Sunday, January 31, 2021

Jesus’ War—and Ours

(Fourth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on January 31, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95:1-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday 2021]


The quickest way to get defeated in a war is to think that you’re not in one, when in fact you are.

I think St. Mark would like that opening line of my homily this morning.  He’d like it because “war” is one of the themes of the gospel he wrote 2,000 years ago (which is the gospel that we will hear on most Sundays from now until the end of the liturgical year in November).

And this war that Mark writes about is no ordinary war over things that don’t last (like earthly power and land and material possessions).  The war that Mark writes about in his gospel is a cosmic war: a cosmic war that affects the eternal destiny of every person who has lived, is living, and will live until the end of time.

This war is, of course, between Jesus and Satan.  And, although it had already been going on since Jesus’ birth (and, in a certain sense even before that), the war definitely intensified at the very beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry.  We see that in today’s gospel story from Mark, chapter 1.  Here we are, only 21 verses into the book, and Jesus already has a major confrontation with the devil and his minions.  Notice the combative language that the demons use when addressing our Lord.  They say to him, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?”

That’s what armies do in war, is it not?  They kill their enemies and they destroy things.

Now the good news is that Jesus has won the war!  Cosmically speaking, the war against Satan was won by our Lord through his passion, death and resurrection.  That’s the victory we celebrate at this and every Mass.

But the war continues against US!  Yes, Jesus has conquered the devil and made eternal life possible for us and for every human person.  However, we’re not there yet!  We haven’t arrived.  For us, the fight—the fight of faith—is not over.

Here it’s important to note the fact that the devil is a very poor loser.

His attitude is, “I couldn’t get Jesus, but I can still get those pathetic human creatures that he loves so much.”  And he will try to do that, you can be sure, each and every day for the rest of our time here on planet earth.

In chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation we read these words: “Then the dragon [i.e. Satan] became angry with the woman [Mary] and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”

That’s us!

This is the war which is going on in your life and mine, whether we are conscious of it or not.  And many, unfortunately, are not.  Which is scary because, as I said at the very beginning of my homily, the quickest way to get defeated in a war is to think that you’re not in one, when in fact you are.

Of course, to win a war decisively, you need to know your enemy and the strategies he’s using to try to defeat you.  Catholic author Jon Horvatt II dealt with that subject in an online article he wrote a couple of years ago. The article was about four of the strategies that Satan uses in the modern world to draw people away from Christ and to himself.

And eventually, of course, into hell.

I’ll share them with you this morning very briefly, because they can help us to understand our enemy, the devil, and how he trying, each and every day, to defeat us.

The first strategy the devil uses against people is to try to convince them that he doesn’t exist.  As Jon Horvatt puts it in his article, “[Satan] has sought by all means to cause mankind to disbelieve in him.  He encourages a culture which spreads the idea that he does not exist or is not a threat.  Once his existence is called into question, it is only a small step to convince mankind that moral evil in any form does not exist.  Hence, disbelief in Satan destroys the need to fight against evil and our vices.”

The second strategy of the devil builds on the first, and it’s to undermine people’s faith in God.  Horvatt writes, “To disbelieve in Satan is to be logically committed to a disbelief in God. By this strategy, the devil deprives us of our greatest and most powerful support in the fight against evil. He deprives us of the means for victory since God will always triumph over the devil.”

Sadly, according to many of the polls that have been taken in recent years, this strategy of the evil one is currently meeting with great success, since more and more people are identifying themselves as “nones” (that’s n-o-n-e-s, not n-u-n-s).  Nones are those who claim no religious affiliation whatsoever.  Some of them may not believe in God at all.  Others in this group might believe in a god of some kind, but it’s more than likely a god that they’ve created in their own image and likeness—which is always a very flawed god (and certainly not the real one!).

Satan’s third strategy to steal souls and bring them to hell is to disguise evil to make it look good.  Unfortunately this is another strategy that seems to be working these days—especially in our country.  Think of all the moral evils that people in our society approve of and promote as “good”: abortion, physician-assisted suicide, so-called gay marriage, gender ideology and all that goes with it—even living together before marriage.  After the summer of 2020 you can add rioting and looting and burning down cities to the list.  All these things were once considered bad and sinful by almost everybody.

But not anymore!

Whose work is that?  Well it’s not God’s, that’s for sure!  He’s not responsible for these changes in morality.

This brings me to the final strategy that Satan uses in his war against us: He tries to get us to change the order of our priorities.

