Sunday, January 30, 2022

Who Defines ‘Love’ for You? Is it St. Paul, or is it Hugh Hefner?


Holly Madison and Hugh Hefner

(Fourth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on January 30, 2022 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Jeremiah 1:4-19; Psalm 71:1-17; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30.) 

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday 2022 ]

Who defines “love” for you?  Is it St. Paul, or is it Hugh Hefner?  (That’s a serious question, by the way!)

St. Paul shares his understanding of love in the text we heard today from 1 Corinthians 13.  It’s a passage of Scripture that you often hear at weddings. And that’s understandable, because it’s a beautiful text with a beautiful message.  But it’s also a tough message—an extremely tough message!  It’s not easy to love others in the way Paul describes here.  Listen again to his words:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Obviously for St. Paul, love was not first and foremost an emotion.  For Paul real love was a decision!  It was a decision to desire what’s good for another person.  It was a decision to sacrifice your own wants and to treat someone else as God would have you treat them.  In fact, you could insert the word “decision” into the text and the meaning of it would not change:

Love is [a decision to be] patient, [a decision to be] kind.
[a decision not to be] jealous, or pompous,
[or] inflated, [or] rude, [or to seek your] own interests,
[or to be] quick-tempered, [or to brood] over injury,
[or to] rejoice over wrongdoing.
[Love is a decision to rejoice] with the truth.
[It’s a decision to bear all things, believe all things,
hope all things, [and] endure all things.

This is love according to St. Paul, and believe it or not it’s the only kind of love that works in this life.  In other words, it’s the only kind of love that truly sustains relationships.  That’s why St. Paul says in the next line of the text that this kind of love “never fails.” 

And this is one of the most important reasons why we need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  You see, what St. Paul is describing here is really the love of Jesus.  This is the kind of love that he showed to others when he walked the face of this earth 2,000 years ago.  This is the kind of love which led him to sacrifice his life for us on the cross.  Jesus is the ultimate source of this love—real love.  Consequently, if we want this kind of love to be present in our lives we need to go to the source to get it.  Then we will be ready and able to show it to other people.

Contrast this, now, with Hugh Hefner’s version of love—which is basically selfish, manipulative, objectifying and hedonistic.  This thought about Hefner (who died in 2017) came to me last Monday night.  I was at my sister’s house on my night off trying to find something to watch on TV, since for the first time in about 5 months, there was no football game on Monday (either college or pro).

Well during the course of my “channel surfing” I came across a program on the Arts and Entertainment Network on Hugh Hefner and his Playboy empire.  I later found out this was one show in a series. As it said in a CNN article that I read: “The Playboy mystique and Hugh Hefner's legacy receive a serious debunking in ‘Secrets of Playboy,’ a 10-part A&E network docuseries that explores the dark side of the lifestyle Hefner sought to embody.”

Now please don’t worry, there was nothing graphic in the program.  It was TV-14, not TV-MA!  (I just wanted to clarify that before I went any further!)

This information about Hefner is important, my brothers and sisters, because like it or not this man continues to be a role model (even posthumously) for many people in our world today when it comes to relationships—especially relationships with members of the opposite sex.  He’s their guru of love!  Now from the way the secular media has always portrayed him, Hefner was kind and caring and “just a nice guy who was having a good time for himself in life.”  And all his many “girlfriends” (as he called them) loved him and were very happy living in his mansion.

Not so, many of his former girlfriends now say.  They describe a man whose love was, as I said a few moments ago, selfish, manipulative, and hedonistic—and who basically treated women as disposable objects.

He created an illusion of happiness and peace and love—but in reality it was just the opposite. 

Listen to a few of the things Holly Madison and another ex-girlfriend named Sondra Theodore said when they were interviewed on the program.  I wrote down a dozen or so of their statements …

“The fantasy of Playboy that he created did not allow for the consent of the women.”

“Hef controlled every aspect of our lives.” 

“Looking back at my time at Playboy, it reminds me of a cult.”

“With Hef, I don’t really know what’s true and what’s not….”

