Counting the blessings

Today’s readings: Numbers 6, 22-27; Galatians 4, 4-7; Luke 2, 16-21.

Today’s second reading from Galatians is a powerful reading that should set the tone not only for the day but for a lifetime. St Paul speaks of “the appointed time”, the opportune moment, the moment of grace, the kairos. Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune time. The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos, the former referring to chronological time, the latter signifying an eventful experience.

We have myriads of appointed times in life. Some we create ourselves and put a reminder note not to miss them. Others may pop up in life unexpectedly. Those we know of we can manage. The others may find us unawares and may even be too overwhelming for us, making us go through sudden, unexpected and remarkable change.

Paul speaks of the appointed time for each and everyone of us when God sends his son for our redemption. Jesus was born of a woman at the appointed time. But Mary is also the Mother of God, her giving birth becoming co-extensive in time to reach out to us at all times. Redemption is not an instantaneous event that happened in the past and that has been achieved.

Redemption is work in progress, with God waiting on us for the appointed time to happen. Mary, who lived through the mysterious events of the annunciation, of the travailed pregnancy, and now of Jesus’ birth, “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart”. They were too overwhelming, even for her. And when life presents itself to us as too overwhelming, it is only the heart that can carry all this and make us cope. Only the heart can to some extent contain the mysteries of life. That is why there are things we cannot explain but which we can understand. The heart has its own reasons, says Pascal. And we need to come to terms with the heart, with whatever we treasure in it. Not everything should be allowed in. The heart stands for interiority and depth. It is from there that we can reach out to the wisdom that keeps us going.

Unfortunately many a time we fail to count the blessings in life and instead focus on what weighs down on our psyche, which eventually burdens the heart and leads to its closure. Finding the time to count the blessings opens our heart to the Lord who comes, who waits on us, who, as we read from Numbers in the first reading, “uncovers His face to you and brings you peace”.

God visits us in special ways, even very personally. He has no set patterns. His promises become flesh and can transform our time. Having a child was not Mary’s idea, but God’s. There is a difference between what we can long and pray for, and what God, in His infinite love, can make happen in our flesh.

Then what God shares with us, takes its normal and natural course, just as with Jesus “born of a woman and born a subject of the Law”. Mary’s calling is our calling, to nurture in our heart the new life received that gives new shape to our life and time on earth, enabling us to share all that with the world around us.

Mary’s maternity in the gospel is presented mainly as an event of interiority, rather than just a giving birth. She treasures in her heart the word that through her becomes flesh but which remains ever greater than her. She is blessed, but that blessing weighs down on her, “pondering on it in her heart”.

On this first day of a new year, we are presented with the blessing and possibility of making of our time a sort of natural liturgy, transforming the chronological sequence of the calendar of events we follow, the chronos, into a kairos, in time which redeems, heals and saves. The baby born in Bethlehem symbolises a non-event for the surrounding culture. But in God’s eyes it was the appointed time. We cannot let ourselves be too overwhelmed with the events around us risking to miss the time God has appointed for us.


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