Reflection for Sunday – January 1, 2017
Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Preacher: Gloria Ulterino
At the waters of Baptism I was given the name Gloria O’Toole. As a really young child I vividly remember going to Mass, and saying to myself, “What is that gibberish I keep hearing?” (It was Latin, of course.) But then, invariably, the priest would proclaim, loud and clear, “Gloria tua!” (Your glory, referring to God.) And I would sit up straighter in the pew and think, “Oh, they know I’m here!”
Names matter. Yours. Mine. Everyone’s. Especially the name Jesus, given by the angel to Mary at her first Yes. Jesus, meaning “God saves.” Yes, God saves everyone. The young girl in Pakistan who may despair that a life of enslavement is her only possibility. The young boy in Aleppo, whose dazed face came home to us on the news recently, who has only known the terror of war his entire life. The middle aged man, an active alcoholic, who sees no way out of this prison. Until… he turns to God, the God of Jesus, one day at a time, and enters recovery, a day at a time. For each of them, for all of us, God Saves.
But God’s way of saving is not by magic. No abracadabra. No. God Saves through Jesus. Fully divine, yet fully human. With eyes, ears, hands, feet, heart, mind, just like ours. Through human Yes’s to God. Yours. Mine. And ultimately Mary’s Yes. Despite her not understanding: “How can this be?” Despite the many changes in her body. Through her discomfort, maybe even vomiting early on. Through the joy of feeling the flutter of life for the very first time. Through the playful poking from deep inside. Through the agony and mess of birthing, in a dirty, smelly barn. Through it all. With her continual pondering, day in and day out, beginning with the shepherds’ Good News. What does this mean? Not just once, but day in and day out. Mary’s Yes mattered so much that the Church names her Mother of God, the model for each of us personally, the model for all of us as Church, the People of God.
On this first day of a new year, can we—like Mary—hear the name of Jesus? Can we—like Mary—say Yes to the God who saves? Can we enter into prayer, hearing the name, over and over, God Saves, lapping gently on the shore of our hearts? Lapping not so gently, urging us to stand up, stand tall, say Yes today. Tomorrow. And the next day. God Saves me. You. My Catholic neighbor down the street. The dictator halfway around the world. The politician with whom I disagree, strongly. Yes, that one, too. God Saves. God Saves. God Saves.
Once I hear, what can I do? Can I allow the wave upon wave upon wave of that truth to penetrate my heart… my soul… my body… my entire being? Can I speak tenderly to one I would just as soon ignore? Even to one in my family who can be really difficult. Can I speak up firmly, strongly, when necessary, but always respectfully? Can I invite—urge if necessary—my pastor to see to it that the second reading today from Galatians must include precious daughters as well as important sons, for all are God’s children and heirs. (After all, Mary is the unique daughter whose Yes to God made God’s Salvation known.) Can I join with others when I see and know injustice, for it will take many of us to address the wrongs in our world? Like tending to the garden of our earthly home. Like tending to Church reform that includes everyone. Like opening up preaching to all gifted and well-formed ministers. Like becoming a Church devoted to smelling like sheep, to standing with anyone and everyone on the margins of life, whether economically or socially? Like using our God-given gifts, whatever they might be, to literally and figuratively make music to our God all our days.
Today is not only the dawn of another new year but it can become the dawn of another new era. Even in and through the tiniest beginnings. As we, like Mary, Mother of God, say Yes. Today. Tomorrow. The next day, and the one after that. Again and again, especially and always when we become discouraged, downhearted, and disillusioned. For God Saves. God has already saved. God will continue to save. We simply need to hear it, not only with our ears, but our hearts, our entire beings. And then repeat it. Allow it to soak into the marrow of our bones, our hearts, and our names. In whatever ways we are gifted, in whatever ways we are able. By ourselves and with like-hearted others. For that is how God saves. That is how we truly become Church, the People of God. That is how we follow in the footsteps and heart steps of Mary, Mother of God.
Why does preaching matter to me?
Can you remember a homily you heard manyyears ago?I can.It changed my life.In July, 1983, I participated in my first preaching workshop, given by Dominican Sister Joan Delaplane.A powerful preacher and expert professor of preaching, she “became” the man at the pool of Bethsaida, by the Sheep Gate.Ill for 38 years, Jesus confronted him with this question, “Do you want to be healed?”He replied (to us), “you may think that’s easy to answer, but it’s not.”As she listed all the reasons why she simply was not sure whether or not she wanted to be healed, I could literally feel a fire in my belly.Wow!I must learn how to do this!
Preaching is a sacred responsibility for me.I have worked long and hard to give my best: to pray with the Scripture, to meet with a homily team for an hour of conversation on the readings, to search out commentaries, and always to wait on the Spirit of God for a spark of truth, on which to build the reflection.Preaching is a joy, a challenge, and a calling.