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!
Numbers 6: 24-6
Today begins a new year. As the years pass and I enter into the later and more vulnerable and fragile years of life, I find myself attending more carefully to the meaning of the words I use in wishing others a “Happy New Year!” What are wishing for another, and for that matter for ourselves, with our new year’s greeting? We know, for certain, that in our own lives and in the lives of all others, it will be not only “good things” that happen to us, and life has also taught us that it is not only what we take to be good and makes us happy that is “good” for us.
Increasingly it seems truer to wish for others the possibility of joy rather than happiness. For, as Jesus tells us, there is a joy that no one (or nothing) can take away from us. “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16: 22). When living in the presence of God and Jesus, we know a joy that is unshakeable, whatever the circumstance.
Recently, a person was speaking to me of a close friend who many years before had left his seminary training after becoming a deacon and shortly before ordination to the priesthood. Many years later he had asked his friend what he most missed about being a deacon and potentially a priest. The answer was: “Being able to bless people.” The blessing from the Book of Numbers is a prayer and a reminder that God’s face is always shining upon us and that the Lord is always looking at us kindly, with a faithful love that is the assurance, if we let it be, of peace. To see all and everyone with the eye of God is to “bless the people with peace.”
At every turn of today’s liturgical readings we are reminded that we are not alone, that if we awaken to the truth of things, we shall know, as did the shepherds, that God is with us. We shall realize in whatever happens to us that we do not go through life in isolation but rather have the face of God smiling on us, and that this same “kindness” is also looking upon each and every other person. This will not assure an absence of pain in the coming year. In fact, the pain is so much deeper when we begin to realize the love and kindness of God for us all and our inability, so often, to recognize and realize it. Because we do not know the love of God that is given, we keep attempting to inflict and coerce on others our own particular deformed sense of God’s will for them. The angry, violent, hateful person is the saddest of all beings in his or her inability to be aware of the blessing that is always being offered. And, of course, at some moments in the coming year we shall be included among this group.
As the new year begins, may we awaken to the truth that God is blessing and not cursing us. May we know the joy of God’s presence, a joy that nothing can take from us. From that joy we receive, may we be instruments of a peace that brings love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness, and joy where there is sadness.
source of light in every age,
the virgin conceived and bore your Son
who is called Wonderful God, Prince of Peace.
May her prayer, the gift of a mother’s love,
be your people’s joy through all ages.
May her response, born of a humble heart,
draw your Spirit to rest on. your people.
Alternative Prayer, Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God