Today is a fusion of things we celebrate. Certainly first and foremost is the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. This is also the World Day of Prayer for Peace. …And if that weren’t enough, it is the day we celebrate the start of a New Year – a time when we are ready to resolve so that all things are new, all things can be renewed.
I am thinking about resolving to work on my homilies, so that no homily will ever be under 30 minutes…. Just kidding. But homilies on such days as today are challenging. Preach on just one thing? Find a common theme across all? Hard to know what to do sometimes. But this week Fr. Dan came to my rescue. Earlier this week he talked about bridges. I found the idea of bridges, crossing over, being the way which leads people onward in life… I found the image compelling… and it got me to thinking.
Today we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary as theotokos, literally, “God bearer” – the person whose “yes” became the bridge between heaven and earth, became the way in which the living Word of God became flesh, and came to live among us as one of us. Mary was the bridge that showed the way to the child Jesus, maternally leading him to grow in love of God and family. She was that bridge that remained solidly in place throughout the Passion, Death, and Resurrection – being a sign of faith and perseverance. Solid. Unfailing.
Mary continues to be a bridge for the faith of many, especially in our Catholic tradition. Today, as millennia ago in Cana, she speaks to the world saying, “This is my Son, do whatever he tells you.” (cf. John 2:5). Mary helps people to cross over to faith, deeper faith, and inspire them to hold and ponder all these thing in their hearts.
Bridge building is a theme writ large in what it means to be Franciscan. In 1219, St Francis made an unpopular decision, crossing over battles lines to enemy to try to build a bridge for peace between the Muslim forces and those of the 5th Crusades. Francis spoke to the “other,” Malik-al-Kamil, Sultan of Egypt pleading for peace. No one walked the bridged Francis built with his own witness. Some bridges go unused. It does not mean we do not try. In this way, like Mary, Francis was a pontifex – Latin for “bridge builder”
We still use the English version of pontifex in the word “pontiff” – a title we reserve for the Pope. Here on this world day of peace we rightly recall Pope Francis as pontiff, the one who helped Cuba and the United States begin the process of “crossing over.” A simple straight of water, only 90 miles in distance, which for 50 plus years has been without bridge, impossible to cross over. But through back channels, Francis’ prayers for peace, it all helped to build a bridge in restoring relationship among nations. Maybe Pope Francis will have an experience similar to St. Francis. His actions are not a popular decision in some quarters, and some may not choose to cross the bridge of peace. The legacy of communism and dictatorship will be too much for some. But the bridge is a sign of hope and peace in the world.
Bridges, bridge builders, and all who use them to crossover can be renewed. All things can be made new. New things discovered, but only if we choose the way of the bridge. In our own personal stories we can look to our past and see the gaps, the chasms in relationships that have grown tired, friends lost, hard words remembered. Will we be bridge builder? Will we be the bridge? Will we resolved to make old things new?
We can look into today. Maybe there are some bridges you are not ready to cross – but you know in your heart of hearts it is the way forward. Many of you have heard me speak about my Mom whose memory is slowly being lost to time, age, and health. Several weeks ago we placed mom in a memory care unit – an odd name for a very nice private home in a great neighborhood. They ask that family not visit for several weeks in order to let the new resident grow used to her accommodations and care. Yesterday was the first day I was able to visit. It was a good day; it was a hard day. It was a day in which one realizes, we have to be willing to let Mom walk the bridge of failing health and memory, to become what she will become in the days that are given her. We are called to help build that bridge for her and for ourselves, knowing that at journey’s end she will be renewed and made new again in Christ.
We are called to look into 2015 and into our future to cross the gaps and chasms in our own life, to cross over to others, to be a light for those in darkness, to open the way for other to find God.
We are called to, in our own way, be the bridge like Mary, theotokos – to carry God into the world. We are called to build the bridges like St. Francis and Pope Francis. We are called to cross over the bridges of grace to be renewed and made new in Christ.
In the grace of God we are called to cross over to make peace, to journey with one another, and to be a sign of hope in the world.
We are called to build the bridges that leads us and others to rest in Christ.
This is 2015 – all things can be made new in Christ.