Solemnity of Mary, The Mother of God
31 December 2010, Old Year’s Night
at Rosary Monastery, St. Ann’s
Ringing out the Old and bringing in the New Year is commonly tied to making wishes or resolutions. Beyond wishing a healthier lifestyle for ourselves and for those who are dear to us or starting an ill-fated diet and exercise program, it is a time when we would like to call down very special blessings from heaven upon all those whom we love. As good Christians we also want God to bless a few other folks too in hopes that they might behave better and especially toward us in the year to come. As Scripture says: “Pray for your persecutors, bless them and do not curse!”
Normally, we would aim such a prayer at a troublesome family member, coworker or neighbor; this year the annual world day of prayer for peace invites us to focus on another group of people who may not seem so close at hand or threatening to us here in Trinidad. The theme for this year’s world day of prayer for peace is: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, THE PATH TO PEACE. Toward the beginning of his message, Pope Benedict XVI says:
“I offer heartfelt thanks to those Governments which are working to alleviate the sufferings of these, our brothers and sisters in the human family, and I ask all Catholics for their prayers and support for their brethren in the faith who are victims of violence and intolerance.”
Prayer is effective because prayer can change hearts; law enforcement or justice systems are too little; people need to respect each other. This is something we can and must really pray about. And in particular at the beginning of this new year, we as good Christians should seek blessings for all of those non-Christians around the world who have made life burdensome for our brothers and sisters in Christ this past year, who are responsible for atrocities against Christians, for the persecution of the Church which is ongoing in many parts of our world.
We, God’s children, don’t have it easy in many places of our world, but the proper reaction on our part is to pray for our persecutors, for those who hate us. We think of the 40 some Syrian Catholics killed and the many who were injured at Sunday Mass in Baghdad not long ago, of the Christian minority in Pakistan forever being accused of offenses against the prophet Mohammed and being killed really for their faith, of poor Christians being mobbed and killed in Egypt, Nigeria and India, of a bishop in Vietnam stopped at the door of his cathedral by police and kept from celebrating midnight Mass, most likely because too many people showed up for church. We think of Communist China refusing to release its strangle hold on the Catholic Church there, and we could go on with our neighbor across the way and other more subtle types of repression and discrimination elsewhere in Europe, North, South and Central America. We pray for our persecutors one and all.
There are those who say “yah, but what is missing for peace in my world is a measure of security. We need law and order! I need to be able to walk around my neighborhood without being attacked. I need to feel safe in my home and not always be checking the bars or the alarm system.” Law enforcement is important, but it alone cannot grant us peace. Even if there were a policeman on every corner supposedly guaranteeing my property rights and personal safety, such a situation is not nearly so reassuring as when people generally recognize that anger or rage have their limits and I dare not ever harm another simply because he crosses me. I cannot cut short the life of that other because he refuses me his gold chain, nice watch or bracelet.
Granted that the Holy Father chooses a single theme each year for this day of peace, he touches one particular aspect of the problem and therefore chooses not to address every side of the question each year. You’d need to take a number of messages over the course of years to get a comprehensive coverage of the topic. Be that as it may, I think it is very important to single out this year’s theme, respect for religious freedom, as fundamental to the cause of peace in general. Religious freedom is fundamental because of the consequences that kind of respect has for the kind of respect due to the human person. Respect for others especially for their faith and values is the way to peace. In Europe, North America and even here there is lots of talk about tolerance and pluralism. Respect for others cannot be at the expense of the truth nor can it deny me all that I hold dear. Look at the controversy in the United States right now over Catholic hospitals! Sadly it seems, there are those (like the American Civil Liberties Union) who would begrudge us as Catholics our right to run our hospitals according to our moral principles; there are those who attempt to silence our voice in matters concerning marriage and family life, just to mention two issues in the headlines. As a Catholic I have the right to be respected in my beliefs and values too! This is what we mean by religious freedom too!
When the appointed time came God sent His Son, born of a woman… Mary’s Motherhood, today’s feast on the octave day of Christmas, can be a great help, a great source of consolation for those who suffer persecution or trials. Recognizing just how intimately we are loved by God, that God chose His Mother from among us and from the Cross gave her back to us as our Mother too, that we, brothers and sisters all through baptism in Jesus Christ, as children of God are also her children too. Such good news of Christmas gives us reason for hope. We have a dignity and a hope which we share with all who are not Christian and yet which goes far beyond what they might perceive; we have a dignity as created beings; we have a dignity as members of the household of God. As the Holy Father also writes in his message for January 1, 2011:
“Our nature appears as openness to the Mystery, a capacity to ask deep questions about ourselves and the origin of the universe, and a profound echo of the supreme Love of God, the beginning and end of all things, of every person and people. The transcendent dignity of the person is an essential value of Judeo-Christian wisdom, yet thanks to the use of reason, it can be recognized by all. This dignity, understood as a capacity to transcend one’s own materiality and to seek truth, must be acknowledged as a universal good, indispensable for the building of a society directed to human fulfillment. Respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of every social and legal norm.”
In asking God’s blessings for ourselves we do what beloved children do naturally. In willing the good of our enemies we do that which can most effectively disarm them and render our life not only safer or more secure but also happier and filled with the sort of promise which gives us reason for hope.
Religious freedom is sought in defense not only of a value system but in recognition of the power and presence of God in our lives and for our sake, God who made the universe and all that dwells therein.With confidence in Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, let us close out this old year and bring in a new one by begging the Lord not only to bless us and others but to grant insight and pause to all those who would deprive us of real life, life rooted in the recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.