Now that may not seem like a big deal at first glance, but it can be.  For example, in non-pandemic times, why aren’t Catholic churches filled to capacity each and every week?  In non-pandemic times why aren’t there as many people at Mass on a normal Sunday as are there in church on Christmas and Easter?

It’s because of priorities!

Unfortunately, for “Christmas and Easter Catholics” worshipping Jesus and receiving his Body and Blood on a weekly basis is not at the top of their priority list.  It’s probably not on their list of priorities at all.

Once again, that’s not the work of the Lord.

The quickest way to get defeated in a war is to think that you’re not in one, when in fact you are.

Well, now we know!  Now we know that we are, indeed, in a war; we know who our enemy is; and we know some of his tactics and strategies.

But, most importantly, we know the One who can give us a share in the victory he’s already achieved over our enemy, if we remain close to him and constantly seek his help.  As St. John tells us in his first letter, “Greater is he who is in us [Jesus] than he who is in the world [Satan].”

Let me end now with a little quote from C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia.  Lewis wrote, “Christianity is a ‘fighting religion’ – not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.”

May Almighty God help us with his grace—every day—to use these weapons and win the war!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Will It Be ‘Forgiveness and Freedom’ or ‘Unforgiveness and the Torturers’?

(Third Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on January 24, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 25:4-9; 1 Corinthians:29-31; Mark 1:14-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday 2021]


I once heard a story about a Catholic school teacher who wanted to teach her students a lesson about forgiveness.  So she asked them to bring two items to class one day: the first was a large, sturdy plastic bag; the second was a sack of potatoes from the local grocery store.  And for every person they could think of whom they refused to forgive, they were instructed to take one potato out of the sack, write the person’s name on it, and then place it in the plastic bag.

Well, unfortunately some students ended up with plastic bags that contained several potatoes.  I say “unfortunately,” because the teacher then told them that they would have to carry their potatoes around with them for a whole week!  She said, “You have to take them everywhere you go, and keep the bag over your shoulder whenever possible.  You have to take them with you when you go to visit your friends, when you do your chores, when you play, and when you eat.  You even have to put them beside you in bed when you sleep.”

Well, as you might imagine, those young people learned a very important lesson about forgiveness—by first learning a very important lesson about the consequences of unforgiveness!

Carrying around a bag of potatoes all week made those students miserable—which is exactly what unforgiveness does to us when we allow it to enter our hearts and take root there.  In addition to being a sin (and potentially a very serious one!), refusing to forgive other people drags us down mentally and emotionally.  As many of you will recall, Jesus made this point in Matthew 18, when he told a parable about a man who was forgiven a huge debt by his master, but who then refused to forgive the debt of a fellow servant, who owed him a much smaller amount of money.  When the master found out what his unforgiving servant had done, the Bible says he “handed him over to the torturers until he paid back what he owed.”  I once heard a preacher mention this text in a sermon, and he commented on it by saying, “Do you know what ‘the torturers’ are?  The torturers are: depression, anxiety, confusion, anger and the like.  These are the things that literally torture us when we refuse to forgive other people in our lives.”

One man who would certainly agree with this is the prophet—or, more properly, the reluctant prophet—Jonah.  We heard a short excerpt from his story in today’s first reading.  Your assignment for the week, by the way, is to open your Bible sometime during the next 7 days and read the rest of the Book of Jonah.  Read it from beginning to end.

“But, Fr. Ray, I don’t have time to do that.”

Oh yes, you do!  The Book of Jonah is one of the shortest books in the entire Bible!  It’s less than 3 pages long in most versions of Sacred Scripture—and that includes the introduction!

So don’t tell me you don’t have time.

The verses we heard this morning occur in the middle of the book.  Here the Lord commands Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach a message of repentance.  And Jonah goes—which he did NOT do at the beginning of the book when God called him the first time!  In fact, after the initial call he received Jonah got on the very first ship that he could find that was headed in the OPPOSITE DIRECTION, away from Nineveh!

Why, you ask?

Because Jonah hated the Ninevites, that’s why!  Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, which, at the time, was Israel’s arch-enemy.  Jonah knew the Lord was not only just; he knew the Lord was also forgiving and merciful.  And he had a sneaking suspicion that if he went to the Ninevites and told them to repent—and they did—then God would not allow their city to be destroyed.

But Jonah wanted the place destroyed!  He wanted to see the city of Nineveh go up in flames!  He wanted to see it “fry” like Sodom and Gomorrah had many years earlier!

