Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mary and the Church: Mothers with open hearts

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

Mary opened her heart to the shepherds.
One of the reasons why Jesus was born in a stable was Mary’s need for privacy as she gave birth to her first-born Son. Because the inn was filled with people, it was impossible for her to get the privacy she needed in giving birth. Thus, the stable was the best place for her to deliver the child. It may have been a place for animals…and yet there was the privacy she needed for the birth of God’s Son to take place. Thus, that she would open the stable and admit the visit of shepherds is to me a surprise. First of all, these shepherds were completely strangers to her. She did not know them. And we have to abandon the stereotype we give these shepherds as cute little drummer boys. These shepherds were rugged men who were accustomed to the outdoor life – perhaps the kind that you would hesitate to welcome into your own home. Nevertheless, she welcomed them and even opened her heart to them. She listened to their story of angels delivering a message about her new-born Son. “All were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds”…all, including Mary who “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Opening her heart to the shepherds, Mary was further enriched in her faith. It made her heart expand more in charity. She welcomed God’s Son into her heart and then in her womb. Now, she welcomed the shepherds into the stable…and then in her heart.

The Church is also a mother…just like Mary. In fact, Mary is Mother and model of the Church. She is what the Church wishes and should be. Therefore, in the new evangelization, the Church must imitate Mary. Pope Francis wrote: “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door’: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” [Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 47.] Sometimes, we close our churches for fear of being burglarized. And this is a legitimate concern. However, we must keep in mind that our churches are not museums or storage houses of precious artifacts. It is the house of God and its opened doors should reflect the opened heart of the Father.

The Church is the house of the Father with its doors always widely opened. And like Mary who listened to the shepherds, we must also take time to listen to the stories of those who enter the Church. “A Church which ‘goes forth’ is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.” (EG, 46.)
As the shepherds went out and amazed all with their story of what they heard and seen, so must we also be bearers of this glad tidings to all, especially to the poor. “If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, ‘those who cannot repay you’ (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, ‘the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel’, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.” (EG, 48.)

Let this new year be truly a renewed opportunity for our conversion. Like Mary, may our parish be a more welcoming parish. May we be a more missionary parish. May we be eager to amaze people with our stories of what we have seen and heard. Let us go forth to everyone without exception.

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

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