Holy Family, Year A, and Mary, Mother of God
- Where is the newborn king of the Jews? (Mt. 2:2)
My previous reflection ended with my wondering if my eating the body of Christ and my drinking his blood would bring me judgment and condemnation or spiritual health and remedy. I am now wondering in a similar fashion whether I am like the son who, asked by his father to go to the vineyard, answered, “I will not,” but had a change of heart afterwards and went, or whether I am like the other son who readily agreed to the father’s request but then did not go (cf. Mt. 21:28-32).
No doubt, I prefer to be included among those who do our heavenly Father’s will—among the tax collectors and prostitutes who enter the kingdom of God ahead of the self-righteous who refuses to welcome them or eat with them. That I would rather be identified with the son who changed his mind is evident in my taking part in the denunciation of the hypocrisy, the self-righteousness, the self-complacency, the intolerant orthodoxy, or the convenient certainty of the scribes and the Pharisees. I lament that these natural-born citizens, respected as religious leaders by others, did not know better: they—along with the king at whose service they were and who was a generous temple benefactor—should have been the first to know of the birth of the newborn king of the Jews and to go find and welcome him. While they quickly and expertly pinpointed the place where the Messiah would be born, sadly they did not join the pagan foreigners in their search for him or, much less, in their paying him homage. Their expertise partly contributed to the atrocity Herod committed in order to eliminate a potential rival to the throne. No, I would want no part in this; it would be a privilege for me rather to be counted among the strangers and the marginalized that are deemed disobedient and least expected to be godly but end up heeding God’s word and repenting.
But once lifted up in a position of privilege, I can get so focused on the position that I lose sight of the Savior who has looked kindly on my lowliness. My zeal for the newly acquired status can turn me into an elitist and exclusivist. And before I know it, I am as hypocritical, self-righteous, self-complacent, intolerant, and arrogant in my self-declared certainty as those I have been denouncing.
No, it is not uncommon that those who fight the beast turn into beasts themselves. History shows, in fact, that many of those who succeeded in overthrowing dictators managed to become dictators themselves. Those too who today oppose terrorism and its tactics can unwittingly end up promoting it by making use of torture and other terrorist means. Even former aliens need to remember their past oppression in a foreign land, lest they become oppressors of aliens in their midst (Ex. 22:20-22; 23:8-10; Lev. 19:33-25; Dt. 10:18-20).
And remembrance, I do believe, is the logical and proper antidote to the forgetfulness that leads to pride and self-righteousness. Such a remembrance takes place first and foremost when I listen to the words of Scripture which proclaim God’s deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them (cf. Dei Verbum, 2).
If I remember in this manner I should be left convinced that exalted status must be attributed not to my own merits but to the special grace of Christ, and that membership in a privileged religious or ethnic group does not guarantee salvation but only demands greater commitment, righteousness, respect, love, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and filial piety or espousal devotion from the one who belongs to such a group (cf. Lumen Gentium, 14; Amos 3:2; 9:7; Mt. 3:9; Rom. 11:21; Heb. 12:25).
If I remember thus, it should become clear to me that the only privileged status or kinship that matters really and ultimately is the one that comes with hearing the word of God and acting on it, and that Mary, the Mother of God, while surely blessed for having carried Jesus in her womb and nursed him at her breasts, is even more blessed for her attentiveness to the word of God and her observance of it (Lk. 8:21; 11:27-28).
If I recall and reenact what Jesus did and commanded be done in his memory—his dying to destroy our death—I too will know the kind of peace St. Vincent de Paul knew and I will be free of paralyzing anxiety and irrationality-producing fear. For I can rest assured that all the protests and grumblings of nations, every rising-up and plotting of kings and princes against the Lord and his anointed, and all the sufferings and deaths the oppressors can inflict are not going to thwart God’s plan of salvation (cf. Ps. 2). I will have no reason to be afraid, if indeed I too heard clearly the good news the angel proclaimed to the shepherds about the birth of the Messiah and Lord, of Jesus the Savior. Being Emmanuel, the Messiah and Lord is here with us, guiding us through all the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious events of life and realizing his plan of salvation for those who are lowly enough to be converted and allow him to guide them, even though they might have initially said “no.”