On this day, the Octave of Christmas, we continue to consider the mystery of the incarnation, while we celebrate the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. This title for Mary is very ancient, and declares Mary to be Theotokos, God-bearer. Celebrating Mary as the Mother of God points to a reality and a reminder about Jesus, her son -- that as we remember the full humanity of Christ in this season, we also remember that Jesus is God, born into our reality, revealing to us the Face of God.
What a mystery, that the Face of God should reveal itself in a child, born into poverty, under colonial rule, to parents far away from home, whose reputations were suspect in their community. That the Face of God would shine upon us from this place, should give us pause. That the Human Face of God would first shine on people like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, people whom we do not expect, people the world so quickly rejects and overlooks, should make us wonder. Who is our God? And who does God invite us to be?
Ours is a God who shines with light and love in the very
places in ourselves, in our families, in our communities, and in our world
which are wounded, which suffer, and which people hide from in darkness, fear,
or shame. God, who loves us, chooses to be gracious, kind and offer peace to the
very places and persons in our world (and in ourselves) that we tend to see as
unworthy or disposable.
This is an
audacious belief at the heart of our faith -- that God desires to relate to us precisely in the places we deem unworthy.
This is the
outrageous hope that we share with the shepherds who race to Bethlehem to meet
the child they have been promised, and who go forth proclaiming what they have
heard and seen. It is the strong belief shared by Mary, who continues to commit
her life to the unfolding invitation of God -- by reflecting in her heart on
all that she encounters, and acting according to her faith.
To share the
faith of Mary and the shepherds is to be prophetic. It is to say: I have hope,
and I believe in God's desire and ability to shine God’s face in every place.
Even in this place of oppression, even in this place of death, even in this
place of brokenness and sin. Even in me, who is not perfect, who often forgets
that I am made from love and am called to live in a loving way. I believe that
God wants to reveal God’s self to me in my life and in this world, and offer us
As I reflect on
the face of God, I hear the Spirit say “I am here. I love every part of who you
are. Yes you. Just you, just as you are. You are my child, an apostle of my
love." Encountering the smiling Face of God in my own life offers me
healing for the parts of myself I wish to hide from or hide away. It animates
me to believe I am lovable, and to proclaim the audacious belief that God loves
all. It expands my circle of love and inclusion. It invites me to seek the Face
of God in others, and to race with love towards the places I know God desires
I can name the places I have been privileged to encounter God’s face. Around a hospital bed, in my office, in the eyes of someone who has suffered, in the Chapel, over coffee, on retreat, at countless tables. All of these encounters required risk. I had to leave my comfort zone, say yes to hard conversations, be present when I felt helpless, and look deeply at myself and others with eyes of compassion and an open heart. Each encounter also requires a commitment as I move forward. A commitment to place the vulnerable at the center of my decision making. To be a voice of kindness in every place I am. To sit with the grieving. To stand up against injustice even if it means risking my comfort or my reputation. To live as a witness to God’s love, grace, kindness, and peace throughout my life. Like the shepherds and Mary, my life can no longer be the same after an encounter with the blessing of God’s Face.
Each of us, in this Christmas season, are called to concretely commit to how our lives will be changed by our encounter with God. The Face of God is not passive. Revealed in the person of Jesus, the blessing took concrete action. It is a face that beams with gracious invitation, animates us with kindness, and empowers us to peace. Not a passive, private peace, but a peace that is rooted in restoring right relationship. A peace full of love and invitation, a peace which brims forth from us individually and spills out into our relationships, our communities, our world, allowing God’s blessing of peace to be present to all. Wherever we have encountered the Face of God, it should compel us to commit to proclaiming what we have heard and seen.
As children of God, called and empowered to be the Body of
Christ, we are called also to be the
Face of God. Let us remember where God desires to reveal God’s self, and ask
how we can individually, as communities, and as a Church, be committed to the
places where God wants to shine God’s face through us.
Mary, whom we celebrate today as Mother of God, offers us a way of proceeding. Mary risked greatly in her willingness to encounter the Face of God. To believe in the angel’s promise was to risk her reputation, and her future, on the invitation to share in God’s mission of love. Mary committed her life to deeply encountering God in her child, and she shared this encounter with others. She spent much of her life intimately studying the Face of God in Jesus, and came to know the many ways Jesus revealed God’s face as gracious, kind, and offering peace. As Christians, we are invited to cultivate the same intimacy with Jesus as Mary had. May we, like Mary, be willing to risk encountering God’s Face, may we reflect deeply in our hearts on the ways God has been revealed to us, and may we be willing to make a concrete commitment to how our encounter with the Face of God will impact our lives.
JoAnn Melina Lopez
JoAnn Melina Lopez currently serves as Campus Minister for Liturgy at Seattle University. She grew up in India and Singapore, where she learned the importance of hospitality, inclusion, good food, and how to live in an multifaith and multicultural world.
JoAnn has been immersed in Jesuit education and formation for the last decade. She completed her undergraduate degree at Saint Joseph’s University, where she began her journey of integrating faith and justice. JoAnn served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Houston, TX, living in community and working with asylum seekers and refugees, before she received her Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She has previously served as a hospital chaplain and study abroad advisor for students of high financial need.
JoAnn currently serves on the Board of Directors for L'Arche Noah Sealth of Seattle, and sits on the Program Committee for The Ignatian Spirituality Center.
As Campus Minister, JoAnn enjoys listening deeply to students’ stories, creating spaces and opportunities for moments of reflection and prayer, and accompanying students in their journey to live lives rooted in faith, justice, and community. Having participated in Catholic liturgy on four continents, she marvels at unity in diversity in the church, and is passionate about ritual, prayer, the global church and social justice.