So he ran away (actually, he sailed away—on a ship that was headed west toward Tarshish).

God said, “Not so fast, Jonah!” and he threw the ship into a terrible storm.  Jonah was tossed overboard in the middle of it and swallowed by a gigantic fish (which is sometimes referred to as a whale).

After spending 3 days and 3 nights inside this whale’s belly, God commanded the creature to spew Jonah up onto the shore—which is where today’s first reading picks up the story.

The Lord said, “Ok Jonah, let’s try this one more time.  Go to the people of Nineveh and tell them that unless they repent within 40 days their entire city will be destroyed.”

Now, to his credit, Jonah did learn his lesson.  He learned that it was probably not a good idea to disobey God a second time!  So, as we heard a few moments ago, he went to Nineveh—albeit begrudgingly—and he delivered the message the Lord told him to deliver.

And, almost immediately, the whole place repented—which, of course, was precisely what Jonah did NOT want to happen!

At that point, he allowed the ‘torturers’—the torturers that Jesus talked about in Matthew 18—to enter his heart full force, in particular anger and depression.

He whined; he pouted; he sulked; he told God that he had a “right” to be angry (I’m not sure where that right came from, but Jonah insisted that he had it).

And it got so bad that he eventually prayed for death!  He said, “I can’t deal with this anymore, Lord, so please take my life.”

He had the choice between forgiveness and freedom on the one hand, and unforgiveness and torture on the other; and, sadly, he chose the latter.

In fact, Jonah was more concerned about a dead plant (which died while he was sulking under it one day) than he was about the thousands of people in Nineveh, all of whom would have died had they not repented.

The Lord said (and here I quote): “[Jonah], you are concerned over [this] plant which cost you no labor and which you did not raise; it came up in one night and in one night it perished.  And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left, not to mention the many cattle?”

Now that, my brothers and sisters, is where the story ends.  What I just read to you are the final words of the Book of Jonah.

Which leaves inquiring minds like mine to wonder: What happened?  Did Jonah eventually change?  Did he allow God’s words to soften his heart?  Did he finally forgive the Ninevites and free himself from his anger and depression?

Or did he stubbornly cling to his unforgiveness and allow the torturers to continue to kill him, slowly, from the inside out?

We don’t know.  The Holy Spirit, through the inspired author of this book of Scripture, hasn’t told us—which is not a mistake or a coincidence.

The Book of Jonah ends the way it does, I believe, because God doesn’t want us to focus on Jonah’s situation all those centuries ago; he wants each of us to focus on our situation right now!  He wants us to read this short and very entertaining story, and then reflect on how we’re currently responding to the people who hurt us at work or at school or in some other location—or even within our own families.

You see, whether we realize it or not, the choice Jonah faced all those years ago is the same one we face whenever someone offends us now: forgiveness and freedom or unforgiveness and the torturers.

Let’s pray at this Mass that making the right choice—the choice to forgive—will always be a lot easier for us than it was for poor, old Jonah.


Sunday, January 10, 2021

We’re on a Mission from God


(Baptism of the Lord (B): This homily was given on January 10, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 42:1-7; Psalm 29:1-10; Acts 1:34-38; Mark 1:7-11.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Baptism of the Lord 2021]


“We’re on a mission from God.”

John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd made that line famous many years ago in the movie, “The Blues Brothers.”

“We’re on a mission from God.”

With the proper qualifications, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, could have said something very similar on the day he was baptized: “I’m on a mission from the Heavenly Father, and the mission officially begins now—at this moment!”

The Father himself verified this when he said, from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  His message was, “This is Jesus, my beloved Son; and you must listen to his words and obey his commands, because he’s on a mission—he’s on a mission from me!”

Now if we are called to be like Jesus (and we are!), then common sense should tell us that we are also to have a mission in this life: not the same one that Jesus had, of course—saving the world from sin and eternal death is way beyond our capabilities!—but we are to have a mission nonetheless.     

Do you have a sense of what yours is?  Many people today do not—even if they’re very successful in the eyes of the world.  They achieve certain goals; they do good things; they even help others in wonderful ways—but they lack a real sense of purpose which is rooted in this idea of “mission.”

I think this is a clear indication of how secularized our society has become.  Let’s face it, for many people—even for many Christians—God is not the major player in their decision making process.  When it comes to the important decisions of life: choosing a vocation, or a spouse, or even a job, the question for them isn’t, “Lord, what is your plan for my life?  What do you want me to do?  Please show me.”; the question normally is, “How do I feel about this?  Is this what I feel like doing right now?”

