Our Lady of Boquen
The Virgin of Boquen has arrived. My hope is that we would welcome her from the heart as we would welcome a well-loved Mother. She and her little Child have traveled about 3500 miles to be part of our parish now. And many people have helped to see to it that she’d arrive safely: the monastic sister who carved the statue, the sister who built the shipping crate, the pilot of the cargo plane, the customs people, truck drivers and all the people who took up faxes and telephone conversations along the way. We’re grateful.
But for all the distance traveled to get here- it’s just an echo of the greater distance God has bridged in the Incarnation. That’s what the statue celebrates-the distance between heaven and earth bridged-the distance between heavenly and earthly things-bridged- the distance created by sin and evil-bridged. At Bethlehem those distances were closed up, as never before in Christ’s appearance and in his walking with us on earth to Calvary and Easter.
And then there is the other distance of time: that our statue is a copy of a 15th century image of The Mother of God. This doesn’t mean that we’re trying to make the parish church into a museum, but it does mean that our time and place here in Hancock are not the definitive time and place. That we are part of a much longer story and larger procession of worshipping people who strive to walk by the light of faith. This is the story of the Church over 2000 years.
These are the things we need to consider: not, “Does it fit with our decor?” “Should we have spent the money?” “Wasn’t the old statue good enough?” These are the wrong questions - like the apostles asking Jesus the wrong question in the gospel today, " How many will be saved Lord?” Jesus ignores that question and talks instead about "How to be saved. And we are saved through Jesus born of Mary.
We notice at once that to bring the statue into church means to bring Jesus and Mary here in their human faces. In the old testament God’s presence was indicated by a smoky mountain, a burning bush, a punishment. But now in Christ, God wears a face - a personal face - a distinctive one-of-a-kind face - as does Mary who bore him.
Our religion has a lot to do with faces. God looks at us through the human eyes of Jesus. God has a great love for my face and your face - faces that were created in love. And we could say that God is especially interested in our eyes - which as the saying goes, "Are the windows to our souls".
But there is more. In welcoming the Virgin of Boquen and her little child we commit ourselves to welcoming all the other faces that come through these church doors and the many faces we encounter in our families and in our work in the days between the Sundays when we gather here.
A parish that looks askance at the new faces, the never-seen-before faces has missed it. It's not 1960 anymore. And the parish "face" has changed and is always changing. So there's the welcoming of the faces of the newborns and the faces of the elderly. The welcoming of the faces of the handicapped, the faces of summer visitors, the family and friends who pray with us, the faces of The Family School students who are as much parishioners as the families whose roots go back 100 years. The faces of the priests who come and go, the faces of those who travel here from Binghamton and Deposit and Walton and East Branch and Calicoon. The faces of those who just happen by.
I bought the statue because when I saw it I thought, "I must find a way to share the beauty and goodness of Lourdes with the people of St. Paul's." Look at the statue: Mary shares her Divine/Human Son with us. That's parish! Sharing faith with each other. Sharing the Eucharist. Sharing prayer and time and resources. Sharing interest in the joys, sorrows and struggles of the others.
And Mary carries the little Jesus. Parish is helping to carry others. This is so important in the world that’s so quick to say: “I’ve got enough to do already,” “Someone else will do it.” “That’s asking too much.” “I don't know him/her.”
Someone said, “The posture of the baby is unnatural - babies don’t assume that posture.” Someone else said, “Oh, there are babies at Mass who sit in their Mother’s arms like that.” Each will see things differently.
But there’s something special about this Infant Jesus. He looks like a miniature man - that’s because he is the Lord. Jesus is always the Lord. He’s resting peacefully with a lovely smile. His arm rests on his Mother’s heart. An invitation to us: to smile, to rest in God, to have confidence.
The statue will stay here at the end of Mass, but we’ll leave. And when we leave we’ll perhaps remember that the psalm response at Mass today was: “Go out to all the world and tell the good news.” And the good news we have to share, and that’s celebrated in this lovely new image: God has gone to a lot of trouble to be with us.
“He knows our need - to our weakness is no stranger,” the Christmas Carol sings.