“I want to be the voice of the women who suffered the most at his hands.” 

“You had no idea you were being brainwashed.” 

“He would pit us [girlfriends] against each other.”

“It was all a lie. I watched girl after girl after girl show up fresh-faced, adorable, and then their beauty just washed away. … I saw clearly that we were nothing to him.”

“He was like a vampire.  He sucked the life out of all these young girls for decades. I know some really deep, dark secrets.  And now we’re speaking out. It’s all gonna come out.”

“People think I should have known exactly what I was getting into, that you're stepping into a cult there, but I absolutely did not. In my early twenties I didn't realize that getting into the Playboy world was a dangerous choice.”

“I felt that I was … in this cycle of gross things and I didn’t know what to do.”

“I believe that Hef pulled one over on the whole world.”

And sadly, from the grave he’s still pulling one over on a lot of people who are still trying to build their lives and relationships on his sordid and self-centered philosophy of love.

So who does define “love” for you—really?  Is it St. Paul, or is it Hugh Hefner?

The answer for each and every one of us should be easy; it should be very easy. 

And, hopefully, it is.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

St. Paul, Clarence, and ‘The Holes’

(Third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on Sunday, January 23, 2022 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Nehemiah 8:1-12; Psalm 19:8-15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday 2022]


In today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul says, “God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended;” or, as the verse is translated in another version of the Bible: “God has set each member of the body in the place he wanted it to be.”  (1 Corinthians 12: 18)

That line makes me think of a great scene from the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”—which is my favorite Christmas movie.

Clarence, the guardian angel of the main character, George Bailey, was trying to dissuade George from killing himself by showing George what the world would have been like if he had never been born.  But it wasn’t an easy task for Clarence!  For a long time, George convinced himself that the changes he was seeing in his friends, family and surroundings were just the work of his very creative imagination—or the result of some magic trick performed by Clarence.

What finally made it clear to George that what he was seeing around him was real, was when he tried to visit his mother (who, of course, didn’t recognize him and called him crazy), and when he went to the place where “Bailey Park” used to be.  (Bailey Park was the housing development that George had helped to finance through his Building and Loan Company.) 

In place of the beautiful homes that used to be there, all George saw in front of him were gravestones.  Clarence said to him, “Are you sure this is Bailey Park?”  George responded, “Well, this should be Bailey Park.  But where are all the houses?”  Clarence answered, “You weren’t here to build them.”

Then George looked to one side, and he spotted a gravestone that had the name of his brother, Harry Bailey, chiseled into it.  George had saved Harry from drowning when they were children.  Harry had gone on to become a war hero during the Second World War.  But the dates on his gravestone read 1911-1919.

As George knelt on the ground looking at the stone in disbelief, Clarence said to him, “Your brother, Harry Bailey, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine.”

George immediately jumped up and screamed, “That’s a lie!  Harry Bailey went to war!  He got the Congressional Medal of Honor!  He saved every man on that transport!”

Clarence shot back, “Every man on that transport died!  Harry wasn’t there to save them because you weren’t there to save Harry!”

It was the perfect illustration of what Clarence had said to George a little earlier in the film: “Strange, isn’t it?  Each man’s life touches so many other lives.  When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” 

St. Paul would most definitely agree, based on that line from 1 Corinthians 12 that I quoted to you just a few moments ago: “God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.”

According to the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12, we, together, make up the body of Christ, which is the Church.  This means that, individually, we are like the various parts of a physical body: we each have different roles, different gifts, different functions in God’s plan for the salvation of the world.  And yet, just as all the different parts of a physical body are supposed to interact with one another and work together for the good of the body as a whole, so too we in the Church (and in the world) are supposed to interact with one another and work together for the good of all.

That’s the will of our good and loving God.

So obviously what we do (and what we don’t do) in this life affects not only ourselves; to some extent what we do and what we don’t do affects everyone else, because our lives are so closely intertwined with the lives of others.  St. Paul makes that point here by saying that, if one part of the body suffers, all the other parts of the body suffer with it.

