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Every now and then we have that strange, surreal, experience of being aware that we are seeing history made. Thanks to modern technology, and rolling news, we can witness dictators fall, students protest and referenda fail – all from the comfort of our living rooms.
This past week or so has had its fair share of news. Millions across the world were captivated by the Royal Wedding - a heady cocktail of celebrity and royalty. We gasped at the dresses, and we marvelled at the millinery.
Then there was the less than comfortable spectacle of Americans rejoicing at the death of Osama Bin Laden – itself an event watched thousands of miles away in the situation room at the White House.
Nestling between these two events – and somewhat overshadowed by both - was the beatification of a great and holy pope. A pope who more than any other understood and appreciated the power of mass media. Indeed, a pope whose personal charm and charisma suited a papacy lived in the global media age.
But of course history is being made all the time – even when cameras aren’t rolling. For all we know, right at this moment, something incredibly significant could be taking place. A discovery made, a device invented, a book written – all waiting to change the course of history. But.. we’d only know the significance with hindsight. The event itself passing unnoticed - known only by the effect that it may have at some unknown point in the future.
Tonight, as we honour Our Lady and make our May devotions, we celebrate that God has acted most powerfully and most wonderfully; but that he has done so quietly and unexpectedly. In the Incarnation God slipped into human history – choosing a lowly handmaiden, in a far flung corner of the Roman Empire, to bear the future of humankind in her womb.
Mary’s ‘yes’ to God brought heaven and earth together. It is the hinge around which all human history revolves. And that ‘yes’ changed the world... but the world did not notice. And the world didn’t notice the next thirty years or so. The nappy changes and sleepless nights; the washing and the cleaning; birthdays, family weddings, funerals; the yearly round of festivals and countless trips to synagogue. All unnoticed and unreported.
We know very little about those ‘hidden years’ – and we know so very little about Our Lady. The New Testament is tantalising silent about them. And whilst there are many pious legends that try and fill in the gaps, we can only conclude that those years were incredibly ordinary. An ordinary family life, with its joys, pains and sadnesses, blessed and hallowed by God.
Our Lady’s example reminds us that what really counts in the Christian life is being faithful to God in the daily round of ordinary life.
Mostly, it’s mundane and unglamorous. And if we’re honest, there are times when church itself can seem so very very boring - and the daily, weekly, yearly round of prayer and liturgy can begin to feel dry and lifeless. Wouldn’t it be nice if, just once in a while, it could all be a little bit more entertaining? Couldn’t there be a few more Christmas and Easter days – and a little less Ordinary time?
But if Our Lady shows us anything, it’s that there were 33 long, ordinary years between Christmas and Easter. Thirty-three years to ponder. Thirty-three years to prepare. Thirty-three years of continually saying ‘yes – let it be unto me according to thy word’ - long after the glow of the angel had faded ...and as the shadow of the cross loomed.
Like her, we must say ‘yes’ to God where, and how, we are now. As she bore Him and gave Him to all creation, we must bear Him now - and make Him known in our own little corners of the world.
We may never make the news, we may never marry our prince or find ourselves on Peter’s Chair. But we can rejoice that we belong to the common people of God – a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God himself.
Clergy and Mirfield ordinands at the May Devotions.
Fr Craig Roters far right.