Num 6:22-27, Gal 4:4-7, Lk 2:16-21, (All A, B, & C). Christian Freedom. Growth in Maturity.

Lest the celebration of Christmas lose its lustre St Paul reminds us in today’s portion of his letter to the Galatians that Jesus’ birth will continue to have meaning. Paul is saying that in the childhood of the world the tutelage of the Mosaic Law was necessary, but with the coming of Jesus the world advanced to a new status of maturity. We’ve experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, who has re-created us as God’s children and enabled us to live our lives according to the sense and spirit of this new relationship. When Paul speaks of the coming of the fullness of time (v. 4), he refers to the phenomenon of the human race’s rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.

With individuals, this growth into maturity usually referred, in a double standard, to males rather than females (who, it was probably thought, never matured). In the Jewish world, after a boy completed his twelfth year he underwent the ceremony called “Bar Mitzvah” in which he became a “son of the Law”, which is what “Bar Mitzvah” means. Then — as with Jews still today — he’s considered mature, a man. For him, the fullness of time has come. In the Greek world of Paul’s time, the boy was under his father’s care from ages seven to eighteen, whereupon he became an ephebe — what we might call a cadet — and for two years was under the care of the State, receiving military and gymnastic training. That meant arrival at manhood. In the Roman world of that time, somewhere between the ages of fourteen and seventeen the young man, after exchanging the purple-striped toga pretexta of youth for the plain white toga virilis of manhood, was taken to the forum for his introduction to public life and manhood.

Paul is comparing these practices to the point in history when God’s saving intervention in the growth in maturity of the human race took place. It was at that point that God sent His Son (v. 4). That Jesus was “born of a woman” emphasizes his taking onto himself the human condition for his mission.

Mary’s role is central. She’s an example of mature, joyful, spontaneous faith in action. As Jesus is true man, Mary is true woman. As with us, she journeyed in faith. Today we celebrate her as the Mother of God. In this feast, once the only Marian feast in Rome, we recall the part she played in the fulfilment of the ancient blessing promised to Israel and we give thanks for that blessing which has been bestowed upon us all.

Mary is a model for us also in the way she exercised her freedom and maturity. By accepting God’s call to be the mother of Jesus, she also became the mother of all the redeemed. Just as she chose to be the mother of Jesus, in our freedom we’re challenged to bring him forth in our own private and public worlds in this new year.

Many people think of freedom solely in terms of being able to do what they feel like doing. They think that the free-est people live with no obligations or commitments. People who have no regard for rules are sometimes referred to as “free spirits”. Some celebrities, appearing to be very free, joke about the numbers of marriages or affairs they’ve had. But such people aren’t really free. The deepest kind of freedom involves the ability to love and make commitments. St Augustine said, “Love God and do what you want.” Our temptation is to do what we want without any concern for deeply loving God or anyone else.

Some choices deepen our freedom and our humanity; others make us less free and diminish our humanity. Sins make us the least free. Sinners have weakened their capacity to love. Sinners are choosing for themselves at the expense of others. The liar is more banned than the person lied to, the thief more than the person stolen from, the adulterer or adulteress more than the partner sinned against.
We’re born free in the sense that we’re born with the power to make free choices. We’re born to be free. But that power must be developed and strengthened. Nothing frees us more than loving and being loved. Loving touches the deepest level of our personhood, and being loved frees us more than any other experience.

We have the freedom to receive the status of God’s adopted children and enter into our inheritance. That adoption isn’t by natural birth, of course, but by God’s action — that is, by grace. The call to grace in its ultimate form is a summons to be one with God, to assume peership with God. Hence it is a call to total adulthood, in which both spiritual growth and the process of psychological maturation are inseparable. After Jesus’ birth God now looks upon each of us and sees the likeness of His only-begotten child. The human countenance is forever altered.

The proof that we’re literally God’s children comes from the instinctive cry of our heart whereby we want to be intimate with God. This cry is to call God Abba. This is the Aramaic word for father; the sound of it is so sacred and intimate to Paul that he keeps it in the original tongue. The Aramaic here means “my Father” rather than “the father”, and has overtones in English of “daddy”.

It’s an extremely exalted privilege that the Christian, by virtue of being God’s child and thus a brother or sister of Jesus, is entitled to pray to the Father with the same formula that was used by Jesus him self. All of this empowers the Christian’s inmost conviction as she or he exclaims lovingly of God, “Father!”, rejoicing to be no longer a slave but a child, and an heir (v. 7).

We’re called to be mature, full-grown people. To grow from the simple trust of early childhood into a personal, reflective, integrated, truly committed, and mature faith is possible for most people only after they’ve passed through the turmoil of adolescence. Growing up is the act of stepping from childhood into adulthood — actually, more of a fearful leap than a step, a leap that many people never really take Though they may outwardly appear to be adults, even successful adults, many “grown—ups” remain until their death psychological children who have never truly separated themselves from their parents and the power that their parents have over them.

In the first half of our life our main task is trying to become the person we want to be and building up our ego, and in the second half to let it go. Ultimately, the prospect of death leaves us no choice but to give thought to our level of maturity in faith. But it’s not death itself, but letting go of self, that’s difficult.
Today is January First, the beginning of a new calendar year. January got its name from the Roman god Janus. Janus had two faces, one looking back and the other forward. Today we look back upon our record during the past year in order to come up with accurate appraisals of ourselves in trying to be better in the New Year.

We, too, can be two-faced — not in an evil sense, but in the sense of blindness. Consider, as just one example of our blindness, our relationship to our own face. It’s very dependent on mediation: reflection in mirrors, for instance, or the eyes of others. Even our idioms fall on either side of a doubleness. We use the word “face” to mean appearance, outward show, or a surface or facade. as in “on the face of it, it seems thus and so,” or “putting the best face on” a failure. We also use “face” to stand for the reality, dignity, integrity, or even the inmost essential aspect, of a person or thing. We speak of looking the evidence in the face, of saving or losing face, of being faceless, of now seeing through a glass darkly but at the end face to face with God. Do we really know our own face, the substance of what we’re really like?
Every January First, we’re presented with a handsome sum (more than a half million) which is ours to spend during the next 12 months. Each of us is given, not the money we fantasize about, but 525,600 minutes with which to build a life. We do think about time like money sometimes: We speak of “spending time” doing this or that.

To get as much out of time as we can, we talk faster, walk faster. A psychologist who compared several countries found the pace of public life to be fastest in Japan, followed by the United States; England, Taiwan, Italy, and Indonesia, in that order. In each country, the pace in larger cities was faster than in smaller ones. In the United States, Boston turned out to be the fastest-paced city of those studied (perhaps because of the number of colleges and universities there, with so many young people), Los Angeles the slowest. Chicago fell in the middle, while Salt Lake City was right behind New York. Answering why it’s so isn’t easy.

We think much more about the use of our money, which is renewable, than we do about the use of our time, which is irreplaceable. If we had to make a choice of handing over to someone else our cheque book or our date book, it would be much wiser to hand over our cheque book. Everyone in the world — poor as well as rich -— has exactly the same amount of time, even though it may seem different. We, too, experience “different” times. It’s one thing on our wedding night, another if our fingers are caught in the car door. In the use of all our time for the coming year, one of our emphases should be growth in the Lord’s freedom and maturity.

Let’s take with us some of the lessons of today’s liturgy: from the First Reading’s Book of Numbers, to live in joy because the Father blesses us; from the Second Reading’s letter to the Galatians, to live in mature freedom because the Son redeems us; and from Luke’s Gospel to live reflectively, like Mary. That’s the way to fulfil the heartfelt wishes we extend to you for a Happy New Year.