We all know this by experience, I’m sure.  If you have a toothache or an earache, for example, it’s not just your tooth or ear that suffers.

That one hurting part of your body affects your entire physical organism in a negative way.  And it ends up making you miserable—from head to toe!

It’s a terrible thing when one part of your body hurts and everything else seems to hurt with it. 

But do you know what’s even worse, my brothers and sisters?  What’s even worse is when you’re missing a part of your body!  What’s even worse is when all the parts of your body that should be there aren’t! 

Just ask anyone who’s had a part of their body amputated, or who was born without one or more of their limbs.

This was the lesson George Bailey learned from Clarence, when he got to see what the world would have been like if he had never been born.  He came to understand that he was a missing part of “the body”—and that his whole town was suffering because of his absence.

And so it is in the real world, when God wants people around, and they aren’t!

As Clarence said so prophetically, when a person isn’t around who is supposed to be around, “he leaves an awful hole.”

I ask you this morning, how many “holes” have been left in our world because of the shootings at grade schools in recent years, and because of the many other murders and acts of violence that take place in our country every day?

How many “holes” have been left in our nation because of abortion, since that horrific practice was legalized 49 years ago this very month?

Last I knew, about 63 million!

If God has a plan for each and every human person (and he does!)—a plan which involves their interaction with other people in the body of Christ and in the world—then what happens when someone who’s an important part of that plan isn’t there?

If you have a young son or daughter, for example, and it was part of God’s plan for that son or daughter to marry one of the children killed in a grade school shooting somewhere, how will your child’s life be affected in the future?  Or what if the person whom God wanted your son or daughter to marry was aborted and never made it out of the womb?

Or what if, in the plan of God, one of those murdered children was destined to become a great scientist—maybe the scientist who would unlock the secret to Parkinson’s Disease and discover a cure?

The “hole” that person leaves will certainly have a negative impact on my life!  I can guarantee that.

I remember seeing a cartoon several years ago that made the point in an extremely powerful way.  In this cartoon, a man looks up to heaven and cries out, “God, why haven’t you sent us people with cures for cancer and Aids, and answers to world hunger and all our social problems?”  A voice comes from heaven: “I did.”  The man says, “But, where are they?”  The Lord responds, “You aborted them!”

Among the almost 63 million who have been killed in the womb in the last 5 decades, don’t you think there were at least a few great scientific minds?  And perhaps a few economists, who would have had the insights that we need to turn our sick economy around?  And some doctors and nurses to alleviate the current shortage in our health care system?  And maybe even a few good priests and religious who could have saved some souls who otherwise will die in the state of mortal sin?

Clarence, the angel, was right: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.  When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole.”

May God help us all to take this truth seriously, and then to make every effort—by our words, by our deeds, and yes, even by our votes—to prevent any more “holes” from afflicting our world.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Are You Born Again?


(Baptism of the Lord (C): This homily was given on January 9, 2022 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 42:1-7; Psalm 29:1-10; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22; John 3.) 

 [For the audio version of this homily, click here: Baptism of the Lord 2022]


“Are you born again?”

Catholics are often asked that question by Protestant friends and acquaintances, and many of them are not sure how to respond.

Well, if you’re one of those unsure Catholics, today’s homily will hopefully provide you with the insights you need to answer properly in the future.

First of all, it’s important to note that Protestants who ask that question—“Are you born again?”—believe that a person is born again when they consciously embrace faith in Jesus Christ, according to what St. Paul tells us in Romans 10:9-10.  There St. Paul writes, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  Faith in the heart leads to justification, confession on the lips to salvation.”

This is why preachers like the late Billy Graham have always ended their sermons with an “altar call,” in which they invite people to come forward and “accept Jesus Christ” by praying what’s known as “the sinner’s prayer.”  In that prayer, people confess that they’re sinners who are in need of forgiveness; but they also confess that they believe Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of their sins.  They then ask Jesus to forgive them, to come into their hearts, and to be the Lord of their lives.

They confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord; they profess their belief that God raised him from the dead—in other words they fulfill the two conditions that St. Paul mentions in Romans 10:9—and so, at that precise moment, they believe they are “born again” or “saved.”

Our understanding as Catholics is quite different—although I will say that publicly professing your faith that Jesus is Lord and that God the Father raised him from the dead is a very good thing!  We do that, after all, every Sunday and holy day when we profess the Nicene Creed.  Our young people are invited to do it Protestant-style at almost every Steubenville Youth Conference.  And I think it’s great when it happens—not because I believe the teens are getting “born again” when they do it—but simply because I think it strengthens their faith when they’re able to proclaim it in that fashion.

The expression “born again” or “born from above” (“gennatha anothen” in the original Greek), comes from John, chapter 3.  There Jesus is having a conversation with a devout Pharisee named Nicodemus, and during the course of their discussion Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”  [Other translations have “born from above”.]

Obviously this is an extremely important teaching to understand, because nothing less than our eternal salvation is at stake!  Note the words of Jesus here.  He says, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”


This is an absolute requirement for getting into heaven!  It’s not an option.

Now you know why our Protestant brothers and sisters are so consumed with the idea!  And that’s good; they should be.  We all should be.

The problem is, they don’t read the rest of the passage in John 3; consequently, they ignore the very important line in which Jesus indicates exactly how a person is born again!  Nicodemus says to Jesus, “How can a person once grown old be born again: surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”  To which our Lord responds, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

To be “born again” or “born from above”—according to Jesus Christ—means to be “born of water and Spirit.”

And that, my brothers and sisters, is baptism!

In the waters of Baptism, we are born again!  That is to say, we are “regenerated” spiritually—given new life in Jesus Christ.  This is exactly what St. Paul is talking about in our second reading when he says to Titus that God in his mercy has saved us “through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

Baptismal grace is sanctifying grace.  This is the grace that makes us pleasing to God; the grace that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead to give us; the grace that we need in our souls in order to get into heaven. 

Sanctifying grace: don’t leave earth at the end of your life without it!

This, incidentally, is what it means to have original sin taken away.  Original sin is not like the personal sins we commit on a daily basis.  When we say that a person is born with original sin, what we mean is that the person is born into this world without sanctifying grace.

However, at the moment of Baptism, that saving grace comes into the person’s soul.  Original sin is taken away, as are all of their personal sins (if they’re being baptized after they’ve attained the age of reason).

In Baptism we also receive the Holy Spirit for the first time (as Paul indicates in that text from Titus 3); through Baptism we become members of God’s family, the Church; through Baptism we have access to the other sacraments; and, through Baptism, we become God’s adopted sons and daughters and heirs to the kingdom of heaven.

Does that mean we are guaranteed eternal life?

No.  We can lose sanctifying grace by committing a mortal sin.  But, thankfully, God has provided the means for us to get this necessary grace back again after Baptism—through sacramental confession.

Jesus, obviously, did not need Christian Baptism.  But he submitted to the baptism of John (which prefigured Christian Baptism) as an act of humility, and, as he said, to “fulfill all righteousness.”  In other words, he identified himself with sinners (even though he had no sin himself), in order to set us an example on how to get free from our sins through sacramental Baptism.

So now you know what to say the next time a Protestant friend asks you the question, “Are you born again?”  You should immediately respond, “Of course!  Of course I’m born again!  I’ve been born again of water and the Spirit through sacramental Baptism, according to the words of Jesus in John, chapter 3.”

But let me warn you, your Protestant friend might then ask you a follow-up question.  He might say to you, “Great!  But are you living your life like a born again person?”

I can’t tell you how to answer that one.  I hope that in all honesty you could say Yes!  But if you couldn’t honestly do that, I hope that you would say, “No, I haven’t been living like someone who’s born again—like someone who’s been given new life in Jesus Christ—but I will do my best to live that way from now on!”    


