Friday, January 01, 2021

Mary: She Pondered the Past to Prepare for the Future

(Mary, the Mother of God 2021: This homily was given on January 1, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67:2-8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Mary, the Mother of God 2021]

She pondered the past to prepare for the future.

I’m talking, of course, about Mary, our Blessed Mother.

She pondered the past in order to prepare herself for what was to come in her life.

We know this from today’s gospel reading, in which we read the following line: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  We also know it from Luke 2:51 which says pretty much the same thing.  There the evangelist writes, “[Jesus] went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.”

And what exactly were “these things?”

Well, very simply, they were the events surrounding Jesus’ birth and youth.  That’s obvious since the first reference to Mary “keeping these things in her heart” occurs during St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, while the second one occurs after he tells the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple when our Lord was twelve-years-old.

At the time, Mary didn’t know exactly what the future held for her and for her family.  Much of that was hidden from her eyes—as our future is hidden from our eyes.  Yes, Mary knew that her Son, Jesus, was unique—the only man ever to be conceived directly through the power of the Holy Spirit.  She knew that her Son Jesus had a special relationship with God, and that he was the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies which are found in what we now call the Old Testament.  She also knew that Jesus would somehow “save his people from their sins” (as the angel had told Joseph before our Lord was born).  And she knew that he would establish some kind of kingdom that would never end.

But beyond that Mary didn’t know too many other things regarding God’s plan to reconcile the world to himself through his divine Son.  She certainly didn’t know all of the details of the story that we know—although she was aware of the fact that, in some way, she—and her Son—would suffer greatly.  She became aware of that disturbing detail courtesy of the holy man Simeon, who said to her at the Presentation, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too, so that the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare.”

But our Blessed Mother faced all those future events with faith and strength when they actually occurred—because she had prepared for them well by “pondering” the past.  In other words, she got ready to face the future events of her life by reflecting on—by meditating on—by praying about—the things God had already done for her and for her family.

And even for her nation.

We see evidence of this in her Magnificat: that prayer of praise that Mary said when she visited her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, at the Visitation.

Notice how the lines of that prayer that I’m about to read to you point to past events either in Mary’s own personal life or in the life of the nation of Israel—past events that Mary had obviously pondered and reflected on in her heart.  Mary said in her Magnificat, “God has looked with favor on his lowly servant; the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name; he has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and rich he has sent away empty.  He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”

As I said a few moments ago, just as Mary’s future was hidden from her eyes, so our future is hidden from our eyes.  None of us knows what tomorrow—or even the rest of today—will bring.  This, I would say, is something that the coronavirus pandemic has made clear to a lot of people.  And, as we all know, this uncertainty about the future can easily cause us to become fearful or anxious or depressed (or all of the above!)—unless we learn from our Blessed Mother, and follow her example of pondering the past.

In this case, our past!

This is something we should do frequently when we pray—and especially when we pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  We should spend some time reflecting on the ways—the many ways—that God has been there for us in the past; on the ways he has helped us and provided for us in the past; on the ways he has gotten us through every difficulty and trial that we’ve faced in the past.

And he has!  In one sense, at least, Almighty God has helped each and every one of us to deal successfully with everything we’ve had to face in our lives thus far—including COVID-19.  We know that because we’re still here!  We know that because we’re still alive!  The very fact that we’re still breathing and have a pulse after all that we’ve been through is a living testimony to the faithfulness of God!  His words to St. Paul are true for everyone: “My grace is sufficient for you, for in your weakness my power reaches its perfection.”

This means that we can—and that we should—have confidence and trust in God as we look to our uncertain future, as Mary had confidence and trust in God in the face of her uncertain future.

Her pondering prepared her well—and helped her to stay faithful to God and on the road to heaven.

May our pondering help all of us to do the very same thing.