There are two points that struck me in today’s Gospel from Luke. The first is what Jesus was doing when Mary and Joseph found him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers (Lk 2:46-47). Other than his infancy, this is the only other account we have of Jesus in his youth. Jesus was listening to his teachers and asking them questions.
One of the greatest joys that I experience is when I am teaching. There are times when I actually feel like I step out of my body and I am watching the exchange along with the students. These are times when the students are asking questions, they are listening and engaged, and I believe that in that exchange the Holy Spirit is present.
The second point was Mary’s response. After three days of anxiety trying to find Jesus, then his response that they ought to have known where he was, that he was about his Father’s business, and then their lack of understanding of what Jesus said, all did not lead to Mary giving Jesus a slap to the back of the head, instead she “kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51). Mary did the same with the news from Gabriel and with the news of the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. Mary’s response was to ponder.
We learn best when we enter into an exchange of dialogue where we listen to each other and ask each other questions. We commit an egregious sin when we stifle questions, inquiry, critical thought, and dialogue and slip into monologue and demagoguery. We are encouraged not to talk about faith, politics, and the social hot button issues, but if we don’t talk about these issues, which are the core and foundation of a healthy society, we will never be able to improve or make effective and healthy change.
We are wired for the practice of wondering from a very young age. If you have been around a three or four-year-old for any length of time, the question of, “Why?” will come up more than once. Unfortunately, this natural curiosity is often tamped down, because answering questions takes time. Questions can challenge our own beliefs, they also help us to recognize what we know and do not know. It is one thing to think we understand something, and it is another to articulate it.
In our present climate of polarization, we may find that we do not understand certain issues or perspectives and are afraid to ask to better understand, we also may not know what to do when our ideas or beliefs are challenged, we may feel uncomfortable to pose a different perspective, and we may be presented with a response that we did not expect or agree with. How are we to respond? A good beginning step could be to resist the temptation to react and lash out, or the opposite, to resist remaining silent. Instead we can assume the posture of Mary and be more willing to ponder.
We can also resist defensiveness and instead seek to understand, to open our hearts and minds and listen to the question or the statement, and ask questions as to why someone believes what they believe. Taking a few slow breaths, praying for some guidance, and coming from a place of empathy instead of being so quick to impose our view, may help to provide fertile ground for mutual understanding.
In taking these initial steps, we can then honestly engage in the discussion from what we know and feel, as well as having the humility to express what we don’t know, and what we are struggling to understand. Our part to play is to educate ourselves, to be open to wonder, to meditate and ponder about what we believe, and engage in respectful dialogue allowing others to do the same and then be willing to journey together to seek that which is true, good, and beautiful. Then we will be in a better position to begin to work to bring about change and reform that will be more lasting and fruitful in our realm of influence.
Painting: “The Black Madonna with Dove”, by Sue Ellen Parkinson – Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!