Sunday, January 02, 2022

Lessons from the Magi


(Epiphany 2022: This homily was given on January 2, 2022 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-18; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Epiphany 2022]


The title of my homily this morning is “Lessons from the Magi.”  As I was praying about what I should preach about this weekend, several ideas—several lessons—came to mind, each of which could have been developed into a full homily.  But instead of going that route, I decided that I would mention each of them very briefly, in the hope that one or two or more of them will contain a personal message for you—a message the Holy Spirit knows you need to hear today.

So here they are . . .

Lesson 1 courtesy of the Magi: Do not fall for the post-Enlightenment lie which says that religion and science are enemies.  The Magi were people of science and religion—and we should be as well.  God, after all, is the author of every truth, whether it be in the realm of science or in the realm of faith.  If we perceive a contradiction between a truth of religion and a truth of science, then the problem is with us, not God.  We’ve misunderstood something.  As I said in a letter I once wrote to a scientist: “Religion needs science to explain the mechanics of the universe, but science needs religion to explain the meaning of the universe.”

Lesson 2 from the Magi: Life is a rough journey at times, but with perseverance you can reach your ultimate destination.  The Magi in all likelihood were from ancient Persia (which is modern-day Iran); thus their journey to Bethlehem was somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 miles, and probably took several months.  Can you imagine how much perseverance you need to ride on the back of a camel for that long?!!

Lesson 3 from the Magi: Always give the best that you have to Jesus Christ.  Always!  The Magi gave 3 precious gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh—the best they had, to the newborn King in Bethlehem.  We are to give the Lord our best by giving him our best effort in every situation of life: first of all, in our vocation—as a husband and father, as a wife and mother, as a priest, as a religious--whatever it might be.  We’re to give the Lord our best by giving our best effort at work, and at school, and by serving others selflessly in our families, in our church, in our community.

Lesson 4: Never allow evil people to keep you from Jesus Christ.  The Magi did not allow King Herod (as evil as he was) to keep them from Jesus, but unfortunately many men and women today do allow people who are evil (or maybe I should say, people that they think are evil) to keep them from the Lord.  How often, for example, have you heard somebody say, “I don’t go to church, because those people who go to church every week are a bunch of hypocrites!”  (Isn’t it nice to be talked about in such a loving way?)

On a personal note, I don’t care if everyone else in church is an ax murderer—I’m not going to let them keep me from my Savior!  I’m not going to allow them to deprive me of the forgiveness and the help and the comfort that Jesus Christ—and only Jesus Christ—can give me!

Lesson 5: Follow the right light!  If the Magi had followed another star—any other star in the heavens—they would not have met Jesus in Bethlehem.  They would have ended up somewhere else.  If we want to meet Jesus in heaven someday we need to be guided by the principles of our Catholic faith, not the latest pop culture philosophy.  The old opening prayer of Mass on the feast of the Epiphany said it perfectly: “Father, you revealed your Son to the nations by the guidance of a star.  Lead us to your glory in heaven by the light of faith”—the light of our Catholic faith!

Lesson 6: Be open to God’s direction and to God’s re-direction!  Sometimes God wants to re-direct us in our lives.  Most of us priests, for example, were not always planning to be priests—but somehow we got “re-directed” (through circumstances or through people or in some other way).  The Magi were also open to this grace of “re-direction.”  As we heard at the end of today’s gospel, God used a dream to warn them not to go back to King Herod, and so they “departed for their country by another way.”

Lesson 7: Jesus Christ will accept anyone—but they must bend their knee to him.  Remember, the Magi were not Jews; they were Gentiles, like most of us.  They were, in fact, the very first Gentiles to worship Jesus!  Matthew, who wrote for Jewish converts to Christianity, included this story in his gospel to make it clear to his readers that Jesus came to save the whole world, not just the Jews.

Remember this if you think that you’ve done something for which you can’t be forgiven.  Jesus will accept anyone, as long as they, like the Magi, bend their knee to him—especially through repentance and confession!

