Mary offers us a wonderful gift today as we begin the new year together. “Mary kept all these things,reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Gabriel shares with Mary that she will conceive a child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Her relative Elizabeth, who is past childbearing years, is six months pregnant when Mary and Elizabeth meet. In their encounter, John leaps in the womb of Elizabeth. The shepherds convey the message they received from the angels that Mary’s baby is the long-awaited Messiah. Simeon and Anna offer prophetic confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah.
These are events to ponder, not to just take at face value and move on. The Church at her best has followed the model of Mary’s reflection, pondering, and meditating on what these words mean and has come to call this day the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. This title says more about Jesus than it does about Mary. This is the teaching that the Church Fathers confirmed during the council of Ephesus in 431 AD:
Mary is the Mother of God, in Greek – Theotokos – the God-bearer.
The full divinity of the Son of God was present at the conception of Jesus. He remained fully divine as the second Person of the Trinity and the Holy Trinity was not diminished in any way as he developed as a human being in the womb and was born of Mary. This is the Mystery of the hypostatic union: Jesus is one divine person subsisting in two natures the human and divine.
Theological insights such as Mary being the Mother of God, the hypostatic union of Jesus, are easily missed or worse dismissed if we conform ourselves to the present age of instant gratification, instant access, surfing, swiping, taking in sound bytes from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and amassing information overload. All of these technological avenues can be wonderful if we stop, slow down, and as Mary did, ponder what they offer.
If we still read books, do we do so with pencil and highlighter in hand, take notes and go back to those points underlined, highlighted, and or annotated and ponder the insights we have received, and then put them into practice? Or do we just have a moment of pause and say hmm, interesting, and then move on to the next factoid?
May today, the first day of the new year, be a day to take a few deep breaths, slow down, and commit to a practice of daily pondering. We can reflect on a word, a phrase, or a short statement that we write down and return to it often. The phrase could be as simple as a paraphrase from today’s reading: Mary pondered on these things in her heart. Let us reflect on where God has been calling us to stop and take a deeper look at our lives. It could be one word: Theotokos, expressing that Mary is the God-bearer, the Mother of God, and what that means to us in our lives. We can meditate on a picture like the one I posted with this reflection.
If we seek to live a life of joy and fulfillment in 2021, we would do well to follow the model of Mary. That would entail assuming a posture of pondering and a willingness to slow down and reflect on life, on what is important, what has value, where we are putting our time and effort, and recognizing where we do not welcome God and where we do welcome God in our life. Otherwise, we may just float along through another year indecisively or stagnantly with indifference or cynicism, merely reacting to situations that arise, or just plodding along in survival mode or merely bored and listless. Being still can be scary because as we do so, our fears, our past hurts, and our loneliness can arise.
Yet in that willful act of slowing down and even coming to a complete stop, the Holy Spirit can embrace us in these very real emotions with his love, so we can begin to heal and transform beyond merely existing, so to set a course of being fully alive and in love with life. Hand in hand with Jesus and Mary, we can face and embrace our fears, and heal from our wounds. As we do so we will be better engaged in our lives by experiencing more meaning and purpose. Conformed to the life and love of Jesus, we will realize that we are not alone, and so can build more authentic and intimate relationships. We can act more decisively and with greater clarity, and experience more fully what we are here for, to bring a little more tenderness, mercy, understanding, forgiveness, and love to the many others around us who are wounded also.
May 2021 be a wonderful new year of meaning, joy, and fulfillment, as we, like Mary, come to experience God’s presence in the silence of our hearts, so to be a people of faith, hope, and love in contemplation and action. Mary Mother of God, pray for us.
Happy New Year! Peace and all God’s good. Take good care of yourselves and those around you.
Painting by Anthony VanArsdale done for the National Black Catholic Conference