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What was in the shepherds’ hearts? | January 1

By 27 December, 2022January 4th, 2023No Comments
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p. Luis CASASUS. President of the Idente Missionaries.

Rome, January 1st, 2023 | Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Book of Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

Let me answer the above question with the wise and simple words of Pope Francis:

Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness (Misericordiae Vultus).

Trying to define mercy is an impossible task, for it has no limits, especially if we refer to divine mercy. But it is important to remember that in the language of the Jews, this word means something like radiating an endearing affection. Thus we understand that it is not simply to feel pity, but to send to others a kind of radiation (we would say today in modern terms), of energy. If we look at the attitude of the shepherds, it was exactly what they received, what set them on their way to the portal, as the traditional Christmas songs say, bearing simple gifts, bread, honey, butter….

The shepherds did not need to understand too much. Their hearts told them that they should approach the manger, where a young couple from Nazareth had taken refuge and were surely in difficulty.

They found only Mary and Joseph with a newborn baby, but nothing extraordinary or miraculous. What would be so special about that baby?

The shepherds had something in common with Mary. She was too young to understand what was going on in her life. And she asked the angel how what he was announcing could happen. For her, it was a surprise what the old man Simeon declared (Lk 2: 33) and she did not understand what the adolescent Jesus wanted to tell her when he said that he had to take care of his Father’s things (Lk 2: 50).

But that “radiation” that mercy has, that capacity to reach God and souls, is not always found in reason and good ideas. In fact, today’s Gospel tells us how Mary kept in her heart the message transmitted to her by those simple shepherds. The angels had done the same with these ordinary people: they had not given them instructions or threats to change their lives and live a morally decent life (who said that all shepherds are just and good?); what the angels left in their hearts was the certainty that God loved them. Nothing more… and nothing less.

To their surprise, these shepherds had been invited to be prophets, to announce to the very same Mary and Joseph that their son Jesus was going to do great things.

—ooOoo—

Sometimes we are not aware of the importance of being confirmed with a simple word. This is what the Lord commissioned Aaron to do, to bless his people. Blessing simply means “I will be with you” or “God will be with you“… and that has consequences.

God is not only a source of blessings, but he grants human beings the ability to inspire greatness, hope and joy in others. When someone blesses another, he or she gives something that, although not tangible, can be internalized and enjoyed. The simple act of saying “Good morning” to a friend is a small blessing, which may not have a religious character, nor may it decide whether that person will indeed have a good morning, but it conveys to that friend the unity of the one who greets him with his intentions, with his plan for that day.

A man who was visiting a farmer and saw him planting his field. What are you sowing? he asked. Wheat, was the answer. And what do you expect to reap from it? he asked. Wheat of course, said the farmer. The very same day some little thing provoked the farmer to go into cursing and swearing. The visitor asked and what are you sowing now? The farmer said, What! Do you take such serious views of every mood, word and action?

The visitor replied: Yes, for every word helps to form the permanent temper; and for every word we must give account; and every act but aids to form a habit; and habits are to the soul what veins and arteries are to the blood- the courses in which it moves, and will move forever. By all these little words and actions, we are forming character, and that character will go with us to eternity, and according to it will be our destiny and the destiny of others forever.

When we examine our charity, in order to correct our mistakes, we have to take into account our offensive, useless, or foolish words. Almost everyone I know drops a shadow of criticism on others, sometimes with irony and sometimes in a poorly disguised way, like those who say: “it’s not a criticism, it’s a statement of fact“. On the contrary, Christ took every opportunity to highlight the good deeds he saw: the alms of the poor widow, the sincerity of Nathanael, the faith of the Centurion, or of the woman who touched his garment to be healed….

Already from a psychological and emotional point of view, words have an extraordinary power. I could mention several personal experiences that I remember of comments that were devastating for me and others that were deeply consoling, but the following historical case is more relevant.

