“The Lord bless 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!”  What better way to begin the New Year than with this blessing? As we begin a New Year, we are all looking for God’s blessings on us and our world, the peace that only he can give us in the midst of the turmoil of this world.  As we leave behind a year filled with wild storms that nature has wrought, as well as the political turmoil in our country and so many others worldwide – especially Ukraine – we look forward to a new year, asking God to look upon us and give us peace.  As we honor Mary today, we recall that she surely heard this ancient blessing of peace from our first reading today pronounced over her and her people as she grew up in a world of turmoil.  How might she have understood this blessing?

One of the important aspects of true peace is living without fear.  When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and greeted her with “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,” we read that Mary was, understandably, greatly troubled and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  But, the angel assured her, saying, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”  Mary’s fear was assuaged by an assurance that God’s favor was with her.  So, she was able to live in peace.  Of course, Mary would have heard the word “shalom” rather than peace.  This word, “shalom” means more than just peace as we might understand it.  It expresses justice and integrity in relationships.  It speaks of safety and growth in wholeness as if the entire universe were woven together and functioning as God intended.  The blessing of shalom prays that humanity and the entire universe may live the communion that God created for us to experience from the beginning.

And, it would come about through Mary’s response: “May it be done to me according to your word.” In doing so, Mary accepted God’s invitation to become the mother of his son.  Today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, I invite you to reflect with me on the opportunity of peace we can all experience in the midst of the turmoil of our lives and the world around us today.  Like most of us, Mary had some serious matters to address as she accepted God’s invitation: a new baby, a confused but faithful husband and unexpected visitors.  So, she had to be a contemplative in action.

What do we know of this young woman? In Luke’s Gospel, we hear her humble self-description: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”  In response to the incredible message she had just received from the archangel Gabriel, Mary exhibited shalom.  She trusted in God, put herself at his disposal, gave birth to her child and simply cared for him, as God intended.

When the shepherds appeared on the scene they seemed to know far more than Mary.  Delighted to discover her son wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger as the angel had told them, they started spreading the word as if they understood exactly what was going on.  You can just hear them announcing to Mary and everyone else there what the angel had told them: that her infant was the savior, Messiah and Lord.

Like many of us do so often, those shepherds were quick to make proclamations about what they thought God was up to in their midst.  These first witnesses may well have had the right vocabulary – savior, Messiah and Lord – but they had no idea about God’s true plan.  The shepherds talked, others were “amazed,” and we don’t hear a single word from Mary.  Instead, Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  In fact, throughout her life, it seems that she was a woman of few words.  From the day of Jesus’ birth until his death, the little we hear from her amounts to no more than a question, a subtle request on behalf of others and a reflection of her own discipleship.  “Son, why have you done this to us?” we hear her ask when she and her husband, Joseph, discovered Jesus in the temple, “They have no wine,” Mary remarked pointedly when she was with her son at the wedding feast in Cana and “Do whatever he tells you,” at that same feast as she called others to do as she had already done, following God’s call for her.

When Luke tells us that Mary kept things in her heart, the word he uses indicates a long process of mulling, a life of discernment, trying to put together all the pieces of a mystery beyond human understanding.  While the process doesn’t lead to quick conclusions, it also doesn’t mean that she gave up, either.  Rather, as I mentioned a moment ago, she was a contemplative in action.  Mary had more to ponder than anyone else in the story that we hear today.  She had to question her experience and her response.  She had to make sense of all that she had encountered.  She had to accept living with more questions than answers and far more hope than certainty.  And, she had to change the diapers and fix dinner

We do well to imitate Mary, especially in this time of uncertainty and so many unanswered questions.  She, the mother of the God who came in the flesh of a tiny infant, was able to contemplate and learned to remain open to God’s shalom, to allow her faith to exceed her uncertainties and her hope to give her resolve beyond her power to imagine.  We look to the Mother of God to teach us how to live simply as contemplatives in action.  As we begin a new year in God’s grace, let us resolve to say “yes” to whatever our Lord has in store for us this year.  That will lead us to live in the peace that only God can give.  After all, he has favored us all with his son.  “May the Lord look upon you kindly and give you his peace.”