Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, 2020
The expression May the Lordwas commonly used in the king’s court in the ancient world. It was a language used by subjects to beg for favours from their king. It was a language that spoke of recognition. The subjects recognise their place in the kingdom, and they also recognise the king as their ruler. It was a language of submission, surrender and dependency on the king. They looked up to the king for blessings, protection and peace. It was also a language of hope, trust.
So, when the Priestly author began his benediction formulary in Numbers 6: 22-27 with May the Lord, he was making a bold statement. He was calling Israelites to take the Lord as their King. The weight of this call hinged on the fact that the Lord Himself spoke to Moses. The Israelites would have immediately seen in this act the efficacy of Moses’s words to them. They would have listened to Moses, taken him seriously and done exactly what he asked of them.
This attitude of the Israelites is worth imitating especially as we begin the New Year 2020. It is an attitude that is born of the Spirit. As we heard in the second reading from Galatians 4:4-7, “The proof that me and you, are sons and daughters of God is that God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’, and it is this that makes us children, we are no longer slave anymore; and if God has made us children, then He has made us heirs.”
In other words, we are not just mere subjects gathered around our king, we are children, heirs with His Son, summoned before Our Father to come and be blessed and to learn how to call down His blessings on others. This is what the Priestly author was on about when in the last sentence of the first reading he said, “This is how they are to call down My Name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them.” For an Israelite reading this text, he will hear filial intimacy.
Pope Francis in His General Audience on 22 May 2019 noted that Christian prayer that is “born of the audacity to call God by the name of ‘Father’”, expresses a “filial intimacy” into which we are introduced by the grace of the Holy Spirit. He cited a few examples from the New Testament where the various expressions of Jesus’ prayers recall the text of the “Our Father”. It is through the praying of Our Father that our ego is healed, and we can accept the other as a brother, a sister with love, truth, and beauty. And then we can call down God’s Name on them.
Some biblical commentaries like The Collegeville Bible Commentary, give a different meaning to calling down God’s Name on the sons of Israel. It means to put the Lord’s Name on them, which implies that they are the Lord’s property. Therefore, the Lord has a responsibility to look after them, to bless them. All this is captured in the many promises: “I will bless you; and I will make your name great” (Genesis 12:2); I will be with you and bless you” (Genesis 26:3).
So, what do we mean by to bless? “To bless,” according to The Collegeville Bible Commentary, “means to pour fourth the continual and sustaining power of life that manifests itself as growth, increase, success, fertility, and prosperity (see Gen 24:34-36).” It also means to sanctify; to set aside for the Lord, to consecrate and to approve. Blessing is always derived from God Himself. To stretch it further, to bless means to ask for the breath that God breathed into us at creation.
Putting all this in context, May the Lord bless you and keep you, calls us to recognise as the Psalmist says, ‘Our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 146:5). It calls us to beg the Lord to prosper us. It calls us to depend on Him, surrender ourselves totally to Him. It also assures us that He will keep you. “You” here is the whole of Israel as a corporate entity as well as each individual. In other words, God will keep us, and the blessings we have received from Him. For He will not allow anything contrary to His blessing to affect us.
“May the Lord let His face shine on you and be gracious to you” speaks of mercy. For mercy is the face of God. And “Mercy is the dynamite that blows down walls” and open doors for us. Here, the Priestly author is asking us not to presume, but to ask for God’s mercy; to ask God to see more than what we have done or become. He is also challenging us in 2020 not to focus on what we have done whether it is good or bad, but on divine goodness. Because “It is not by our might…, but by the Spirit (mercy)…” (see Zachariah 4:5-7) that God is gracious to us.
May the Lord uncover His face and bring you peace, speaks of God’s presence. The words of Benedict XVI come to mind here. “Often the cause of our suffering is the very absence of God.” This statement does not suggest that there is a time God is absent from us. But it speaks of the possibility of our actions blocking us from experiencing God’s presence. So, uncover His face is a poetic way of asking God to remove anything that may block us from being present to Him, especially sin. This accounts for the statement that follows, “and bring you peace.”
Peace is the summation of the act of God’s blessing. According to The Collegeville Bible Commentary, “Peace is the state of being whole, of completeness, of happiness and harmony, so that a person is capable of a full and free development of life.” It is the freedom to be the person God created us to be, which is to be in communion with God. For we are only at peace with ourselves when our whole being is in harmony with the Divine Being. And when this happens, everything changes. We become present to God and we reflect God’s face to others.
So, like the people of the ancient world who gather at the king’s court, let us gather regularly at Mass, the court of God, Our King and Father. Let us recognise our place in His Kingdom and allow His Kingdom to come in us and affect every aspect of our lives. Let us therefore make worship our New Year’s resolution. For it is in the context of worship that we become present to God, who brings us peace, the peace the world cannot give. But the peace the world so desperately needs. Happy New year!
Fr. Francis Afu