January 1, 2017 Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
Numbers 6, 22-27 + Psalm 67 + Galatians 4, 4-7 + Luke 2, 16-21
St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
There is nothing more tiring to me than being around someone we would call a “know it all.” At the same time, I get very impatient around people who see the world in black and white, and need to have and to know the answer to every question. Their behavior gets positively neurotic if they don’t get answers. They either begin to think that there is something wrong with them, or they get fixated on something and can’t settle down and go on with life not knowing.
All of this is brought to my mind on this feast by the woman who is put before us. It might bother and upset some whose devotion and images of our Blessed Mother would suggest that she was somehow all-knowing in her openness to God’s plan; but I don’t think she was, and I think that the scriptures back me up. The fact that she wondered and pondered what all this meant is important for us. There is an old tradition that suggests that the information Luke has about the birth of Christ and about his mother came from Blessed Mother herself who may have told him what he reports. None the less, when Luke tells us that she “pondered” all these things in her heart, I think he is saying that she did not have it all figured out, and so went on with her life in spite of that fact. To me, this is one of the greatest lessons she teaches us. It is a great gift.
Having a crises of faith over something that happens when you do not know why or wonder if God is really with and for us is the point. She did not know what that angel’s message meant. She did not know what was going on with those Shepherds, and later she did not understand what Simeon was talking about that day they presented the child in the Temple. She just believed in the providence and love of God. She simply trusted that God’s will and God’s plan whatever it was would be best. She kept all these things in her heart Luke tells us. That does not mean she understood and knew what was going to happen next. For her it was a matter of believing that even through events she did not understand God was with her.
Thomas Aquinas said that reason cannot grasp the ways of God, and so if something does not seem reasonable, it does not mean that God is not involved. In fact, trying to impose reason upon God and God’s acts is really nothing more than a power-play since knowledge and understanding often goes with power and control. We do not have to know what God is doing or why things happen. Faith and trust in God allows us to move on and move forward in life with the assurance that even though I do not understand, God does.
This is the first thing we can learn from Mary, the Mother of God. There will be more, but the first lesson this mother teaches is a lesson on trust that springs from faith. Even though we may not understand, and even though we may not be able to explain things that happen, we remain faith-filled and humble before the mighty works of God.
The Greek word that is translated as “ponder” suggests a kind of interior conversation, a dialogue that seeks to comprehend and put pieces together. It seems to me that this is, for most of us, a life-long project during which we acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways. Mary teaches us to believe as she did that God is in charge of all things, and lack of comprehension does not keep us from life, from faith, and most of all from hope. As we celebrate the mother today, so we also celebrate the Son nothing less than an opportunity to share in divine life which is a mystery that like Mary we must ponder in our hearts.