By Father Matthew Hawkins
Parochial vicar, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Benedict the Moor parishes, Pittsburgh
Beginnings, such as the New Year, are important because they set the tone for everything that will follow. In sacred scripture we often find the human race is suspended between a blessing or a curse. Our destiny remains a question because the outcome is uncertain. Moreover, it is uncertain which we will choose; will add to the blessings for humanity or will we feed into the curses?
Love, especially the love of a mother or a father, gives us the strength and encouragement that we need to offer ourselves as a blessing to the world. The ability to give love to others comes from the experience of having received unconditional love, which is ultimately a reflection of God’s love for us. After having made His covenant with the Israelites and having committed Himself to them in a bond of love, the Lord instructed them to extend His blessings to one another. He told Moses to instruct Aaron to bless the people saying:
“The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you,
And be gracious unto you,
And give you peace!” (NM 6:24-26)
The Church adopts this blessing and we extend it to one another as we begin the New Year. Often, however, people do not extend blessings to one another; instead, we offer each other curses. While blessings flow from our awareness of the abundance of God’s love, the curses that we spew come from fear. It is fear that prevents us from seeing our lives as being interconnected, and from sharing the grace of God in the New Year.
The paternal love from God as our Father and Mary as the Mother of the Church enables us to be gracious toward each other. The spirit of God within us teaches us how to love. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians describes our filial relationship with God by saying, “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (GAL 4:6) In a similar way, we learn how to love from Mary, our mother, of whom the Gospel writer Luke said that when she looked tenderly on her son, after having heard the prophetic words that the shepherds told her about him and she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (LK 2:19)
The blessing that comes from God is not intended to set us apart from the rest of humanity, rather it is intended to put us in solidarity with them. The blessings from God make it possible for us to live in a way that anticipates and reflects, even imperfectly, the goodness of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is to incarnate God’s love and make it visible. The Psalmist says, “May God have pity on us and bless us; may he let his face shine upon us. So may your way be known upon the earth; among all nations, your salvation.” (Ps 67:2-3)
Our blessing from God is both an anticipation of things to come and a promise that has been fulfilled. There can be no better time to ponder the blessings that flow from God than at the beginning of a new year. As we enter this New Year our long season of waiting is finally over. There is much that we have suffered and lost over the past year, but there have also been many blessings that we do not always acknowledge. When we focus on God’s blessings we will become aware of how God accompanies us on our journey; we will be reassured that we have the spirit of Jesus in our hearts and we will cry out to the Creator: “Abba, Father!” We will feel the tender gaze of the mother of God as she keeps everything and reflects on them in her heart.
Although we do not always recognize God’s blessings when we receive them, if we take the time to be still and silent and to listen for the voice of God, then we will experience an unmistakable paternal presence. We know that God cannot keep us from suffering as we grow to spiritual maturity, but we also know that God does not abandon us. Let our awareness of this divine love give us the grace to spread that love to others so that the way of God will be known throughout the world.