Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Excitement at New Years!

The year 2012 started off with a bang!

Before the excitement happened, though, I had the privilege of preaching on the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God - New Year's eve and day. Reflection on this feast led me to a deeper appreciation of what Mary – a fifteen year old girl - agreed to and subsequently endured, in human terms. I am thinking here of the question put to her by Gabriel, which in any context would seem preposterous (Mother of God? Not married? Remain a virgin?). After that came the difficulty of finding a place in Bethlehem to give birth to her child. That was in turn followed by the need to leave the country before returning to Nazareth. Thirty years later she watched her son endure false accusations and then a brutal execution. What impressed me as I reflected on this - in the season of New Year’s resolutions - was that Mary dealt with stuff for which you would need really good intentions, by surrendering everything to the power of God. That certainly changes the perspective on New Year’s resolutions for me. We all know how long those last.

Normally I would preach at the 7:30 PM Mass on Sunday. However, this being New Year’s, the pastor offered to take that Mass for me, and give me the evening off. As I look back on it now, and have explained to him, it appears that this sequence was a gift from Mary herself. I would not have made it to the 730 Mass because I ended up in the emergency department of the hospital for 13 hours while doctors tried to figure out the nature of rather severe abdominal pains I was experiencing. To make a long story short, the conclusion points toward peptic ulcer. Believe me, you do not want to experience one of these.

While I was lying in bed in the hospital, I became aware of the pain experiences of many other people coming through that busy department all night long, including some young children. It occurred to me that some of that suffering was much worse than mine. It also occurred to me that my reflections on Mary the previous couple of days were relevant now. Pain is much worse when you are totally alone with it. It is easier to endure when you place it in God’s hands. Interestingly, because of the feast day, I also placed it in Mary’s hands. I imagined this very human mother taking care of aches and pains and cuts and scrapes in her young Son, and I imagined the touch of her soothing hand on my abdomen. I do not know whether I will ever have that experience again, but she was very real to me through this marathon.

You also become aware of other aspects of the gift you are receiving. Do you remember the story of the man who arrived in heaven complaining that God had not rescued him from the river that was rising around his house? God replied that he had sent him a boat and helicopter, and the man had turned down both. Well, I also realized that the presence of my wife with her reassuring support; and the skill of the doctors and nurses along with the vast technology available to them, were part of the overall picture of being in God’s hands.

I learned many years ago in the course of my professional work that physical pain is greatly affected by our emotional response to it, and by the meaning that it has for us. God does not usually simply take pain away, but he makes it possible to endure what life doles out to us. This is the promise of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We do well to remember that, and isn’t it ever nice when the Mother of Jesus helps with the reminders.

A very Happy New Year to everyone, and may this be a year in which you too place your difficulties and your hurts in God’s hands. I surely got an early start on that and the year already somehow looks different.

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