3 Jan 2016
“Rachel weeping for her children. She refused to be consoled because they are no more.” (Matt. 2:18b) In the name …
We’re barely into the New Year of 2016. When Bp. Hodur wrote out his liturgical instructions for this first Sunday of the New Year, he asked that the Mass be celebrated in red vestments. Red is the colour of the Holy Spirit. We pray that God guide us in all that we set about to do in the New Year. The message is that as the New Year begins we turn the future, the unknown, the potential, over to the Holy Spirit. We’re asking God to help us to be better people and to do better things.
Last Sunday Sharon and I were bringing Kristin back to Boston. The women are up front. I’m in the back seat reading the newspaper, but the back seat means you lose radio control. I’m not a big football fan, but like I said, the back seat loses control of the radio. So the women are listening to the Patriots game against the Jets. I’m barely paying attention, but then the game goes into overtime. That means even more football. This is when I hear all of the excitement about Coach Belichick and a coin toss. A coin toss! There’s such an aura around the man that he even has power over random coin tosses. He wins the toss and then chooses to kick-off the football instead of being the receiving team. The radio announcers couldn’t heap on the praise quickly enough. Belichick knows that his defense is playing great. The other team has been conservative on offense. The Patriots will stop the Jets and be in great field position to be able to score. But then the Jets go and score a quick touchdown and win the game. The next day it seemed that everyone who on Sunday afternoon was praising the wisdom of Belichick was now asking what he was thinking. One headline in the newspaper was “Overtime decision came up heads, as in head-scratcher.”
Well, it’s real easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback, or I should say a Monday-morning coach. It’s easy to question the wisdom of choices made after the consequences have all played out. But we’re not granted the luxury of being able to make choices that way. We have to think through and plan for what we hope will be the best course of action before we know how it will all turn out. This is why on the Sunday after the New Year the church invokes the presence of the Holy Spirit. We don’t know what lies ahead of us in 2016, but we’re asking the Spirit to help us see the potential, what’s possible over the next twelve months. We’re asking the Spirit to guide and empower us so that we don’t look back on this newly started year with regret one year from now that we didn’t do what we could have done, what we should have done.
And that leads into a second liturgical statement of our young church. Nowadays we celebrate three Christmas Masses on the days right after Christmas: St. Stephen’s; St. John’s; and Holy Innocents. But Hodur had no special Mass for Holy Innocents, the little boys of Bethlehem who were murdered by King Herod in his futile attempt to assassinate the newborn King of the Jews. Instead, he moved their day to the Sunday after the New Year. In other words, he elevated the commemoration of the Holy Innocents, and by doing so he was saying something important to and for our church. The first words of today’s liturgy are taken from the Book of Psalms: “Do not forget the oppressed … The helpless commit themselves to you.” (Ps. 10) The message of today’s Mass is captured in its first prayer: “Free us from our suffering, O almighty God. [But] if in your infinite wisdom, you deem them necessary, then strengthen us to bear them.” The suffering of the innocent was something that could not be ignored. Their plight was a part of our faith lives. The innocent who suffer was to be the first message of the first Sunday of every year.
The Propers of this particular Sunday speak to the fact that we can’t fix everything, that we can’t make all sadness and harm disappear in this world. This is why the words of today’s Mass repeat the message that the plight of those who suffer is ultimately turned over to the hands of God, that every wrong will be righted in God’s eternity. But the final prayer we offer together today as we go out into the world is about at least trying to do what we can. The last words of our last prayer are: “Grant that we may always be ready to follow in your footsteps.” Hodur saw the destruction of his native country. He witnessed everyday the prejudice and depravations of immigrants here in America. He himself died with only enough money to pay for his funeral and before he died he had already been blinded by diabetes. He knew all about poverty and sickness. And Hodur saw in the church, and particularly in this church, a way to fight back.
Faith in God’s ultimate vindication of all those who suffer offered an other-worldly strength. It gave dignity to people who weren’t receiving it anywhere else, and it asked them to see the worth in others who suffered. From such a faith would come action. Think about what Emily Sanderson said and showed us last Sunday. The poverty and the prejudice in just that one small place in our world is nearly overwhelming, the suffering of the innocent is everywhere, but as people of faith we are called upon to try and make a difference, no matter how small. We’re not going to fix everything. God’s there for that. But we have to do what we can in our trust that God is here with us. That’s why, as just one example of what we try to do here as people of faith, we ask you as church to bring in something for the Souper Bowl of Caring. Compassion and generosity are as much a part of our faith lives as what we do here, and we can only find the strength to do all that needs to be done by being here. This is why today’s Mass for the holy innocents who suffer is celebrated in red to remind us that we’re not doing this alone. Monday morning coaching is easy, but meaningless. We have the New Year in front of us. Let’s use it the best we can to be the best we can, and this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo