First Sunday after Christmas. Nativity of the Lord, Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God and New Year's Day Mass 2012

Scripture Readings for Sunday's Mass are here

So the New Year rolls steadily towards us moment by moment and it feels a bit strange writing this in 2011, for Sunday, which will be the first day of 2012. 

I am posting it early because I know my energy levels will drop as the week progresses to yet another busy weekend.

During a couple of nights of insomnia, given that it is the first week of Christmas, and I'm still grappling with the Incarnation, it's hardly surprising that my mind should start to wonder about my fellow nocturnal shepherds awake in the fields near Bethlehem. 

Maybe they marked the long hours of the passing night by counting sheep too.

When that failed to send me to sleep, I read the Gospel for Sunday and was pleasantly surprised that shepherds featured in it.  One thing led to another (as always), so the reflections that follow are a result of my meanderings through a few night hours...

Gospel Luke 2 : 16-21
 Seeing Shepherds by Daniel Bonnell

 Adoration of Shepherds James Tissot

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.

When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.

All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.

And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.

Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision,

he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.


I thought of the shepherds when I came across this extract below from Thomas Merton and how the immensity of the Incarnation would have impacted on their lives.
I thought of how we today desperately need more space and silence in this crazy world, for more chances of encountering the risen Christ to be transformed by that relationship.

Where do we give chances for the Word made flesh to really dwell among us ?
Sadly, the pace of life most of us live at and the nature of the work-life balance most people have these days, leaves less opportunities for that to happen.

 "There must be a time of day when the man who makes plans forgets his plans, and acts as if he had no plans at all.

There must be a time of day when the man who has to speak falls very silent. And his mind forms no more propositions, and he asks himself: Did they have a meaning?

There must be a time when the man of prayer goes to pray as if it were the first time in his life he had ever prayed; when the man of resolutions puts his resolutions aside as if they had all been broken, and he learns a different wisdom: distinguishing the sun from the moon, the stars from the darkness, the sea from the dry land, and the night sky from the shoulder of a hill.” - From No Man is an Island

Then I found this article from the Online Journal of the British Jesuits in which Cathy Molloy introduces Karl Rahner’s ‘Understanding Christmas’ and was delighted that Brother Dan at Dating God and Claire at A Seat At The Table have also been posting about Rahner's thoughts on Christmas this week.

Cathy Molloy says :
"The following extract, the conclusion of Rahner's essay, is offered as a meditative piece, a Christmas 'gift' to you who are busier than ever because it is Christmas, to you who are exhausted and wondering how it has come to this, to you who are delighted or disaffected, enchanted or alienated, by the excitement and the drama of Christmas.

So here's Rahner :

"Those who in the quiet of peaceful recollection, of docile resignation, in the silent Christmas of their own heart, let the press of things, of people, of desires fall back, which would otherwise obstruct their view of infinity, those who for a while at least extinguish the earthly lights that prevent them from seeing the stars in the sky, only those who, in a silent night of their heart, allow themselves to be called by the ineffable, wordless nearness of God speaking through its own silence, if we have the right ears for it, only they celebrate Christmas as it should be celebrated, if it is not to degenerate into a mere worldly holiday. 
We should feel as we do on a clear winter night, when we walk under the starry sky: far away the lights of human nearness and the security of home are still calling us. But above us stretches the sky, and we feel the silent night, which may at times impress us as uncanny and frightening, like the quiet nearness of the infinite mystery of our existence that is at once sheltering love and wide expanse.
The eternal future has entered our time. Its brightness is still dazzling, so that we believe it to be night. But it is a blessed night, a night that is already warmed and illuminated, a beautiful night, cosy and sheltering, because of the eternal day that it carries in its dark womb. It is silent night, holy night.
But it is so for us only if we allow the stillness of that night to enter our inner person, then in our heart too 'all is calm.' And that is not difficult. For such a loneliness and stillness are not heavy. Its only heaviness is that which belongs to all sublime things that are both simple and great.
Yes, we are lonely. There exists in our heart an inner land, where we are alone, to which nobody finds the way except God. This innermost unreachable chamber in our heart exists. The question is whether we, in a foolishly guilty way, avoid it, because nobody else and nothing of what is familiar to us on earth can enter into it with us.
Let us enter there ever so quietly! Let us shut the door behind us! 
Let us listen to the ineffable melody that fills the silence of that night.
Here the silent and lonely soul sings for the God of her heart her finest and most personal song. And she may be sure that God hears it. For this song no longer has to seek the beloved God beyond the stars in that inaccessible light where he dwells and where no one can see him. Because it is Christmas, because the Word was made flesh, God is near, and the faintest word in the quiet chamber of our heart, the word of love, reaches his ear and his heart.
We must be quiet and not fear the night, else we will hear nothing. For the ultimate message is uttered only in the night's stillness ever since, through the gracious arrival of the Word into the night of our life, Christmas' silent night, holy night came down among us."
Cathy Molloy is the Social Theology Officer at the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Dublin.Adapted from an article originally published in Working Notes, the journal of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice.
Then this phrase from the Gospel stayed with me...
"And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart," which took me to Caryll Houselander who explains below how Christ communes with us:  
"We are one body, Christ. His life in us is like the bloodstream in the body, a torrent which flows through the whole body into each part continually". 
This led me to remember these two poems, both similar , which I posted last year:

Did the woman say
When she held him for the first time in the

dark dank of a stable,

After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,

“This is my body, this is my blood?”

Did the woman say,

When she held him for the last time in the

dark rain on a hilltop,

After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,

“This is my body, this is my blood?

Well that she said it to him then,

For dry old men,

Brocaded robes belying barrenness,

Ordain that she not say it for him now.

Frances Croake Frank

All the way to Elizabeth
and in the months afterward
she wove him, pondering,
"this is my body, my blood!"

Beneath the watching eyes
of donkey, ox, and sheep
she rocked him crooning
"this is my body, my blood!"

In the search for her young lost boy
and the foreboding day of his leaving she let him go , knowing
"This is my body, my blood!"

Under the blood smeared cross
she rocked his mangled bones,
re-membering him, moaning,
"This is my body, my blood!"

When darkness, stones,and tomb
bloomed to Easter morning,
She ran to him shouting,
"this is my body, my blood!"

And no one thought to tell her:
"Woman, it is not fitting
for you to say those words.
You don't resemble him."

Irene Zimmerman SSSF
The Dominican Timothy Radcliffe in his book Sing A New Song : The Christian Vocation quotes from Seamus Heaney's poem which is a nice one for the New Year.

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.

Seamus Heaney The Cure at Troy

Finally, as the hours and Psalm 67 flew by me, I searched for some music to ask God to be always there with us in this New Year, no matter what the circumstances.
I finally settled for John Rutter's "May The Lord Bless You and Keep You, " loosely based on Sunday's Psalm 67.

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