Birthdays, especially ones with noughts in them, have a special significance for many of us. Sister Marguerite and I have both had ones with noughts in them in the last year, so we know all about it.
Birthdays like these are milestones, marking the passage of time and change.
But is time real, or is it really a figment of our imagination?
The philosopher with the unlikely name of John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart spoke of the unreality of time; and although his conclusion seems improbable, no one has really been able to contradict his argument satisfactorily.
However, just try telling my knees that there is no such thing as time, especially on a cold winter morning…
On the other hand, at the reception following my aunt’s funeral recently, the star guest was undoubtedly a woman whose name was Mildred. She had recently celebrated her 100th birthday – not one nought but two! – and was to be seen socialising energetically, holding a plate of sandwiches in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other: she had been driven to the funeral by friends – she had decided to leave her own car at home, as she didn’t think she should drive when she had had a few drinks! So maybe time is an illusion after all….
But thinking about time makes me think about the two very special women whose lives we are celebrating today – both of whose names of course begin with the letter M.
For one of them – guess which – we think of someone at the beginning of a new stage in her life. Well, actually I was thinking about Mary the Mother of Jesus at that moment.
She was very much on the threshold of her life, probably a teenager. And she discovered that she was going to have a baby. You can picture the scene can’t you?
Just imagine the headlines in the ‘Nazareth Echo’:
Another Teenage Pregnancy, Shock, Horror!
Child Support Agency to interview local carpenter.
And imagine the conversation at home when she told her own parents -
“How did you find out your were pregnant, dear…?”
Oh, an angel told you….. I see!”
And Joseph, the carpenter, just doesn’t know how to react, how to cope. His instinct is to duck down behind the parapet and try to pretend this disaster isn’t happening - or at any rate doesn’t involve him. And then a friend has quiet word, and he comes back, blushing and hesitant, trying to make things all right.
And Mary herself – what did she make of it? It must have been a time of bewilderment, of uncertainty, of apprehension. But all this was of course overridden by a powerful sense of being in receipt of a call from God, a belief, however hazy and incomprehensible, that she was being invited to do something of great importance, something unique, something that she alone can do.
So she manages to get the words out – “Let it happen to me according to your word, Lord” – words that her son would himself use, many years later, at his own moment of supreme sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And for our dear Sister Marguerite too – a moment of vocation, to be a Christ bearer too, not in the literal sense that Mary made possible, but by her “yes” to God in becoming a Sister of the Church so many years ago. A new beginning for her too, with perhaps very little knowledge of what that act of humility and dedication would involve as the years unfolded. But wanting to show Christ to the world by being and demonstrating the love of God at every moment of her life.
A “yes” every bit as important as Mary’s long ago. And that vocation continues into a new decade of your life today.
Two great women, both of whose names start with M.
But they make me think too of some other women in the Gospel story – two women in particular whose names happen also begin with the letter ‘M’ - Martha and Mary. One who has the well being and enjoyment of her dinner guests at heart, and the other one who just sits quietly at the feet of the Lord, apparently doing nothing, but listening and making his words her own, learning in a profound sense what the love of God is really all about, in order to share that glorious truth with others by word and example.
My fantasy today is that these two women are rather like the two guiding principles of this religious community – adoration and action.
Of course, it is of great importance that as a community we find ways of initiating works of love for those in the world around us, and responding to human needs wherever we find them. In doing this, we are imitating the love of Jesus and so doing the works of God.
But this alone, without the complementary component of adoration, is community outreach, not necessarily Christian ministry.
So - what is it that transforms community outreach into Christian ministry? Well it is of course what happens when we imitate the Mary who ‘chose the better part’ - the one who put first things first, in other words, the woman who sat at the feet of Jesus and simply listened.
As I contemplate the Marguerite whose birthday we are celebrating today alongside the feast of Mary’s Annunciation, I see someone who has a wonderful capacity for showing God’s love to all of us –
because she is someone who listens to Jesus.
Chaplain, Ham Common