MARY QUEEN AND PATRONESS - OUR HOPE IN DISTRESS
With the birth of Jesus God entrusts God’s self to humanity. God becomes one of us and lives among us. God comes to us as we are. The world does not get cleaned up, sanitized, and made presentable for the birth of Jesus. Interestingly when we cast our minds back to the Christmas story we are greeted with some strange scenes. The story of the birth of Christ is not painted in flowery details and bright sun fields, no! It is not one of preparing the nursery, painting the walls, and making it look cute. It is a story that reveals the truth about God and humanity. That God decides to intervene in human brokenness to redeem it, to make it divine and to offer us an opportunity for a new beginning.
Brilliantly too it also reminds us that the divine life is vulnerable, fragile, and needs to be cared for and protected. There is nothing sentimental or romantic about Matthew’s version of the Christmas story. It is stark reality check and real life, no fanfares, no fairy tales.
The picture created by the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading of today, could be compared to the current scene in our country Nigeria, and quite adrem at this time when the country is marking her 57th Independence Anniversary. The prophet was writing about how injustice has become the order of the day among the chosen People of God. It was also at a time, when the poor in the society were marginalized, corruption was everywhere, and so many abominable things were happening.
It was in the height of all these anomaly that God’s voice was heard through his prophet Isaiah. That same voice of God is also re-echoing through the word of God, at this time in our country Nigeria when the justice system of the country is already with a big question mark. It is no longer news that so many are already agitating on their perceived marginalization. When will the prophecy of Isaiah (11: 6-8) about a time of peace when the lion and lamb will live in harmony, and children play with dangerous animals and remain unharmed, be realized? Is there any hope for a relative peace and understanding on earth again, even in our various families and our communities?
The gospel narrative today serves to remind us of the darkness of our world and to some extent the sadness and selfish that has enveloped our country, Nigeria. Today’s story reminds us that Herod is real, not only in Jesus’ time but in ours as well. I don’t know if the slaughter of the innocents happened exactly the way Matthew describes it but I know it is a true story. It has been lived in every age throughout history. I don’t know if Herod really killed all those babies but I know that the Herods of this world and this country quite often stop at nothing always seeking to destroy life, that which is holy and sacred.
Herod is in the news every day. You won’t see or hear his name but you’ll recognize him. He’s hard to miss. He’s in some of our families and relationships. He’s in some of our own words, actions, and choices. Herod is our indifference that prevents compassion, our hate and anger that destroy love, our busyness and distractions that deny presence, our violence and anxiety that defeat peace, our inhumanity that negates our creation in the image and likeness of God, and our politics when it is narrow, self-serving, discriminatory, and exclusive. Our world and sometimes our lives are full of Herods.
Today’s gospel will not let us deny Herod’s existence. That doesn’t, however, mean that all is lost. It means that the world of Herod is the world into which Jesus is born. The world of Herod is the world in which Jesus puts our lives back together. The world of Herod is the world in which Jesus reveals God is with us and for us.
Herod’s darkness is not the final reality. Darkness will not prevail. That means, however, that each of us, just like Joseph, has both the opportunity and the responsibility to guard the divine life and protect that which is holy and sacred. That life, that holiness, that sacredness is not only about Jesus it’s also about you and me. It’s about our lives and our relationships. It’s about people we know and people we’ve never met. It’s about the infinite ways in which the divine life is entrusted to all of us.
Look at your life. Where do you see holiness? What’s sacred? In what ways is God entrusting himself to you? As we celebrate our independence as a country, where do you think God is calling you to influence things in this country. Charity, they say, begins at home. Hence, maybe it is in your family, your marriage, your fellow parishioner, your colleague at work, all those with whom you have a relationship, the stranger you'll meet today or tomorrow. There are thousands and thousands of ways in which God offers his life to us, entrusting us with that which is holy and sacred. With each gift God says, “Here, this is yours. Care for it. Guard and protect it. Nurture it. I trust this to you. I have no one else. You are Joseph. You are the one to do this.” So how do we care for and protect that life, beauty, and holiness in a world of Herods?
