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Bishop's Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

January 1, 2023

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu]

The shepherds probably did not stay very long.  After all, it was very late at night, and the couple they visited had just completed a long and tiring journey; and the woman had just given birth.  Courtesy demanded that their visit be short.  Yet in that short time, those shepherds experienced a life-changing reality.

The shepherds, of course, did not raise their sheep as pets, but as commodities for the market so that they could feed themselves and their families.  Most would end up on normal household dinner tables, but perhaps they took special care so that some could be sold to become the Passover lambs that families would prepare to celebrate the great feast of liberation, when God ordered the angel of death to pass over their houses, marked with the blood of the lamb; and when God would then liberate them from slavery in Egypt.  These shepherds took special care of those lambs, so that they would remain unblemished for this great feast of their faith.  The shepherds also knew that the very best lambs in the flock might be selected for sacrifice in the Temple, where they were slain and offered to God for the sins of the people.  They had a keen eye for the best lambs in the flock, which alone would be worthy to be offered to God.

Little did they know, however, that when they went into Bethlehem (whose name means “house of bread”), they would see the finest lamb they had ever seen, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the whole world.  These shepherds with well trained senses for identifying the best lambs knew they would never see one better than the little baby who was now lying in a trough where other lambs would feed.  They knew, of course, there was something special, because they had just witnessed an angel speaking to them in a brilliant light, and a choir of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest.”  It was far more drama than they usually knew, even when a pack of wolves went after the flock.  But they were told they would see a sign, “An infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.”  Very undramatic!  Yet with the eyes of faith thus awakened, they did recognize in such simple sign the Christ, the Savior of the World, the precious Lamb of God.

We also come here to church, not for a very long time, perhaps an hour or so.  We certainly spend more time each day, eating, sleeping, working, or playing.  Yet if we attune our hearts and minds of faith, we will see exactly what the shepherds saw:  here at this Mass is the very same Lamb of God who by his own blood makes the angel of everlasting death pass over us.  Here is the very same Lamb of God who was chosen by none greater than God himself to be the definitive sacrifice for our sins.  We who are called to be shepherds of our families, our businesses, our neighborhoods, and our communities, can see this if we hone our senses to understand that the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and laid in the manger is physically present to us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in this Holy Eucharist.

Mary, the Mother of the Lamb of God, pondered these things, not yet having the whole picture, but knowing that God would reveal it in his own time and manner.  Later, even as a holy old man in the Temple extolled her Son, she was told a sword would pierce her own heart.  And that it did when her little twelve year old Lamb strayed away and she, the good shepherd, spent three days diligently searching for him.  It would be pierced again to the point of breaking when her beloved Son’s blood would be spattered on the doorposts of the world itself, so that by his sacrifice on the cross, he could bring lasting liberation to his people.  Her heart is pierced again when many of those people from whom Jesus came simply turn their backs on him and walk away as if he were only some history-book character, long-ago, far-away, and once-upon-a-time.

Just as Mary pondered these things without fully understanding until they were finally and fully revealed by God, we, like her, are invited to enter into this mystery, to come and see the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world – our sins!  Like the shepherds, we are told what a great thing this is, yet when we arrive, all we see is simple bread and simple wine.  Yet if we attune our hearts to the blessing of God, we will see that here is the Lamb of God for us.  We can approach the manger and in our beastly nature eat the flesh and drink of Blood of the Lamb of God, so that he can transform us into members of his very Body.  And then, like the shepherds, and like Mary and Joseph, we ourselves tell our part of the story in which we have taken part, so that many others may come and worship the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  We, like them, can then go out to seek out all the lost sheep and pronounce over them the blessing:  “The Lord bless you and keep you!  The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you!  The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”