Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
Fr. McLane asked a married couple in his parish what they were making for New Years resolutions. The man spoke up first: “I resolve, Father, to do everything I can this year to make my wife happy.” The woman chimed in, “And my resolution, Father, is to do everything I can to help my husband keep his!”
Standing on the threshold between two years, many folks spend time looking ahead: making resolutions for the New Year, making plans for the New Year, making predictions about the New Year. But from this same vantage point, we can also spend time looking back: considering the year that was and the things of significance which took place during these last twelve months.
For me and my family, one of the most significant milestones of 2016 was the death of my grandfather, Leo Giroux, last August.
The first reading we hear at Mass today—the instruction given to Aaron, the priest, and to his sons on how to bless the Lord’s chosen people—was the first reading I selected for my grandfather’s funeral Mass. It only seems like an odd choice until you know the story…
As a kid, my friends and their families had celebrations pretty similar to those of my family when it came to things like Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays. But we Girouxs did things a bit differently at New Years. On New Years Eve, our large extended family would gather. The cousins would play with their new toys from Christmas while the adults played cards. At midnight, there’d be hugs and kisses all around, and then a big feast. Everyone would then sleep a few hours before getting up for chores on the farm. If you hadn’t gone to the vigil Mass the night before, next you were off to church for the holy day. And then the whole family would get together once again at my grandparents’ home—the old farmhouse where they’d raised their ten children—for yet another feast. There were card tables set up all over the place to make sure everybody had a place to sit. But before anyone took a bite, my grandfather would say the blessing. This was not, mind you, simply “Grace Before Meals.” Keeping an old French Canadian custom, my grandfather, as the patriarch, would give his paternal blessing, invoking God’s blessing on his family for the coming year. Such a blessing by a father of his children is a tradition that goes back to Old Testament times—a tradition still older than the priestly blessing recorded in that first reading we hear each year on January 1st.
My grandfather’s blessing on New Years Day is one of my most treasured memories. And one of the greatest honors of my life came on January 1, 2001. Due to some unusual circumstances, I had spent my first Christmas as a priest at home with my family. On New Years Day, I joined the rest of the gang at my grandparents’ house. Not only did I get to sit at the “grown ups table” for the first time in my life, but after my grandfather had imparted his paternal blessing to us all, my grandmother insisted that I give my priestly blessing to the family, too!
Today, on the Eighth Day—the Octave—of Christmas, the Church gathers her children to celebrate the divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary. Through Mary, we receive countless blessings, to be sure; but born from Mary is none other than he who is the very source of every blessing: the Word made Flesh, God become man, Jesus Christ our Lord. His sacred Nativity, which we celebrated a week ago, could only take place with Mary’s willing cooperation. And so we recall how, again and again, the almighty God freely chooses to use us, his mere creatures, to fulfill his great plan of salvation. We see that most perfectly in Blessed Mary. But we see it also in St. Joseph. And in the shepherds. And in Jesus' Apostles. And, through the ages, in countless sinners striving to be saints. I could see it, too, in my grandfather's New Years blessing. And it should also be clear in your life and mine.
This feast of the Holy Mother of God is the perfect occasion to look back over the year just past. Like Mary kneeling at the manger, reflecting in her heart on all that led up to the first Christmas, we need to take stock of the blessings we’ve received and how well we’ve cooperated with them. But also seeking Mary’s prayers, we ought to look ahead: asking God’s renewed and abundant blessings on the year to come and all those we love.
I would particularly encourage fathers and grandfathers—whether you’re French Canadian or not—to bless your families today. It’s a beautiful custom. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to say; you can always make you own those powerful, God-given words we heard from Scripture:
The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!
Through the hands of our Mother, Mary, let’s put this New Year in our Lord’s care. May we each resolve to be an instrument of Christ’s blessing for all those we meet throughout the Year of our Lord Two-Thousand and Seventeen.