One day, future inventor Thomas Edison came home and gave a paper to his mother. He told his mother that his teacher gave this paper to him and said, Give this to your mother. His mother opened it and read the paper. After reading the paper her eyes filled with tears. Thomas asked his mother about what was written in the paper. She read the whole letter in loud voice to her son: Your son is a genius. This school it too small for him and we don’t have enough resources and good teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself. And that’s exactly what his mother did.

After many years, Edison’s mother died and he has become one of the greatest inventors. One day while Thomas was looking into old family things he came across a folded paper in the corner of his desk drawer. He took it and opened it. He read the paper: Your son is mentally ill and we won’t let him come to school anymore. It was the same paper which was given to him by his teacher in school to give to his mother. After reading that Edison cried for hours and wrote in his dairy, Thomas Alva Edison was a mentally ill child that, by a hero mother, became the genius of the century.

The ancients believed that the spoken word contained the power and authority of the Gods. But Christ was even clearer and invited us to speak to others as he did, because The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life (Jn 6: 53). If in Christ God has revealed his always benedictory face, we have to always bless, including the enemies. Bless and do not curse (Rom 12:14). The First Reading refers to the text of the most famous of blessings taught by the Lord himself to Moses.

It is not that words are magic, but that they are an instrument for mercy, that spiritual “radiation” of which we spoke earlier, to become effective on God’s behalf. That is why the second of the Commandments tells us not to pronounce God’s name in vain, not to speak a foolish word if we have truly promised to be his humble messengers. It is a pity that many of us think that this Commandment means only that we are not to blaspheme or use the word “God” in a clumsy way.

It is not only God that blesses the person, but also the person is called to bless God. In the Psalms, the invitation insistently returns: Bless the Lord, all of you, servants of the Lord …. Raise your hands towards the sanctuary and bless the Lord (Ps 134:1-2); “Bless his name … tell of his glory, to all the nations tell his prodigies (Ps 96:2-3). We should be attentive when reciting the Lord’s Prayer and be aware that the first petition we make is actually a blessing to God: Hallowed be your Name.

The blessing that a person addresses to God is the answer to the goods received. It is the sign that he is aware that all good comes from him, that it is his gift.

—ooOoo—

The Second Reading deserves some reflection. Sometimes we think that when the Gospel says that we are freed from the Law by receiving the title of children of God, it refers to the Mosaic Law. This is not so. Christ many times mentioned the Law of Moses as something great that the Pharisees and the so-called doctors of the Law had to respect. In fact, today’s Gospel text tells us that the Holy Family was obedient to the law written in the Torah and proceeded promptly to the circumcision of the Child Jesus. To be subject to the Law means to be legalistic, to remain in the letter of that Law, or of any other moral law.

But there is something else. All of us are subject to the laws of Nature, which govern our body and soul. Yet we allow them to enslave us, and we cannot completely avoid it except through grace. St. Augustine observed that “God created us without our aid; but he did not choose to save us without our aid” (Sermo 169).

Today is the day chosen to celebrate the World Day of Peace, on the initiative of the holy Pope Paul VI. There are many threats to peace, beginning with the power of the selfish passions in each of us. As Leo Tolstoy said: Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.

Moreover, many current ideologies are weakening the desire for peace present in every human being. We can conclude this reflection with the wise words of Benedict XVI on this 2007 Day of Peace:

Today, however, peace is not only threatened by the conflict between reductive visions of man, in other words, between ideologies. It is also threatened by indifference as to what constitutes man’s true nature. Many of our contemporaries actually deny the existence of a specific human nature and thus open the door to the most extravagant interpretations of what essentially constitutes a human being. Here too clarity is necessary: a “weak” vision of the person, which would leave room for every conception, even the most bizarre, only apparently favors peace. In reality, it hinders authentic dialogue and opens the way to authoritarian impositions, ultimately leaving the person defenseless and, as a result, easy prey to oppression and violence.

Today let us implore Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, for the grace to defend with deeds and words that we have been created in the image and likeness of God and that this has consequences and possibilities that we cannot ignore or despise.

 

In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

p. Luis CASASUS

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