a community of people bonded by our baptism into one people. We have a tough time with community these days. I think particularly so in families who because of the pressures of the times have few opportunities even to eat together any more. The Levee reminds us of the joys of our links to one another.

On hand with me was Fr. Arthur Vandendriessche, one of the priests who were awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice and the Bene Merenti medals this year in recognition of exceptional dedication and work for the Diocesan Church.

Also on hand was our newest and oldest Monsignor, Msgr Mike Hogan who celebrated his 66th anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood this past year. Msgr Hogan was Vicar General for the Archdiocese for a number of years and served the Church as Diocesan Administrator as well. I noticed that it was a great pleasure for people to meet these generous priests and give them their congratulations.

Also Deacon Barry Wood and his wife Shiela were on hand. Deacon Barry came to work for the Archdiocese this year as Financial Officer.

And some other priests came along as well, including Fr. Norm Marcotte who retired this year as Pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Regina.

There were lots of people of all ages who came and shared in this special event. Msgr Ken Miller, the former Vicar General of the Archdiocese, was with me to welcome and introduce people to me. Msgr Miller, who also has served the diocesan church on many levels seems to know just about everybody around!

I will let you see some of the many people who came on New Year's Day and certainly brightened my day. In between the pictures I will share with you my reflection on the importance of the Feast of Mary the Mother of God, which is our Liturgical Celebration on January 1st.

I was asked once: “Why is New Year’s Day a Holy Day of Obligation?” I had to reply that New Year’s Day wasn’t a holy day of obligation. However the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God on January 1 was. I wasn’t trying to be smart with this honest question. But I did want to draw attention to why we come to Mass today and why it is a holy day of Obligation.

Today, in Church language, is the Octave Day of Christmas, the eighth day since Christmas Day. But again the question: What is so special about this day? Well, let me give a little illustration. This past summer my mother celebrated a big birthday; she turned 90. Her birthday is on July 11th and we had a party for her with all her family there. But then when I was home with her, we had a special meal for her birthday at another time.

And at different times people dropped by to give congratulations and these included little celebrations. My mother doesn’t like a fuss, so one birthday celebration would have been more than enough for her, but it ended up that she had a number of birthday celebrations, spread over many days. The importance of that birthday couldn’t be acknowledged by her family and friends just in one day. It needed more time.

That is the way it is in the Church with very special celebrations. At Christmas we celebrate God’s decision to be born into our world as a human child, as one of us. As St. Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians, the Son of God had to empty himself of all the glory of God in order to be born into our human race. This is an act of intense love by God for us.

The Church finds that to celebrate this in one day is not adequate. And so the Church celebrates Christmas Day for eight days. In the life and the prayer of the Church, Christmas Day begins on December 25th and ends on January 1st. Today we God’s people conclude the celebration of Christmas Day by reflecting on Mary, who in giving birth to Jesus has become the Mother of God.

Once again Mary, as mothers are known to do, puts her finger on our chin and turns our face so that we are looking at Jesus her son, her son who is God. She reminds us, in this sacred and divine liturgy of her feast, “He was called Jesus, the name that was given by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The name “Jesus” was understood to mean “God Saves.” Jesus then is the Saviour. Jesus, the Son of Mary and the Son of God is the one who saves us. The one who saves you and me.

When the angel said to the shepherds in that dark Christmas night illuminated by heavenly light: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour” the angel was addressing those words to every person in the world, to each of us here, to you and to me. A saviour is born to you and to me.

What does that mean for us? Let us look at the words of the Gospel again: St. Luke writes that, having received the message of the birth of a Saviour from the angels; the shepherds immediately go to Bethlehem. They say “Let us go and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

When I listen to these words I immediately think of the beginning of John’s Gospel where John the Baptist watches Jesus as he walks by one day. John says to his disciples who were with him: “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” One of those disciples, Andrew, and another immediately set out after Jesus. Like the shepherds on their way to Bethlehem, Andrew and his friends set out to go and see who this Lamb of God is.

In a sense this is what we do in our lives as disciples of Jesus, for that is who we, the baptized members of the Church, are. We too, like the Shepherds, like the disciples of John, are told things about Jesus by our parents and grandparents, by our priests, by reading the Word of God in the Bible. And we too set out in different ways to go and see what it is all about.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus turned to the two and said to them “what are you looking for?” Now that is a very big question, isn’t it. It is one of the great “life questions.” “What are you looking for in your life?” Jesus says to us. What is it that you really want? The shepherds went looking for a Saviour and found a baby lying in a manger. Andrew and his friend went looking for a Saviour, and found Jesus. This feast today puts that question to us: ”What are you looking for in your life?” That makes me ask myself: “What am I looking for in my life?” If I am looking for a Saviour, what is it that I need to be saved from?

The Gospel sheds light on some of the answers to those questions. The first words spoken by the Angels announcing the birth of the Saviour were: “Do not be afraid.” These are words that Jesus repeated over and over again as he spoke to people who came to listen to him. “Do not be afraid.” What I fear is what I need to be saved from.

We do not like to admit our fears. Yet, fear is one of those big things in life, is it not? We worry and fret about many things: about sickness, about the health of those we love, we fear sorrow, we fear loss, we fear pain and we fear coming face to face with death. It is easy for fear to possess us. Fear can be a great darkness for many of us as we live our life. Fear can even enslave us.

But this feast of the mother whose son is God tells us that we are no longer slaves to anything. For, because of Jesus’ birth, we have been made God’s sons and daughters. A light has shone into the darkness of our fears and has strengthened us. That light is Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, the one who Saves us.

St. Paul tells us that because we have been made sons and daughters of God, we are heirs to the treasure of God. When the shepherds came to Bethlehem, they saw a child, a newborn baby. They saw innocence and peace; they saw love. And they saw new life. They saw the treasure of God: an innocence that overcomes guilt and cunningness and deceit. They saw peace that overcomes violence, injustice and oppression. They saw love that overcomes division, strife and hatred. And they saw a life that would overcome death.

Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. We do that too as we celebrate the Birth of the Saviour. And we pray that God will be gracious to us and bless us in the New Year that lies ahead. We pray that, like the shepherds, may we make known to those around us what we have been told about this Child whose birth we celebrate. We pray that God may bless us with the strength and courage to make known to the nations of the world, the saving power of God’s great love. For this is a power that has freed us from darkness and a love that has filled our lives with a brightness and hope which will last for all eternity.
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Many thanks go out to the ladies at the Cathedral who hosted the reception, poured tea and coffee and were so welcoming to people. And many thanks as well the the Knights of Columbus who made it easy for people to come and exchange greetings with their Archbishop and added dignity to the afternoon. And my thanks as well to the Bishop Elect of Saskatoon, Donald Bolen, our past Vicar General, for coming and being there for the people of our diocesan Church. We all wish him well and warmly congratulate him on his appointment by the Holy Father to the Diocese of Saskatoon.