01 January 2013

REHEM

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
Lk 2:16-21 (Nm 6:22-27 / Ps 67 / Gal 4:4-7)

Most life-forms begin in a womb.  I said “most” because we know that there are other life-forms that begin elsewhere.  But all human life-forms begin in a womb.


You and I are human beings and we all began in the womb of our mothers.  We did not only begin there, we also experienced our many “first” in the womb: first heartbeat, first movement, first sensations, first feeding, first thumb suck, first hearing, first attachment, first dependence.  We our true first love also happened there, when we were yet fetuses, for our real first love is our mothers.  As seeds from our fathers, we experienced our first fight even before we entered the womb of our mothers, for we competed with other seeds to get in there.  And because we actually made it against million other seeds, it is also in the womb that we had our first taste of victory.  When God assigned to us our particular genders, not all of us were given wombs, only the females, but all of us were nonetheless born from a womb.  Blessed are the women, for they have wombs – only they can carry life within them other than theirs!


The Hebrew word for “womb” is rehem.  Only women have rahammim, which is the plural form of rehem.  We all came from a rehem.  And we were born because the rehem we came from was very rehem!  What do I mean?  In Hebrew, the word “rehem” does not only mean “womb.  It is also means “mercy”.  Thus, rehem, in Hebrew, is both “womb” and “mercy”.  We were born because the womb we came from was very merciful.


In Hebrew, there are two words for “mercy”.  Rehem is one and the other is hessed.  Hessed is the less emotional between the two Hebrew translations for “mercy”.


Hessed refers to the loyalty of God to His covenant with His People; thus, it is often understood as “God’s faithful love”.  God’s mercy is experienced by His People in His fidelity to them through their covenant with Him.  Since we are God’s People, hessed refers to God’s consistent and unconditional promise to love us.  Nothing and no one obligated Him to do so except Himself.  Between the two Hebrew words for “mercy”, hessed and rehem, hessed is more commonly used in the Bible; so commonly that rehem is often not given much reflection or, even at least, a simple thought.


Rehem, as God’s mercy, tells us more how God feels about us.  God’s rehem towards us convey our being affectionately surrounded and protected by His love.  The tender love of a mother for her child within her womb clearly paints this kind of mercy.  Thus, in Is 66:13, though it speaks of God’s merciful love that is one and the same, evidently it is not God’s hessed, but His rehem for us, His children, that is being referred to in particular.  “As a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you,” says Is 66:13.  We feel God’s merciful love by His comforting us as a mother comforts her child.  Rehem – though same with hessed and means God’s merciful love – is emotional, affective, and more tangibly felt.


In Is 49:15, God speaks to us through the Prophet: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”  This beautiful declaration of God’s rehem to us has been popularized in the Philippines by the song, “Hindi Kita Malilimutan”.  Both the song and its biblical foundation clearly give one quality of God’s merciful love – His rehem – towards us: His refusal, and even inability, to forget us.  God is merciful to us because He never forgets us.  God cannot forget us and, therefore, He cannot but be merciful to us.  He has rehem towards us not because He forgets all our faults; rather, He has mercy towards us even as He remembers not only our goodness but, very much, our sins as well.


Please allow me to mention here briefly that this is one of the reasons why abortion – a mother’s killing her own child in the womb – is one of the most painful realities in our world today.  It is so hurting that I cry each time I hear it in the confessional even after seventeen years of my hearing confessions.  The womb, which in Hebrew is referred to by the same word for “mercy” – affectionate, emotional, tangibly felt mercy – should always be the most compassionate environment, most especially for the most defenseless among us – our babies.  But some have chosen to make their wombs tombs for their own child.  God  designed the womb to be a beautiful and meaningful reminder of His merciful love towards us, but, alas for those who never stop tampering with God’s design, turning the otherwise most merciful environment into the most horrifying place human life begins.


As the new year begins, we venerate the womb that bore and gave birth to our Savior.  Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  This solemn feast does not attribute to Mary what is not hers and can never be hers: divinity.  She is the mother of God not because Jesus received His divinity from her, but because Jesus, whom she conceived and delivered into the world was already divine before, during, and after He was born.  Mary’s child is not only human but is also truly God.  Thus, in recognizing and venerating Mary as the Holy Mother of God, we actually affirm the divinity of Jesus, her Son, even before we acknowledge her most singular and privileged role in salvation history.


At the start of another year is a womb, just as at the beginning of the Old Testament was the womb of Sarah, the otherwise old and barren wife of Abraham but who gave birth to Isaac nonetheless, and at the beginning of the New Testament was the womb of Mary who, though virgin, gave birth to Jesus the Christ.  As we pay tribute to the divine motherhood of Mary, so do we entrust our selves to her maternal care and guidance.  Like babies, let us enter into that womb that bore and gave us the Lord so that it may nourish us the way it nourished Jesus and form us into the very image of the Eternal Word to Whom it gave flesh.  From that same womb of the Blessed Mother, we make the Psalm today our own prayer: “May God bless us in His mercy.  May God bless us in His rehem.


For the Catholic Church, every New Year is Mary’s feast.  She is our companion through life and through all ages.  For if merciful love is best expressed by refusing and even in the inability to forget, the Blessed Mother is always the example and inspiration par excellence for us.  She would keep all things in her heart always.  And it is the heart, indeed, that remembers.  If ever it is the mind, the mind remembers precisely because the heart reminds it!  May we have hearts that never forget to care for others.  May we have minds that are humble enough to allow themselves to be reminded what they should not forget.


The past year ends by us remembering, not only circumstances, but most especially people.  And having remembered them, we cannot but see that all is grace and we are grateful and joyful.  But the year also begins by remembering.  More than gifts to give, we rememberrelationships to nurture and, if needed, to mend.  More than parties to go to, we remember lessons learned and resolve to grow more unto the best person God intends us to become.  More than things to buy, we remember the poor who have less and even nothing in life.  More than noise and merrymaking, we remember to come together and worship God at the beginning of another year to thank Him and entreat with Him for His rehem towards us.


As God is merciful to us may we be merciful to others, too.  May we be like “wombs” for one another where they are loved unconditionally and encouraged to live life to the fullest.  For, as the second reading today declares, “…you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.”  That is what we must grow into.


With the merciful love of God, so beautiful represented by wombs among whom the most blest is Mary’s, I end this reflection by blessing you the way that the Lord God Himself instructed Aaron and his sons to bless the Israelites in first reading today:

                    וישמרך יהוה יברכך
                    ויחנך אליך פניו יהוה יאר
                    שלום וישם אליך פניו יהוה ישא

(Translitaration:)      Yeh-va-reh-cheh-cha Yahveh veh-yeesh-meh-reh-cha
                                        Ya-air Yahveh pa-naiv ay-leych-cha vee-chu-neh-cha
                                        Yee-sa Yahveh pa-nahv ay-leyh-cha veh-ya-same          
                                         leh-cha Shalom

                             Yahweh bless and keep you!
                             Yahweh make His face shine upon you, and be          
                             gracious to you!
                             Yahweh lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace!
                           
                             Amen.

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