Reading 1: Micah 5:1-4a
Responsorial Psalm: 80:2-3,15-16, 18-19
Reading 2: Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
Recently, I met one of our youngest members of the CTU community, energetic eleventh month old Dante. As I marveled at his bright smile and enthusiasm to grab my hand, then the hallway walls, I realized he would be celebrating his first birthday right after the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year. On his day of birth, the light begins to increase, growing towards the spring equinox and eventually the summer solstice, the longest and thus brightest day of the year. His birth is a hopeful sign of enduring life amidst this Covid pandemic that has taken so many lives. Among so many others – my cousin’s first grandson, a colleague’s first granddaughter – I call them miracle babies! But then again, all life is miraculous. I only appreciate this so much more during these times.
I have a small photo of my parents recently married, back in 1946, standing in front of a red brick residence, tenderly holding hands, smiling in the Chicago sun, dressed in their finest. Separately, they had both sought refuge in the Midwest having received leave clearance from the Japanese American “internment” detention camps. My father from Manzanar, California and my mother from Heart Mountain, Wyoming. They met in Chicago through Maryknoll Brother Theophane Walsh. It still amazes me that they could imagine marriage and raising a family amidst the racial hostilities. Yet that is precisely when life and love persist. This was not the first tragedy they had faced. It turns out, as children both had lost their mothers to the 1918 flu epidemic. My grandfather soon became a Catholic, moved by the dedicated care of the religious sisters in the San Francisco hospital.
These stories, recent and remembering, are boosters of hope. Hope is not just a positive thought but actions of risk, humble courage and joy. Giving birth during a pandemic. Getting married after being unjustly imprisoned. Essential healthcare workers during 1918, 2020, 2021 and every day in between and forward. My widowed grandfathers remarrying, giving us four grandmothers and five generations. Hope echoes the psalmist’s promise: “…shine forth…we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name.”
In today’s familiar story of the visitation, Mary sets out in haste to the hill country to visit her older relative, Elizabeth. Both are bearing new life within them under unusual circumstances, bereft with certain difficulties and risk, personal and socio-political. Yet the infant leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when she hears Mary’s greeting. Life amidst troubling times. Deep hope and joy dispel fear or insist with humble courage in spite of fear. It was no short walk to Ein Karem, the village in the hill country that provides Elizabeth a peaceful and abundant place during her pregnancy. During the visit, both women are surrounded by fruit trees of figs, apples, pears, pomegranates, mulberries and walnuts, mirroring the fruitfulness of their friendship, faith, hope and courage. A major biblical booster of hope as Micah confirms: “…his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.”
Let us pray for the source of all hope with Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk: “The star nations all over the universe are yours, Great Mysterious One, and yours are the grasses of the earth. Day in and day out, you are the life of things. You are older than all need, older than all pain and prayer…. Look upon your children with children in their arms, that they may face the winds, and walk the good road to the day of quiet. Teach me to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that live. Sweeten my heart and fill me with light, and give me the strength to understand and the eyes to see. Help me, for without you I am nothing. Hétchetu alóh! Amen!”