The person who does involve God in the major decisions of his life—in other words, the person who tries his best to discern God’s will in all that he does—is much more likely to have a sense of purpose and mission, as opposed to the person who makes decisions based on his feelings or instincts.

To have a sense of mission in your life, you must first of all be convinced that there’s someone out there who has a plan, and who’s actually sending you forth!  That’s why God, and not our feelings, must be our reference point for everything.  In fact, if you remember nothing else from this homily, please remember that: God must be our reference point for everything!  He already knows our mission in life, and he’s the only one who can reveal that mission to us over time.  Our emotions can’t do it; in fact, our emotions will normally lead us astray. 

As St. John Henry Newman put it concerning his own life:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me, which He has not committed to another. . . .I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it—if I do but keep His commandments.

Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirit sink, hide my future from me – still He knows what He is about.

Notice the connection Newman makes there between fulfilling our mission and keeping the commandments.  One follows the other.  Consequently, if you’re lacking a sense of mission in your life at the present time, perhaps the first thing you need to do is make a good examination of conscience and a good confession.

Notice, too, the implicit warning he gives against living our lives according to our feelings.  Newman indicates here that fulfilling our mission might not always make us “feel good;” sometimes it may actually involve unpleasant things like sickness and sorrow.  So, obviously, if we make the mistake of living by our emotions, we may miss our mission entirely.

You parents, for example, already know this by your own experience.  Part of your mission in this life is to provide for the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of your children.  But that’s not always a lot of fun, is it?  That’s not always enjoyable on an emotional level.  In fact I dare say that if you equated your mission in life as parents with what made you feel good, most of you would have run away from home a long time ago!  Faithfulness to the mission God gave you has required sacrifice and even, at times, sorrow.  But, as St. John Henry Newman would tell you, that sorrow has actually served God, and enabled you to fulfill a crucial part of your mission here on earth.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (now St. Teresa of Calcutta) also understood this from her own experience.  After Mother Teresa died in 1997, the Church began an extensive investigation into her life—which is a normal part of the canonization process.  And during this investigation they learned some things about Mother Teresa that were not known before (at least by the general public).  First of all, it seems that she had a very deep, powerful spiritual experience on September 10, 1946, which led her to found the Missionaries of Charity. God made it clear to her that this was his will.  And then—during the rest of 1946 thru 1947—she experienced a real mystical union with Christ in her prayer life.  This is something incredible that most people never experience on this side of the grave.  But then, when her difficult work in the order began, that sense of union with Christ left her, although she deeply longed for it—as I’m sure we all would.  (They know all this, by the way, from letters she wrote to her spiritual directors.)

One of the priest investigators was asked, “How long did this period of darkness last [for Mother Teresa]?”  He replied, “Till the end.  Fifty years.”

So here was a woman who was blessed to know her mission in life because it was revealed to her directly by God in a powerful, spiritual experience; but who had to fulfill that mission without any deep, spiritual consolations for 50 years.  As the priest investigator put it, she had to minister to the sick and dying for all that time out of “pure faith and pure love.”

Can you imagine if she had made the mistake of living her life by her feelings after 1947?

She obviously never would have fulfilled her mission; in fact, she probably would have given up after only a couple of days!

The Blues Brothers were right: we are all on a mission from God.  The challenge for each of us—and for every human person—is first to discover our particular mission, and then to complete it with the faithfulness of a Mother Teresa.

If we do, then we will someday be where she now is.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

The Spiritual Benefits of Eternal Light Therapy


(Epiphany 2021: This homily was given on January 3, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-13; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Epiphany 2021]


Seasonal Affective Disorder (commonly known as “SAD”) is a medical condition similar to depression, except that it manifests itself only during the winter months.  In colloquial terms you might call it “the wintertime blues.”

SAD, unfortunately, has existed for a long time, but it was first identified as a medical condition back in the 1980s, by people like Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University.

Dr. Rosenthal was recently interviewed by the New York Times on this subject along with other mental health professionals, and they said that they expect the problem to be worse this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.  As Kelly Rohan, a professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont, put it: “I think we’re in for a particularly difficult winter for people with SAD, who seem to be especially susceptible to stressful life events.”

And, as we are all well aware, the pandemic has been an extremely “stressful life event” for a lot of people!

