In the Catholic Church, the beginning of the New Year is not simply the occasion to turn the page on the calendar and festively “ring out the old, ring in the new.” The first day of January actually is a Solemnity, a Holy Day celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title as the “Holy Mother of God.” It is a grace-filled opportunity for us to entrust the upcoming year to her intercession, care and protection.
In the midst of the Mass commemorating this special Feast Day, the Gospel proclaimed comes from Luke 2:16-21. This is a segment of the narrative of the Nativity, and one of the central verses of the Biblical passage points to the Blessed Mother’s effort to ponder the wondrous things she has experienced. In addition, near the end of the text, the Evangelist notes, “Mary kept all of these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
The Greek word that is used to express the notion of Mary “keeping these things in her heart” is the word syneterei. One of the interpretations of this word is akin to having a “conversation.” Of course, this does not mean that Mary is simply “talking to herself.” Rather, she is trying to accomplish what a conversation is meant to do. The ultimate purpose of a conversation is to engage in dialogue intended to explore the meaning of something, and Mary ardently seems to be pursuing the task of coming to a deeper understanding. She is seeking to examine the amazing events that are unfolding in her life and trying to make some sense of them. This seems to have become a pattern for the Blessed Mother, because there is a reference later in the Gospel of Luke which involves her “keeping in her heart” other events like the “Meeting with Simeon and Anna at the time of the Presentation of the Infant Jesus” and the “Finding of the Boy Jesus with the Scholars in the Temple.”
I believe this is one of the best qualities of Mary, and it is one of the many reasons that we honor her. Because, what Mary really is trying to do is a form of reflection. It is prayer, for Mary’s mindful conversation is really with God. I believe that what Mary is seeking to do is to gather all of the experiences that she is undergoing, which seem to be disparate and disconnected, and she is bringing them before God in contemplation in the hope of finding some illumination about the significance and purpose of what is taking place. She is trying to find some relationship among all of these things and to discern what their importance might be.
Ultimately, that is one of the key goals of prayer. We take our perception of what is going on in our life, and aided by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we lift this up into a higher consciousness – into the realm of God’s cognition – in the hope of discovering something of God’s understanding. “Keeping things in our heart” thus brings us closer to seeing what we hope is Divine Truth. And then ideally, such an insight helps us grasp what we pray is the Will of God to guide our behavior and our actions.
Of course, central to our aids in the pursuit of such Truth or the Will of God is the Divine Revelation, which we already have received. The Doctrine we have received in Scripture and Tradition helps provide us with the parameters within which we interpret our reflection. This keeps us from straying too far into directions that could be self-serving or even bizarre.
One of the beautiful qualities of this kind of reflection – and actually all prayer – is that it can rescue us from a type of thinking which can become too narrowly focused on our own limited world view. Prayer should always help us see the “bigger picture.” Because prayer aims for God’s perspective, our reflection should lead us to greater awareness of the consequences of our actions and their impact upon other people.
There is a challenge in imitating Mary in her practice of “keeping things in her heart.” The challenge is that this is something that takes a lot of time, effort and an unselfishly open mind. It requires humility, sacrifice and hard work. And, this is not easy in a world which is becoming increasingly overwhelming in the way that it throws at us volumes of information and changing circumstances. Every day, it seems like we have more and more experiences in our life to process.
The benefits of such a dedication to prayerful reflection literally can be transformative. The effort to pursue a holier insight into what is happening in our experiences could bring a significant blessing. How helpful this would be in bringing greater clarity and focus to our life. What a gift of confidence it could bring if we had more trust that our life actually is traveling in the direction of the Will of God. That is what our Blessed Mother showed us in her faithful efforts to “keep things in her heart.” It is what inspired her to have the courage to place her life completely in the Hands of God and conform her life according to His Word.
As we look to the dawn of 2021, then, I cannot help but think how worthwhile it would be if each of us could make a commitment to imitate more closely the example of Mary’s reflection. In fact, I would suggest that if this would be our resolution for 2021, this would not only mark the beginning of a New Year, it also would mark a transformation that would make us new, as we could grow in our conformity with God’s Will and thus further our heart-felt pursuit of holiness.