Happy New Year everyone!
I made a New Year’s resolution for 2018 to eat healthier and get more exercise and I am happy to report to you that I have not yet broken it!
I was thinking what a wonderful way it is to start the New Year with the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God. We tend to see the New Year as an opportunity for new beginnings. It’s a time when we allow our imaginations to be fired up a bit envisioning a better future brought about by personal change. Really, the Gospel reading shows us the path for that better future when it says, Mary experienced the incarnation and the birth of Jesus and all of the mysterious events that surrounded it, then it says, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary had a reflective interior life of prayer. This is actually the opposite of our focus sometimes when we are seeking change. We often focus on the external things. We want to shed a few pounds for example, when what we need more than a magic number on a scale is to become more active.
The Gospel tells us again and again that the external things are important, but just as important is the interior conversion of our hearts. Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” This is a much higher standard than “You shall not kill.” It is the antidote to the Pharisees’ attitude of the time and it is the antidote to our own cultural climate today which says you should do whatever you want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.
Jesus goes on to say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This is quite a contrary message to the cultural one which says you can look with lust at anyone, as long as you don’t touch. The culture seems to think that there can be a disconnect between the interior and exterior life. We believe that the exterior life is the manifestation of what we are living interiorly.
My family has gotten hooked on the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” I’m usually not a fan of spooky shows, but it has a good storyline and it has a lot of symbolism. It’s set in a small town in the 80s and the backstory is that the government has been conducting experiments and accidentally opens a door to another dimension. And an evil presence begins to enter the town through that portal. The government then tries to contain this evil presence while covering up its mistake. All of this is discovered by the sympathetic characters in the story.
At a certain point, the characters discover that the evil has broken containment and it has created underground tunnels that give the evil presence access to the entire town. Initially, life above ground seems to be much the same as it always was. People are mostly unaware of the danger they are in. Life above ground seems unaffected by the underlying evil, until it suddenly begins to be affected. An entire pumpkin patch begins to die when the evil seeps through. And of course, much worse things begin to happen to the town after that.
Much in the same way, a worldly attitude tempts us to open doors to evil, and suggests that we can contain that evil, that there is nothing actually wrong with it as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Of course, the reality is, if we allow anger or lust or pride or any sin to build tunnels in our hearts, our lives will eventually begin to reflect that. If we allow sin to be normalized in our hearts, we will eventually hurt people whether we intend to or not.
Our Blessed Mother shows us the antidote. It’s more than seeking behavior changes. It’s even more than rooting out the evil inroads we have allowed to be constructed in our hearts. It’s actively building tunnels of grace in our hearts. She experienced God’s grace and love in her life and what did she do? “She kept all of these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Instead of allowing anger or lust to take hold of her heart, she gave her heart to gratitude and wonder.
Every one of us here today has had experiences of God’s grace in our lives. Maybe they were big or maybe they were small moments. But they were times when we felt God’s hand moving in our lives. Perhaps, through the business of life, we haven’t thought about those experiences in a while. We think of them as just memories. But memories are very powerful. And reflecting on those moments of grace can have a big impact on our lives.
I remember one day our daughter Sophie was about 4 or 5 years old. Jen and I were making dinner and Sophie was watching the movie, The Fox and the Hound on VHS. She came upstairs at one point in tears. She had just watched the part where Todd, the fox is left out in the wild all alone and it made her sad. I listened as Jen comforted her and reminded her “You’ve seen this movie lots of times before, you know it’s going to get better, just keep watching.” Sophie dried her eyes and went back downstairs. Fifteen minutes later she came back upstairs crying again. Jen said, “Why are you crying now?” Sophie said, “Well, I rewinded it…”
This is the very real power of reflecting on things in our hearts. When we reflect on our memories of experiencing God’s grace, when we rewind those tapes, it can move us to tears, it can move us to joy. It can inspire conversion and a desire to change that lasts well beyond the New Year. It helps us build tunnels of grace in our hearts. It helps us build a holier interior life, which will eventually make for a better world. This is the example our blessed Mother sets for us. Let us ask her for her intercession as we place our hopes for a happier, healthier and holier year before her.
Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed are though amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.