On May 27, 2002, Robert E. Serafin, an American soldier during the Second World War, was interviewed by the writer David Venditta of The Morning Call. In that interview he narrated how wounded and dying soldiers would cry out for morphine and for their mothers to be relieved from their pain. He shared how one guy in complete body cast from the neck down was crying for his mother. A nurse said, “We can only give him morphine. Other than that there’s nothing we can do for him.” His mother could not there for him as he was in great pain.
Serafin further added, “I found out in Vietnam, too, that as soon as a guy would be in bad shape, he’d always ask for his mother.”
Dr. James Murphy, special correspondent on the Italian Front, also testifies to this longing for the mother in time of great need. Dr. Murphy writes: “I suppose it is true that the men of every nation become children in the most critical moments of their lives, but I think this is truer in Italy than elsewhere. Wounded soldiers crying out in their agonies generally call for their mothers; they sometimes call on their God, and sometimes they curse their fate. In Italy I have scarcely ever heard any cry from the lips of an agonizing soldier except ‘Mamma mia! Mamma mia!’ You hear it when they are being brought in on the stretchers. Home and mother seem to be the one idea running through the distraught brain.”
This longing for the mother must be across cultures. The Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World’s Cultures says that “for young men in combat, their mothers can symbolize a nurturing feminine sphere that contrast with war. It is their mothers that dying soldiers most often call out for on the battlefield.”
We know the longing and even the preoccupation for the mother is shown particularly at a younger age. There is a story about a teacher who gave primary grade class a science lesson on magnets. In the follow-up test, one question read: “My name starts with M and has six letters, and I pick up things. What am I?”
The students were supposed to answer magnet. Half of the class answered the question with the word: mother.
People need especially their mothers in times of need, of uncertainty, of insecurities. We need our mothers to pick us up, perhaps for those who are already old – no longer physically but emotionally and spiritually. As we begin another year with all the uncertainties that it may bring us, the Church is telling us that we need our Blessed Mother Mary.
Filled with gratitude to the Lord for the year 2012, with all its joys and sorrows, achievements and failures, we begin the new year not only confident of God’s abiding love and presence as Emmanuel, God with us, but also of Mary’s maternal care and example. We welcome the new year with the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God and our mother as well, imploring Mary as the Theotokos, God’s Bearer, she who received and carried Jesus in her heart and in her womb, to also carry us through another year. We look up to her as our model of faith and discipleship, prayer and contemplation, and fidelity in our on-going journey through life in this world.
How do we begin another year with our Blessed Mother Mary? First, we begin with Mary by imploring God’s blessings upon us, upon our families and upon the world. The blessing uttered in our First Reading from the Book of Numbers is used by priests in imparting God’s blessings upon the people at the end of the prayer assembly.
The blessing formula, “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 your peace!” is actually a triple statement imploring God’s favor upon us. It is a triple prayer for God’s prosperity, presence and peace expressing our hope in God who alone can make our new year happy, blessed, grace-filled and peaceful.
We pray that as we begin another new year, we may be blessed by the Lord as Mary was blessed. We remember Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, “Blessed are you among women.” In the language of our day, the word that we use is benediction and this word expresses primarily an act of consecration to the Lord and the experience of being filled by God’s divine presence. With Mary, we pray that God may ever fill us with his divine presence and action in the year 2013 and that we may be truly consecrated or reconsecrated to Him and to His ways.
Secondly, with Mary we face the new year with the assurance of the loving presence of the Father. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians in the Second Reading, tells us that because of Jesus and His Spirit, we have become children of God, intimate enough to call him “Abba” or “Daddy”. By his incarnation and solidarity with our human situation, Jesus has made us adopted children of His Father.
To be reminded of our being children of God on the eve or the beginning of another new year is extremely important. We cannot foresee what the new year will hold for us. Thus, we need to be assured of that certitude of our being beloved children of God in facing whatever await us with great confidence and trust in God who will always hold us in his loving heart and hands. In life, things may not always be good and rosy, but the assurance of God’s loving fidelity helps us to go through life with courageous and childlike spirit.
During the Second World War, Cardinal Desire Mercier, Archbishop of Malines, Belgium, wrote a Pastoral Letter asking the people to pause everyday for some time to be in touch with God as they faced the trials of war. He asked them to be assured, especially in deep connection to God in prayer in the depths of their hearts, that God their Father was with them and would continue to be with them, especially in that time of great difficulty. This assurance helped the people to be strong and focused in the face of great adversities. The Second Reading wants us to do this as we begin another year.
Finally, with Mary we face the New Year carrying the name of Jesus. In the Gospel we come to Mary who together with her husband Joseph names the baby born through her Jesus and who keeps all these divine happenings in her heart. The gospel passage says, “When the eight day arrived for his circumcision, the name Jesus was given the child, the name the angel had given before he was conceived.”
Mary and Joseph, by naming the child Jesus, remind us who the child is, what his mission will be and that his power is the power of salvation. We know that the disciples of Jesus later on expel demons and work miracles in the name of Jesus. The power of the name of Jesus is made ever more clear after the resurrection and the name of Jesus must never be used with impunity and disrespect.
To invoke and to pronounce the name of Jesus is to appeal humbly to the one whom we recognize as Lord and in whom we place our faith. It is to receive Jesus who frees us from evil and to be open to salvation, like the man besides Jesus at the Crucifixion who asks, “Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your reign,” and to whom Jesus responds, “I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.”
Mary and Joseph are the first ones to receive the name of Jesus through the angel Angel Gabriel. In the Bible the name stands for the very presence of the person himself.
This is how we are to begin another year – in the name of Jesus our Savior and Lord. We face the new year carrying and contemplating the name of Jesus, his presence and his action in our hearts, in our lives, in this world. And if God is with us and for us, nobody and nothing can be against us? We can face another new year and the years after with confidence and courage because this Jesus is our Savior and He is Emmanuel, God with us, who has promised to be with us until the end of time.