Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Do less and accomplish more


Homily: The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God – Cycle C
          Well, here we are!  It’s a new year and once again everything seems possible.  Now I suppose that perhaps more than a few of us have spent the last few weeks lamenting all that wasn’t accomplished in the past year: those resolutions we so fervently resolved which, for a multitude of legitimate reasons, perhaps never quite materialized as we had imagined they would.  Nevertheless, today everything is new and full of possibilities.  And it’s likely that many of us have made new resolutions, which, I suppose, means that we are confident that this year we will actually keep them.
          You know, I like that about us.  I like the fact that even when we don’t always accomplish what we’ve set out to do, that we don’t let that keep us from starting again.  In other words, we don’t despair that there is something more to accomplish, in spite of the fact that we’ve fallen short.  I think this is a very Catholic attitude, by the way.  As Catholics, we routinely acknowledge when we’ve failed to live up to our expectations—in other words, when we’ve “missed the mark”—and, once we do, we decide to start anew, with a clean slate, and strive once again to achieve those good goals we set for ourselves.  Sounds a little bit like the Sacrament of Reconciliation, doesn’t it?  Putting all of that aside, however, and turning back to our resolutions for this new year, I’d like to consider for a moment what it is that Mary has to teach us about making resolutions.
          Throughout these last eight days, the Gospel readings have often reminded us of how, in various situations, Mary encountered things that were distressing, confusing, and astounding; and that, after each of them, how she “held those things in her heart, reflecting on them.”  First was the message from the shepherds of what they had seen and heard from the angels.  Then was the words of Simeon in the Temple, in which he prophesied that a “sword would pierce her heart.”  Finally, there was the losing and finding of the child Jesus in the Temple, in which Jesus’ words confounded her.  After each of these situations, we are told that Mary “held these things in her heart and reflected on them.”  In other words, that she practiced silence.
          I would venture to guess that most all of our resolutions involve something active, that is, something we’d like to accomplish: I’m going to exercise more, take that trip I’ve always wanted to take, learn how to golf, or play an instrument, or how to cook.  And these are all good things, of course.  However, they are all things bound to create “mental noise”: a nagging voice in the back of our minds constantly reminding us that we have yet to accomplish the goal that we set out for ourselves.  But what if one of our resolutions this year was to reflect on more things in our hearts?  In other words, what if we resolved to “practice silence” this year?
          In his final homily of 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI offered advice for how we can overcome the inevitable disappointments—both with ourselves and with the world—that we encounter in our daily lives.  He said, “we must be able to remain in silence, in meditation, in calm and prolonged reflection; we must know how to stop and think.  In this way, our mind can find healing from the inevitable wounds of daily life, can go deeper into the events that occur in our lives and in the world, and come to the knowledge that allows us to evaluate things with new eyes.”  In other words, our retired Holy Father was encouraging us to ponder more deeply the events of our lives and thus to come to see more clearly how our faith shapes our response to them and our own ability to grow within them.  (Pope Benedict, himself, would, just a couple of months after speaking these words, resign from the papacy: giving evidence that he was practicing what he preached.)
          Thus, it seems that our Blessed Mother does have something to teach us about making resolutions.  In all of these events of her life, she did not turn to media outlets to hear what everybody else was saying about what had happened in order to try and make sense of it for herself.  Rather, she turned to silence.  In other words, Mary learned to pray with these events so as to see more clearly how her faith would shape her response to them and her ability to grow within them.
          Just this past Sunday, we heard in the Gospel that after the incident in the Temple, “[Jesus] went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them” and that he “advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”  I suspect that one of the things that he learned from his Mother—whom we venerate today precisely because she is his mother—was how to reflect on things in his heart: a skill that I suspect he perfected in the remaining “hidden years” in Nazareth before he began his public ministry.
          My brothers and sisters, Mary is our mother, too.  Perhaps this year she could teach us how to ponder deeply in our hearts: that is, how to practice silence.  In doing so, perhaps we’ll find that, in doing less, we’ve actually accomplished a whole lot more.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – January 1, 2019
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God