1 January 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Number 6, 22-27 + Psalm 67 + Galatians 4 407 + Luke 2, 16-21
When you say “Yes” to God, a lot of stuff happens that doesn’t always make sense, and just because you believe and trust in God there is no “free pass” when it comes to confusion, doubt, and even sometimes fear. This woman whose memory and whose name we honor today said “Yes”, and with that, her life began a spiral of surprises and unexpected events. There was that visit to Elizabeth whose child leapt at Mary’s arrival. There were these shepherds we hear about today. How could they have found her? There were those old people in the Temple, Simenon and Anna who said such strange things about her child. There were visitors from afar, and shortly thereafter there was a hurried, unexpected rush off to a foreign place to escape violence and death. Then there was her son himself who seemed so at home in the Temple and ran around with a wild man from the desert. Then he went off with those fishermen and began to keeping company with tax collectors and suspicious women. He got people upset with his behavior in synagogue, and some of the Pharisees were cautious around him while scribes were downright angry. With some other family members, she went to bring him home and talk some sense into him, but he started talking about other mothers, brothers and sisters. Don’t fool yourself with some misguided piety. She didn’t get it. She never understood.
There is no reason to believe that she understood any of this or that she understood what God was asking of her. Like anyone else who is a parent, like any of you, time after time you look at your children and wonder where they came from? Where did they get those ideas they brought home? Sometimes you may have even wondered where they found some of those friends they hung around with. They start out the door and you ask, “Where are you going?” The answer you get is: “Out.” “Who with?” you ask, and they say, “Friends”, and you are left to wonder why you even asked the question. “What will they be?” you wonder, and at that point you and this woman from Nazareth suddenly have something in common: wonder.
Wondering is the skill of a faithful parent who knows the difference between their will and God’s will. Think of it this way. Consider how this woman grew as she continued to ponder not just the stuff that was happening, but ponder and reflect on how that stuff that was happening could be God’s will and part of God’s plan which is always bigger than we are. When her son was twelve-year-old, she said: “How could you do this to us?” Years later at the foot of the cross, there is none of that reproach even though there was even greater pain. She does not stand before her tortured son and say: “How could you do this to us?” We all know that at any point, he could have gone silent and returned to the carpenter shop. Step by step, in a sense, he got himself into that mess. This time, I think she had grown enough in faith and wisdom to surrender to something she did not understand, and stand with hope and confidence in the one promise God had made to her at the very beginning. “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Wonder does not always lead to understanding, but it can lead to acceptance and surrender in the face of the unknown and unexpected. What we see here is the importance of reflection which is the active side of wonder. Only by reflection do we come to understand our experiences. From reflection comes insight. Sadly, some people learn nothing from experience. But there are others for whom experience is their real school. Wisdom is not simply accumulating fact and knowledge. No one become wise in a day. It takes years, and wisdom is the fruit of reflection.
Parents, Mary shows us, need a lot of wisdom. Mary got her wisdom from pondering, and I believe she passed that on to her son, who Saint Luke reminds us, grew in wisdom, grace, and favor before God. That Jesus was taught, nourished, and formed by a wise woman who loved God with all her heart. We honor her today, and we begin a new year led to wonder, ponder, and reflect upon the past year so that with wisdom me may be prepared for whatever is to come.