So, is there hope?  Is there any hope for people who may be suffering from this emotional disorder at the present time?  The good news is, yes, there is—there’s a lot of hope.  As Rosenthal and his colleagues have discovered, there is something which is highly effective in battling SAD.  It’s called “light therapy.” 

Listen now to 3 paragraphs from an article on SAD that I came across a number of years ago online.  There are some very important insights here:


The exact mechanism by which light affects mood is unknown.  Dr. Rosenthal believes that when light stimuli are carried to the brain, they may stimulate or suppress the levels of certain brain chemicals.  But regardless of how it works, he says the key to treating SAD is getting more light.

“First and foremost, bring more light into your life,” he says, “This can be done naturally by getting outdoors on a bright winter day or by bringing in more lamps.  The light can be just general ways of lighting up the room, but there are some specific light boxes or light fixtures that have been specifically produced to deliver the amount of light that has been used in research studies that have been shown to be effective.”

Typical light therapy involves sitting in front of a lamp for an hour or so every day.  Dr. Rosenthal says most patients will see the benefits from this therapy within a week.  The benefits will remain as long as they use the light; but as soon as they stop, the old symptoms of sluggishness and depression can return relatively quickly.


If Bishop Fulton Sheen were still alive, I think he would read those paragraphs and say, “I’m not at all surprised, because so often there’s a direct parallel in this life between the spiritual and the physical.”

Fr. Ray, please explain.

Okay, I will.

This is the feast of the Epiphany, when we recall how the light of a star guided the Magi to the true Light of the world, Jesus Christ.  Two lights—one physical, the other spiritual—both of which dispelled sadness and brought great joy.  St. Matthew tells us in today’s Gospel that after they left Herod, the Magi “were overjoyed at seeing the star.”  And that joy must have intensified a hundred-fold when they finally arrived at their destination, and presented their gifts to the newborn King of the Jews.

Jesus Christ is the eternal Light worshipped by the Magi; he is “Light from Light,” as we say in the Creed every Sunday.  And this divine Light is still with us in many ways, but most especially in the Holy Eucharist. 

I wonder: Could it be that many Catholics today are depressed, confused, and in spiritual turmoil because they aren’t getting enough “light therapy”—enough Eternal Light therapy—courtesy of Jesus Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament?

I think a very good case can be made for that.

Remember what it said in that article?—“The key to treating SAD is getting more light into your life.”

I believe that’s what more Catholics need to do, spiritually speaking!  How?  Number 1, by receiving the Eucharist worthily, reverently, and prayerfully (this is why it’s so important to eventually get back to Mass); and number 2, by spending more time in the presence of the Eternal Light, who is reserved in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church, and exposed for adoration here on Tuesdays and First Fridays, as well as in the adoration chapel at Immaculate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

In the physical order (as Dr. Rosenthal and his colleagues have discovered) light therapy dispels sadness.  The same is true in the spiritual order, as Bishop Fulton Sheen would happily remind us.  As many of you know, Bishop Sheen made a Holy Hour in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament every day of his priestly life.  Every single day!  He always said that this was the secret of his powerful preaching and effective ministry in the Church.  It was his “hour of power,” so to speak.  That’s why I’m convinced that he would smile and nod his head in agreement if he were still with us and had the opportunity to learn about SAD.  He knew the importance of spiritual Light therapy in his own life, so he would not have been surprised about the benefits of physical light therapy.

In this regard, did you notice how Dr. Rosenthal said that “light boxes” have become useful in battling this disorder?  I think Bishop Sheen would say, “We Catholics have our ‘light boxes’ too: they’re called tabernacles.  If we pray in front of them with faith in our hearts, then the eternal Light which is inside will gradually heal us of our spiritual ills—and perhaps even some of our physical ones.”

And he would no doubt use the final point in the article I quoted from earlier to encourage us to do this as often as possible.  Listen again to these words: 

Typical light therapy involves sitting in front of a lamp for an hour or so every day.  Dr. Rosenthal says most patients will see the benefits from this therapy within a week.  The benefits will remain as long as they use the light; but as soon as they stop, the old symptoms of sluggishness and depression can return relatively quickly.

Sheen would say, “That’s why I make a Holy Hour every single day!”

The Lord’s message to us today, then, is very simple, my brothers and sisters.  He says, “Get yourself some Eternal Light therapy, and get it often.  Pray in the presence of the true Light of the world, Jesus Christ, who is present to you Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.  Do that every day, if possible.  It will help you deal with all that makes you sad and bad and mad—and it will help you to do this not only during the winter months, but throughout the year.”


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.