It was with sadness that we heard yesterday about the death of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Widely recognized as one of the great spiritual leaders of our time, he will be remembered for his years of service as a priest, bishop, and as pope.
As we reflect on his life at this time, I was reminded of an insight that he shared during his homily in 2005, when he officially took office as the bishop of Rome. He reminded us that it is only when we meet the living God in Christ that we truly know what our life is about, who we are and who we are meant to be. He said “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”
Coincidentally, this theme is taken up in today’s second reading when Paul, in his letter to the Galatians (4:4-6), writes “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.” How amazing is that? Have you ever thought of yourself in that way, as being God’s heir?
Both Benedict and Paul remind us of God’s special plan for each of our lives. It isn’t because of anything special that we do that makes us worthy of such a gift, but quite simply because God has created us out of love, so that we can share in God’s own divine life.
As we come to the end of one year, and begin a new one, it may be helpful for us to step back and remind ourselves of who we are, precious in God’s sight; to remind ourselves that we have been blessed with life, with God’s grace and with a future that is full of potential.
As we heard in our first reading today, (Numbers 6:22-27) we need to remember the promise of God to Aaron, that God will be gracious to us; that God will look kindly upon us; that God will give us peace.
Living in a world that is often quick to point out our faults and failings, it is important for us to believe in our value and self-worth, to see ourselves as God sees us, and to claim our special role in society and in the world.
If we don’t have trust in ourselves, or believe in ourselves, maybe we should ask ourselves what is holding me back? What messages am I listening to that prevent me from claiming my rightful place as a child of God.
Maybe we are worried that we have made mistakes or that we have sinned? Of course we have, who hasn’t? But those mistakes and sins are not who we are, they are only part of our story!
Maybe we have hurt others or we have been hurt or rejected by someone else? Is it right that we should allow the hurt and rejection to define our lives? Of course not, we are more than our hurt, we are more than someone else’s opinion of us.
Maybe we have experienced loss in our life, a loved one dies, a relationship broke down, a partner betrayed us! None of those things change who God made us to be; none of those things are the measure of who we are; they can overwhelm us for a while, and they can cause us to doubt our value and worth, but they can’t change who God has made us to be.
In some way, faith in God leads us to have faith in ourselves, and in our purpose in life. And faith in ourselves helps us to understand in a deeper way what it means to have faith in God, and inspires us to want to share what we experience with others.
Pope Benedict made reference to this reality in his first message for World Mission Sunday in 2006 when he said “In fact, God’s love for every person constitutes the heart of the experience and proclamation of the Gospel, and those who welcome it, in turn, become its witnesses.”
In other words, once we have come to experience God’s love, once we allow ourselves to be touched by God’s love, we can’t help but share it with others.
We see this witness in the life of Mary, the mother of God, whose feast day we celebrate today. She was a young unmarried woman, who found herself with child; she was forced, days after giving birth, to flee her country, becoming a refugee so that she might save the life of her child; she stood at the foot of the cross and watched her son die, as a criminal. In spite of these obstacles, she remained faithful to who she was, to God’s plan for her life. Imagine the belief that she had in herself – no doubt a belief based on her faith and trust in God – to accept the incredible and unprecedented human role of becoming ‘Theotokos’ the ‘God Bearer.’ Her witness reminds us that if we can claim who we are, who God has made us to be, if we can go forward believing in the goodness that is withing us, rather than getting overwhelmed by our flaws, incredible things are possible.
As we begin this new year, let us strive to recover our true identity, and come to know in a fuller way the plans that God has in store for us.
“May God bless you and keep you. May the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”