Reflections in the Heart of Our Mother

SolemnityBy Father Michael Venditti – The Octave Day of the Nativity—which is always the first of the year, because that’s what an octave means: it’s eight days after the fact—has had something of a confusing history over the centuries.  For almost a thousand years, this day was observed as the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord, not to be confused with the Presentation of our Lord, which is a different event altogether.  In fact, in the Eastern Churches and for those celebrating the traditional Latin Mass, the day is still the Feast of the Circumcision.  Even so, the Scripture lessons given to us to read this day are the very lessons from the old Feast of the Circumcision.

The Gospel lesson, which ends with mention of our Lord’s circumcision, begins with the visit of the shepherds to the manger, and I can’t help but picture it as a somewhat surreal scene.  When the Magi eventually show up on the feast of the Epiphany, at least they’re well dressed, and they’re not empty-handed.  But I’m tempted to picture the visit of the shepherds as a kind of Spike TV version of the Epiphany: they’re scruffy-looking because they’re shepherds; they haven’t brought anything with them; they tell Mary and Joseph this bizarre tale about how they heard about the birth of their child from some invisible choir of angels.  It’s interesting to note that, practically speaking, there are no commentaries on these verses.  Everyone, from the Fathers of the Church of the second century to Pope-Emeritus Benedict, wax eloquent about the visit of the Magi, but nobody seems to have anything to say about the shepherds or what they’re doing there.  The Gospel says that “All those who heard it were full of amazement at the story which the shepherds told them…” (Luke 2: 18 Knox).  I’ll bet they were; they were probably scratching their heads thinking, “Who on earth are these guys?” and St. Luke was just putting a polite face to it.

Of course, in reality the scene is very similar to the one to be played out though the Church’s liturgy on the feast of Epiphany; but, then again, the Magi cut a very different profile from the shepherds.  What is it they used to say?  If you’re poor, you’re crazy, but if you’re rich, you’re just eccentric.  Both groups of men have fantastic stories to tell about how they came to know about the birth: the shepherds are hearing choirs of angels, the Magi are chasing after a UFO; but, both have come to do Him homage.  The Magi get a feast on the Roman Calendar to commemorate their visit; the shepherds get an afterthought on a feast of the Mother of God.  I wonder which visit our Lord appreciated more.

Some people, I suppose, are fortunate enough to be Magi: well respected, always appreciated, all the mistakes they make are somehow excused; but most of us, I think, are shepherds: schlepping along, doing the best we think we can for our Lord, grateful for what we’ve received, but never seeming to have much to give in return.  And I think we need to be OK with that, especially since our Blessed Mother, whose feast we celebrate today, was OK with it.  After all, when the Magi are done bowing and scraping and handing over their expensive presents and then leave, nothing is said; there is no recorded reaction from either the Mother of God or her husband.  But after the shepherds leave, St. Luke is very clear: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2: 19 NABRE).  And I, for one, am quite satisfied to be a reflection in the Heart of our Immaculate Mother.

Father Michael Venditti is the Chaplain
at the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

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