It has to begin with waking up to the presence of God in our lives. Isn’t that what Joseph did? Isn’t that what he always does? He did it before Jesus was born and he does it again today. Before Jesus was born Joseph had decided to quietly dismiss Mary. It was a matter of life and death. But a dream and an awakening would reveal that Mary’s child was of the Holy Spirit so he took Mary as his wife and named the child Jesus. Today Joseph has another dream and another awakening, and again it is a matter of life and death. "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt...; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him". The story is a story of Joseph's obedience to God. He was obedient and faithful to God regardless of the challenges he faced.
Joseph took the child and his mother. He was a caring man, looking after them, making a huge difference to a small number of people – this is the message of love in the gospel and is the central message of the gospel narrative.
Egypt had been a house of bondage to Israel, and particularly cruel to the infants of Israel; yet it is to be a place of refuge to the holy Child Jesus. God, when he pleases, can make the worst of places serve the best of purposes. This was a trial of the faith of Joseph and Mary. Like them, we too should strive to make the best of every situation and remain docile to the inspiration and promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The preservation of Jesus from this destruction, may be considered as a figure of God's care over his children in their greatest danger. God does not often, as he easily could, cut off their persecutors at a stroke. But he provides a hiding place for his people, and by methods not less effectual, though less pompous, preserves them from being swept away, even when the enemy comes in like a flood. Acknowledging the fact that God does not cause evil but is present in times of distress in the voice guiding us, in the sending of us to safety, in the healing of our pain, and in the presence in our lives is important.
When we allow our faith and courage to surface, we open ourselves to receive all the benefits of welcoming new people into our communities and our lives. Like the Holy Family exiled or living as refugees in a foreign land, we too are called to be more open to people's of other tribes, languages and even religion. Our love and care for them should know no bounds. More than ever before our country needs to be more accepting and inclusive so that all the varying agitations can be halted. Tribalism and ethnicity are vivid descriptions of our times but we can help o stem the gnawing divide that continues to alienate us from one another.
God has entrusted his Son to each one of us in a variety of ways. Just like Joseph we stand in the middle between Jesus and Herod, between life and death, between the life-giver and the life-taker. No one gets to ride the fence, however. We can’t stay in the middle. Each one of us chooses. Day by day, minute by minute, we choose. Over and over again we choose. Will we get up and take the child and his mother or will we sleep through and miss what God is doing in our lives?
Nobody will easily understand the confusion which the dream of Joseph may have aroused in him. Joseph already knew that this child is God so it is unbecoming for God to run for safety from the treat of a mere man. However, the announcement of the angel that "the child would save the people from their sin" somehow contradicts his dream. How could it be that he who will save his people cannot even save himself?
You see, sometimes, we may not understand why God allows certain things to happen and equally allow us to pass through certain hardship, illness and other dislikes. In the face of these challenges, all we need is to be faithful to God who knows why it is happening just like Joseph who never doubted but was prompt in carrying out the instructions of God from the angel. God is interested in our suffering and as such will not be indifferent to our hardship.
The problem sometimes is that we are aware of what God expects from us but we often postpone it to our own convenient time. Joseph never did that. How faithful are you to your stipulated hours of prayer, to the sacrament of reconciliation when you fall into sin or give a helping hand to one in need? e.t.c.
Today, as we mark our independence anniversary, may we also know that the greatest independence is total dependence on God. In any case, not depending on your human strength. The situation of our country is quite bleak and gloomy. There's not so much to be excited or jubilant about. The various agitations in most parts of the country is heart rending and there seems to be less hope for the future. Corruption is almost at an all time high; basic amenities are lacking; there are security lapses everywhere, and no one seems to be doing anything about it; ethnicity is rife; strikes in almost every sector, like health, education, oil, etc have become the order of the day; Christianity and religion in general have only been reduced to an opium for the masses. Our Christianity is not skin deep and has become less attracted, less convincing, less inspiring such that most adherents are mere spectators or fans than disciples. Nonetheless, Mary our Mother is always there to intercede for us and lead us to her son, if we continue to fly to her patronage.
1st October is not only the Solemnity of Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, but also marks the Solemn beginning of October Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the whole Universal Church; the Month specially dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary by the Pope. As we celebrate and thank God for the gift of Nigeria, let us also thank Our Mother and Queen for Her Special Maternal care for our Country.
Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, pray for us.
Prayer - May our Mother Mary, Queen and Patroness of Nigeria teach us to depend on God as she did from the very moment of her fait to God's request. Amen!!!