St. Mary of the Angels
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
New Year’s Day
Numbers 6.22-27; Galatians 4.4-7; Luke 2.16-21
My brothers and sisters. Today is the Solemnity of the
Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. It is also the naming of Jesus. And,
it is New Year’s Day. Let us celebrate all three!
Do you remember, or, perhaps have not read, Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, “The
Little Match Girl,” a story which, appropriately for us, begins on New Year’s Eve?
Simply told, the story goes like this:
A little girl, whose livelihood is selling matches, finds herself on New Year’s Eve without a
single match sold and, being terribly cold and hungry, crouches in a doorway. She
is so cold that she lights one of her matches for a moment of warmth, and, in the glow and heat of that match, she sees a
big iron stove and feels its warmth. But, the stove disappears and the little
girl is left sitting alone with a burned out match in her hand.
She strikes a second match and in its glow she sees a table laden with food and a fat goose in the
center, who gets off the table and waddles towards her. But, when she reaches out her hands to receive the goose, he disappears
and she is touching the cold walls of the doorway.
She, then, strikes a third match and sees a Christmas tree filled with lighted candles. But, when the match burns out, the candles now become the stars in the sky above. They remind her of her beloved grandmother who is up there among the stars with God.
So, she strikes another match and, sure enough, her grandmother is there before her. Seeing her, the little girl shouts, “Grandmother, take me with you.” And, fearing that her grandmother, too, would disappear, she lights all her matches. Hans Christian Anderson continues: “[Her grandmother] lifted the little girl in her arms and flew
with her to where there is neither cold nor hunger nor fear: up to God.”
And he goes on, “In the cold morning the little girl was found.
Her cheeks were red and she was smiling. She was dead. She had frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. The
sun on New Year’s day shone down on the little corpse; her lap filled with burned-out matches.
‘She had been trying to warm herself,’ people said.
And no one knew the sweet visions she had seen, or in what glory she and her grandmother had passed into a truly new
A sentimental story? Perhaps, but, as we, too, begin a
new year, it reminds us that we live an outer journey and an inner journey. The
little match girl’s outer journey was one of cold and hunger, and people thought that she had burned all her matches
just to keep warm. But, her inner journey filled her with memories of her grandmother’s
love. Her burned-out matches were not to create warmth but to hold a vision,
a vision of joy and glory.
Jesus, in today’s gospel, officially begins his outer and inner journey. In his outer journey, He is circumcised and so enters into the Jewish religion and the Jewish culture. But then, Luke points to Jesus’ inner journey when he says, that “He was
named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
God is at work here in the naming! Then, our feast day today in honor
of Mary also holds together the outer and inner: Mary is not just the mother
of Jesus; she is also the mother of God. So, we proclaim. And, outwardly, Jesus
will travel as Jewish teacher, healer, prophet, even Messiah. Inwardly, he will
travel as the Father’s beloved Son and as our beloved savior. He does not
choose this inward road which will lead to the cross, but accepts it and lives it to the full because this is what the Father
is asking of Him.
We, too, walk an outer and inner journey. Our outer journey
is marked by goals, achievements, successes; also by failures, suffering, losses. As
we enter a new year, we may articulate new plans, dreams, hopes: what we want to have or accomplish. We may even write resolutions for a healthier life or a more disciplined approach to our day -- resolutions
which will probably collapse after a week or so!
But, what about our inner journey? What are our deepest
desires for this new year? What do we want in our friendship with God? Is there something we need to leave behind in the old year? What
will help us to be more loving? Is there a relationship needing forgiveness and
reconciliation? Or, a neglected friend to re-connect with? Can we not plan more opportunities to be with God, like Mary, holding all things and reflecting on them
in our heart?
The outer journey is very important, but, as we grow older, we see more and more that it is the inner
journey that matters most. For it is there that we find the deeper meaning of
life. There we find true peace no matter what may be happening in the outer journey.
There, it is that we see the visions which increase our faith in God and love for one another.
As we saw in the story of “The Little Match Girl,” burned-out matches can seem to be a sign of failed survival
without, but actually are the sign of a joyful vision fully embraced within.
So, let us go forth into this new year with renewed hope. Let
us go with Mary as our companion, who lived the outer journey with courage and the inner journey with intimate faithfulness. And, may we go lighting matches of love by which people may come to find the
Light, who is Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.
Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