January 1, 2017 – Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
The following homily was delivered at St. Pius X Church in Indianapolis:
How prepared are we when challenges arise?
Our goal is to be proactive. We plan ahead so we are prepared to deal with challenges as they occur, or perhaps we’re able to avoid a challenge altogether.
At school we have regular fire drills and tornado drills. While we have never actually had a fire or a tornado at the school, we prepare for the possibility. We are proactive, conditioning ourselves to respond appropriately if and when the time comes.
For Christmas this year, Carol and I took home a live tree and cut it down so that it was small enough to put up on an end table. We had never done this before, but we now have six grandchildren, five that are three years old or younger. We pictured lots of little hands pulling on branches and 2-year olds chasing each other through the house. We opted to keep the tree out of harm’s way. We were being proactive.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we have a white wicker basket that sits at the foot of the altar. The basket is there so the children can come forward during offertory to drop off a contribution to the church.
If Fr. Hunter arranged things prior to Mass, you’ll see the basket set back, halfway between the top of the steps and the altar, and perfectly centered. He likes things to be neat and orderly. He was being proactive. He knows he is obsessive and if the basket is not centered properly it will bother him the entire Mass.
If I arranged things before Mass, you’ll see the basket right at the edge of the top step. I am a school administrator, so the first thing I consider is safety and liability. If the basket is there, children wouldn’t have to go up the steps, making it less likely for anyone to trip and fall. I was being proactive as well.
Fr. Hunter and I discovered this difference between us recently. He was standing near the altar when I walked by and moved the basket from his spot to mine. He told me why he had put the basket there, and I told him why I moved it. I was going to move it back, but he told me to leave it – that he would fight through his obsession.
Ironically, the first child to come forward at offertory that morning came up the steps anyway. He went to the other side of the basket to drop in his envelope, and then tripped on the stairs going down.
So much for being proactive.
Experience tells us that certain undesirable things are possible; being proactive can help us prepare for or eliminate that possibility. So what about those situations we thought would never happen – or at least, never happen to us?
For instance, the words that an engaged couple is asked to repeat as part of the marriage rite. These words indicate that the couple will love one another for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. They are proactive words. However, they are often spoken by healthy, financially secure individuals that could never imagine having to deal with sickness or poverty. If it happens, they are unprepared and overwhelmed.
In today’s gospel, on her feast day, Mary offers us a way to prepare for the unexpected. She gives us an example of what it means to be reflective.
Consider all that Mary had experienced. She received a message from an angel that she was to give birth to the Son of God. She gave birth to a child in a manger illuminated by a guiding star. In today’s gospel, she heard shepherds share their story of how an angel appeared to them in their fields, and brought them “good news of great joy” — news about her baby!
Luke tells us, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
There is no way she could prepare for what was to happen to her and her son, Jesus, over the next thirty-three years. Such things had never happened before and have not happened since. How could she be proactive in planning her response under such circumstances?
However, she could take these early experiences into her heart and reflect on their meaning. Her future responses would not be planned, but they would come from the heart. They would come from a place of love. They would be reflective and prayerful.
When Mary sent her son off to begin his ministry, it was not because she had planned for it. It was not something she checked off of a “To Do” list. She knew in her heart that it was time. Reflecting on things in her heart allowed her to think and act outside of herself. It led her to respond with love, sometimes even when it would prove painful for her to do so.
When Carol and I work with engaged couples preparing for marriage, we don’t ask them to plan for exactly how they would handle things if they were suddenly without jobs and in financial turmoil. We don’t ask for details on what they would do if one of them was sick and the other was thrust into the role of caregiver. We do, however, ask them to reflect on the words they will say on their wedding day. We ask them to take the words into their hearts, so that should the unexpected happen, their response, while unplanned, would come from a place of love.
The Advent season called us to be proactive, and to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ; it offered us time to remove distractions and focus on Him.
The Christmas season is ushered in by a silent night, a holy night.
There is an Amy Grant song called I Need A Silent Night. The words of the song speak to the need to step into the silence, and reflect:
“I need a silent night, a holy night…to hear an angel’s voice through the chaos and noise. I need a little midnight clear, a little peace right here…to end this crazy day with a silent night”
The Christmas season calls us to be reflective, and to take into our hearts the gift that has been given to us with the birth of Jesus. We need to reflect on the awesomeness of this incredible gift.
God the Father offered up His only begotten Son, out of love for us. Jesus took on human flesh and dwelt among us, out of love for us. We must hold onto this gift, reflecting on it in our hearts.
The new year will be full of ups and downs. You are likely to face your share of challenges. If you have been proactive, you will be prepared to respond to most of those challenges.
However, it is likely that one or more of those challenges will catch you off-guard and unprepared.
When that occurs, do not be afraid. If you have been reflective, you have the means to handle anything that might come your way.
Simply look into your heart and draw strength from the love of God that you have kept there.