Christmas II – Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
2017 – Cycle ABC
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
If I remember, his name was Leo, he and his wife were in their 70’s, married around 50 years. They sat in the front pew for daily Mass. The look with which Leo took in his wife, I will never forget. Love wants to look. Love wants to be in the presence of the beloved.
If to look is a fundamental act of a lover than is it not also a fundamental act of the Christian? How much of our Catholic faith and tradition is about looking, spending time like a lover gazing over a table into the eyes of the beloved?
Consider how all of our Christmas stable scenes picture Mary and Joseph, shepherds and magi, even the animals, simply looking. Looking at the image of the Christ child, the image of the presence of God. How wonderful in turn to watch parents come up to the scene in church with their children pointing out the characters and looking at the ancient story portrayed.
Outdoor living Nativity’s scenes that some parish churches present is not grand theatre. It is more of a tableaux for us to look upon. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a Holy Hour, is simply looking at and being in the presence of Jesus. How much of praying the Stations of the Cross is looking at the images of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Burial? Have you not prayed before a crucifix, an icon of the Virgin or a statue of a patron saint? What do people instinctively do when they visit the great religious buildings of our tradition from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to the French medieval cathedrals or Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome? We look up. We look around. We take in beauty and the majesty of such great spaces even as they dwarf and humble us. We look. We are struck with awe at beauty. Beauty that is a glimmer of God the Beloved.
“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this…the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had seen…” [Luke 2:16-20]
Is there any difference between this Christmas scene and that of the Resurrection?
“On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. When Simon Peter arrived, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,…then the other disciple also went in,…and he saw and believed. [John 20:1-8]
To see, to look upon, is to believe and glorify God. In the Passion narratives it is two Romans who teach us. “When the centurion who stood facing Jesus saw how he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”” [Mark 15:39] At the trial scene Pilate proclaims it boldly, “Ecce homo”, “Behold, look at the man!” [John 19 :5] Look at, see, and believe!
Was Saint Thomas Aquinas wrong in his great hymn, “Pange lingua” that we sing on Holy Thursday and at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, when he wrote, “sensuum defectui” “Where the senses fail”? Would you tell Leo his senses were failing him as he gazed upon his wife, his love?
The Virgin of Nazareth, the first follower of Jesus, the one today we honour as Mother of God, is the great teacher of the gaze. In the gospels, Mary like Joseph, doesn’t speak on this silent night, but we are told that she gazed deeply because she, “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” [Luke: 2:19]. The gaze of the lover is a light, revealing a truth about the beloved that no one else can see.
Our faith is not about empirical scientific proofs. It is about falling in love. God in love with us. We falling in love with God. Gazing is effortless when a person is in love. Ask Leo. And if you have fallen out of love or never really been in love with God then begin. First quiet yourself. And then, look. Gaze. See the mystery.
[Phrases and ideas taken from Terrance W. Klein, Love Longs to Look, America, 23 December 2016.]