And finally, lesson 8: Make sure you don’t try to be a “Lone Ranger Christian.”  Make sure, in other words, that you surround yourself with other believers who will support you on your journey to Jesus in heaven.  We all need people in this life who will encourage us to do the right thing and to be faithful to God.  If we don’t have that kind of support system in place, it’s extremely easy to get off the narrow road that leads to eternal life.  Well, the Magi were in a similar situation.  We don’t know how many of them there were, but we know there were at least 2, since the word in Scripture is plural.  So think about it: a 1,200 mile journey from Persia, over rough, dangerous roads.  If there had been only 1, what are the odds that he would have been able to make that journey successfully all by himself? 

I’m sure there were many discouraging moments in that long, hard trip—moments when these men needed to encourage and motivate and even push one another.

We need that same type of support in our lives, if we’re going to make it to heaven.

There really is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger Christian.”

So there you have it: Lessons from the Magi.  Which lesson (or lessons) hit home with you?  Hopefully at least 1 did!  It’s probably different for everybody here, but one thing we do have in common: the need to act on what we’ve heard.  It does us no good whatsoever to hear a word—a message—from the Sacred Scriptures, unless we also make every effort to live it.  As Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”

May each of us be so blessed—as the Magi were 2,000 years ago.


Saturday, January 01, 2022

Why We Begin Every Year with Mary

(Mary, the Mother of God 2022: This homily was given on January 1, 2022 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 2022]

We begin this year—we begin EVERY year—with Mary, our Blessed Mother.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  I think the Holy Spirit, working through the Church, has us honor our Lady every January 1 for a reason.  I think the Holy Spirit has us honor our Lady every New Year’s Day because Mary reminds us of certain truths—certain ideas—that should guide us throughout the year.

For example, Mary reminds us that our intention each and every day of each and every year should be to do the perfect and holy will of God.  “Be it done unto me according to your word” was not only Mary’s response to the Lord at the Annunciation; it was her response to the Lord at every single moment of her earthly life!  That’s why we honor her above all the other saints.

If we’re going to do God’s will faithfully in our lives, then we, like Mary, need to be seeking holiness more than anything else.  That’s something else our Lady reminds us of.  Of course, since none of us is perfect in this regard, we need to make a habit of going to confession on a regular basis.  We can’t grow in holiness if we’re not seeking forgiveness for our sins regularly—at least every couple of months or so.

Mary also reminds us of the importance of prayer—and of reflecting on our lives when we pray.  In today’s gospel, St. Luke tells us that our Blessed Mother “kept all these things and reflected on them in her heart.”  These “things” were the events surrounding our Lord’s birth.  Mary prayed about these events, asking the Father to help her understand his salvific plan and how she fit into it.

Mary also reminds us that suffering is a part of life—even if you’re the greatest of saints; even if you’re the holiest human person who ever lived on planet earth.  Mary, as we all know, was perfect—she was without sin—and yet, a “sword” of suffering pierced her soul during the passion and death of her Son, just as Simeon had predicted it would.  Her moral perfection did not mean she was exempt from trial.

So obviously we should not expect to have a pain-free life in 2022 or in any other year!  Mary certainly didn’t expect that for herself.  But we SHOULD expect God’s grace to help us deal with our pain and suffering, as his grace helped Mary deal with hers.  No doubt Mary sought that grace as she prayerfully reflected on the events of her life—especially the events surrounding our Lord’s birth and death. 

In her popular song, “Breath of Heaven,” Amy Grant puts some beautiful words on the lips of our Blessed Mother that make this point.  The words are the words of a prayer for strength and help: a prayer from Mary to the Holy Spirit:

Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
light in my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy

These are just a few of the reasons why it is good—and why it is fitting—for us to begin every year with Mary.  She teaches us, by her words and example, how to approach the next 365 days.  She teaches us to make every effort to do the will of God.  She teaches us to seek holiness and to go to confession regularly.  She teaches us to pray daily, to reflect on the events of our lives, and to seek the Lord’s help confidently in the midst of our sufferings and trials.  Of course, ultimately the Church has us begin each year with Mary so that someday we will END with Mary—so that someday we will end our lives with her, in that Kingdom that Jesus Christ her Son died and rose from the dead to give to her and to give to all of us.