How would you feel if I gave my homily to you like this, turning around? Or what if I hid down here behind the ambo? Or what if I stood in the sacristy and read my homily to you? It would be pretty awkward, wouldn’t it? You can’t see my face, you hear some voice speaking to you from somewhere else. You would probably feel a bit disconnected, right? You might be awed that a voice would be coming down, seemingly from heaven, when it’s really from the sacristy, or you might be wondering why I’m doing any of these things during a homily. But eventually, you’d get frustrated, lose attention, and go into screensaver mode, just tuning everything out (Although, nobody would ever do that here, right?).
It’s important that we see who’s talking to us, right? It’s important to see their face. If you’re behind a pillar or a very large person in the pew in front of you, you might scoot over just a little bit so you can see the face of a priest or reader or deacon or whoever. The face is a sort of window into the soul. We show everything through our faces – emotions, whether someone trusts you or not, what the other person is thinking. You can look at couples that have been married for a while, and see that all they have to do to communicate is shoot a glance at the other person. The face is really important, and it’s important that we see and be seen by others. That feeling of seeing others is important, but even more important to us at times can bee that feeling of being gazed upon by someone else. Think about how much you love it when a baby looks at you and smiles, and it sort of melts your heart. When we see someone face to face, when we are gazing and being gazed upon, there is a connection there. And when that gaze isn’t there, that connection seems almost fake. How would you feel if someone said they cared for you, but then never lifted their face to look at you?
God wants us to feel connected. In the first reading, we hear this blessing from the Book of Numbers, called the Aaronic Blessing (not the Ironic Blessing). The blessing goes: “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!” The Lord wants you to look upon his face, and to let you be looked upon you as well. We are invited to look into the essence of God. But that can be hard to do for us. We’re sinful people, and in some ways, the last thing we want to do is look into God’s face. When a child has done something wrong, like kicking the sister or breaking the lamp, or even when they’re angry with someone, the last thing they want to do is look their parents in the face. And I think the same is true with us. That look that is soul-searching and penetrating and connecting has been transformed in some ways into shame. Even think of the Bible. When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves, not wanting to look on the face of God. Throughout the Old Testament, people averted their eyes from the Ark of the Covenant or from the presence of God out of respect and fear, because looking into God’s face would kill them. They felt threatened, ashamed, and diminished. How could they look into God’s face.
But then the face of God became the face of a baby, as we celebrated just a week ago, and as we still celebrate today. Think about that, and about how unthreatening it is. People never avert their eyes from a baby. Even during Mass, people in the row behind babies make faces at them. They think I can’t see them making silly faces at babies…but I see everything… These people love making faces at the baby, they love looking at the baby’s face, trying to get them to laugh or smile, even if it takes looking ridiculous themselves. But think about that baby in Bethlehem. Sometimes, I think we can think of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and of course all the shepherds, in these perfect statuesque positions, simply looking at Christ with awe. And I’m sure that happened! But I bet you the shepherds were doing the same things everyone else does when there’s a baby around – they made silly faces and expressions, looking at the baby and trying to get the baby to look at them. And indeed, in a very profound sense, that is why God was made incarnate – so that we can gaze on him and be gazed upon by him ourselves.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God today, we recall that Mary was the first to be invited to see God in this way, and that is what she holds on to, and meditates on. If you think about it, the shepherds would have loved to stay in Bethlehem, but they had work to do, and had to get back to their flocks. And the same is true with us. School starts here Tuesday, everyone has to get back to work, the Christmas parties are over, the trees are already out in the street, and soon, Valentines Day decorations will fill the stores. So how can we keep Christmas meaningful to us, even after it’s over? I think Mary gives us the answer today. She reflects on all these things in her heart. She moved on from the manger, she put away the gifts from the Magi and the shepherds, and she started being a mom. But she reflected on all those things and their importance. She didn’t know what lay ahead, or what God had in store for her or her Son, but she trusted that God would see her through. She paid attention; she looked at her life, at her Son’s face, and she reflected on the many gifts that God had given her in her heart. I think that’s what we’re all called to do. Maybe as a New Year’s resolution, you can commit yourself to just a few minutes at the end of the day to reflect on the day, calling to mind your times of weakness, when you needed God the most, and then on all those gifts God has given you in that day. I think if we do this, and if we reflect on these things in our hearts like Mary, we will feel that connection with God, a connection that he invites us to today, most especially in the Holy Eucharist. May God bless us and keep us. May he let his face shine upon us and be gracious to us. May he look upon us kindly just as we look upon him with love, and may he give us peace.