Every New Year’s Eve, my family attends Mass at St. Joseph or Sacred Heart Church. As a child, I always thought this was another one of my family’s traditions – a way of welcoming and ushering in the new year. Only later in life did I realize that this tradition was much more profound and one I inherited not merely because of my family, but because of the Catholic Church. For on January 1 we have the joy and the grace of celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, beginning the new year as we began our very life — under the protection of a mother.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 2:16-21), we read of the shepherds — the lowly, outcast, forgotten members of society — responding to the proclamation of the angels that a savior had been born for them. They did not delay, but in haste, go to see this new born babe. They found him, just as the angels had promised. And when the shepherds came face-to-face with a family not unlike their own — simple, humble, living in poverty — they did not doubt nor question if this tiny child could be the promised Savior, they believed. Filled with hope and joy, the Good News could not be contained within them and “they made known the message that had been told them about this child. . . Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.”
“And Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” — the words of strangers, angels, and her steadfast husband; the noise of the animals, the town of Bethlehem, the cries and gurgles of her healthy son; the mysterious, joyful chaos of the entrance of this new life.
In this same chapter of Luke (though not contained in today’s Gospel), we read of Jesus being presented in the temple, in which Mary encounters the prophet Simeon who warns her that a sword will pierce her soul (Luke 2:34), clearly foreshadowing the suffering and death of her son. The second chapter of Luke concludes with a story several years later, when Jesus is 12-years-old, in which Mary and Joseph lost him for three days, only to find him in the temple. Mary chastised Jesus, telling him that his wandering has caused her and Joseph great “anxiety.” Jesus responded, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But Mary and Joseph did not understand what he said to them. And so, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
For the second and final time in all of the Gospels, this phrase is reiterated. Though this time, Mary treasures more than a starry night in Bethlehem. She holds within her heart the ominous words of Simeon, the memory of her family’s flight to Egypt, her anxieties and worries, the prophetic words of Jesus, her hopes and dreams for her family. Eventually the wonder of her son’s first miracles and the lives of his closest friends will be treasured. In time, Mary will learn to ponder the paradox of the cross — love and hate, freedom and obedience, ecstasy and, life and death.
I imagine that for Mary, this act of treasuring words and pondering actions was a disposition of wonder and reflection; a habit of questioning the ways of God (not in a defiant way, but in an attempt to comprehend), while simultaneously an acceptance of surrender to God’s will.
As we begin 2021, perhaps, unlike past years, we are more timid and reserved with our hopes and expectations for what is to come. But what if, rather than making grandiose resolutions and promises, we attempt to emulate Mary, to ponder life’s circumstances — both those that pierce our hearts and those that fill us with awe and joy.
In the coming year, I pray that our Mother wraps each one of us in her mantle of protection, guides us in her ways of courage and strength, fills us with her grace and peace, and leads us ever closer to the heart of her Son.
Happy New Year!