Showing posts with label Mary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary. Show all posts

How we can put first things first

Luke 2:16-21 (Mary Mother of God, year b)

I have a messy desk. Over time it gets filled with things I need to pay attention to such as bills, letters I should respond to, and books I want to read. Having a messy desk is distracting; it makes me lose focus of the more important things that I should be working on. Our lives can become a lot like my desk. Over time our days build up with a lot “stuff”, some more important than others, like work responsibilities, tasks around the house, time with friends, email, Facebook, and watching TV. When our lives become messy we easily lose sight of what is most important: our relationship with God. New Year’s Day is a great time to organize our desk, literally and figuratively. It’s a chance to recenter our life around God.

If we want to make our relationship with God a priority in our life, it means that we need to devote some of our valuable time each day to nurturing this relationship. Time is a precious gift. When Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, God gave fallen humanity a new start. Each New Year reminds us of this fresh beginning. We are once again given more time. Who or what we choose to spend our time on tells us what we see as most important. I find this quote from Rick Warren very helpful:
Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can't make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you'll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. It is not enough to just say relationships are important; we must prove it by investing time in them. Words alone are worthless … Relationships take time and effort, and the best way to spell love is T-I-M-E.
Do we give God the gift of our time each day? When asked if they pray, many people respond, “yes, right before I go to sleep”. Unfortunately, this normally translates to, “I make the sign of the cross and then fall asleep”. Do we spend a chunk of time five minutes or longer alone, in silence with God?

“Easy for you to say, Father”, you may be thinking. True, as a priest my life is set up so it is easier for me to spend time alone with God. I realize I am a bit out of touch with your experience. Sometimes I feel like the priest in this story. Years ago, in a small village in Ireland, Ireland, a newly ordained priest decided that he would devote his first homily to the subject of Christian marriage, since the Gospel passage for that Sunday was the Marriage feast at Cana. After Mass, two elderly ladies were discussing his homily. Bridget said, “Ah, didn't that fine young priest give a grand sermon today?” Nora replied, “Indeed, he did. I wish I knew as little about marriage as he does.” However, I am a young and foolish priest, so I will continue. I do so because it is important.

We need silent time each day alone with God. Mary, whose special feast we celebrate today, teaches us that this is a daily necessity not a luxury. In the Gospel we heard she took time to ponder and reflect on all the things that were happening around her. Like Mary, we need time in silence to understand what God is doing in our life, how He is showing us His love, how He would like us to act. Mother Theresa said, “in the silence of the heart God speaks”. Kierkegaard, the great 19th century Danish Christians put it this way:
If I were a physician, and if I were allowed to prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one here it with so much noise? Therefore, create silence.
How much noisier has the world become since Kierkegaard wrote this nearly 200 years ago? If we want to live well, it is all the more important for us today to carve out some space of silence in our day.

As busy as we are, we find that if we make it a priority to spend time with God at the start of the day we still have time for other important things. When we prioritize God in our lives there’s still room for all good things. Imagine that you have in front of you a big, empty glass jar. Now imagine that you place one large rock into the jar. The rock is so big that when it is placed in the jar the top of the rock is level with the top of the jar. At first glance you may think that the jar is full, but then you take a bag of pebbles and begin pouring them into the jar.  The pebbles fill in all the spaces that separate the large rock from the sides of the jar. Again the jar seems full.  But Wait! Again you take another bag, this one filled with sand, and begin pouring the contents into the jar.  The sand fills up all the spaces between the pebbles.  This time the jar looks really full! But next you take a pitcher of water and pour it into the jar.  The water then fills all the gaps between the grains of sand.

Our life is like this glass jar.  Each of us fills our day with things of different importance; this is represented by the rock, the pebbles, the sand and the water.  The large rock is our relationship with God. It is meant to fill our lives.  What this analogy teaches us is that even when God fills our life, when we make time for Him first, there is still room for everything else.  There is room for the very important things, represented by the pebbles: family, friendships, work, and school.  There is still room for the things of lesser importance, represented by the sand, such as hobbies and good recreation. There is also still room for things of the least importance, represented by the water, such as playing games on our smart phones and watching videos on Youtube about cats doing funny things.  In fact, all these other things that fit in our jar of life along with Jesus are transformed for the good, they become “touched” by God, just as the pebbles, sand and water touch the large rock.  As long as we put the big rock in the jar first by making time for Him first, there is room for everything else.  But, if we put in other things into the jar first, then there is no room for the rock.  For example, if we tell ourselves that we will pray after we have finished everything else we need to do, it never happens.

Today let us clean off our desks by reprioritizing our relationship with God. As we enter the New Year, let us resolve to spend at least five minutes in silent prayer right when we wake up.

The power of "yes"

Luke 1: 26 - 38 (4th Sunday of Advent, year b)

Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!

These words, spoken by William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, powerfully express the value we place on our freedom. Freedom, the ability to make our own choices and direct our own life, is something that we cherish, particularly today. We protest against any person or group that would curtail our freedom. We are willing to fight to protect it. Freedom is an incredible gift, given to us by God. Jesus came into the world for this purpose: to save us from sin and death. The story of the Annunciation, which we heard in today’s gospel, is an important lesson about the role that human freedom plays in God’s plan to save the world.

At times we can underestimate the part human liberty plays in God’s work of salvation. Are we passive in God’s work of salvation or are we active participants in it? I once watched news footage of a helicopter rescue mission during a flood. The water had risen so high that both people and animals had taken refuge on the tops of buildings. From the footage, you could tell that there was a large difference between the rescue of an animal and the rescue of a human being. In one scene, the helicopter saved a dog from the top of a building. The dog did not choose whether to be saved or not, the dog was simply rescued. This dog was a passive participant in the rescue. Things were quite different when a person was saved. I was surprised to see that though most people agreed to be airlifted by the helicopter, some people refused to be rescued. These people did not want to be taken away from their homes and possessions, choosing to take their chances with the rising waters. Unlike the dog, the people had to choose whether they were rescued or not. Though they would not have been saved without the helicopter, they played an active role in their salvation.

The story of the Annunciation teaches us that human beings play an active role in God’s work of saving the world. Jesus, like the helicopter in the flood, is necessary for our salvation. Yet, like those people on the roof, we need to participate in the rescue plan. St. Augustine tells us that “God created us without us, but he did not will to save us without us.” Mary cooperated in this work in a unique way. In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a famous homily on the story of the Annunciation, focusing on the moment after Mary heard the angel Gabriel’s message about God’s plan for her but before she has said “yes”. He portrays heaven and earth as it were holding its breath at this moment of the question addressed to Mary. Will she say yes?

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life. Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race. Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

The Annunciation teaches us about the power of our “yes” in God’s work of salvation. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, on reflecting on St. Bernard’s homily, drew out this point.
After the error of our first parents, the whole world was shrouded in darkness, under the dominion of death. Now God seeks to enter the world anew. He knocks at Mary’s door. He needs human freedom. The only way he can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of a free “yes” to his will. In creating freedom, he made himself in a certain sense dependent upon man. His power is tied to the unenforceable “yes” of a human being.
Like Mary, we are active participants in God’s work of salvation. Like Mary, our yes to God’s plan of salvation has two powerful results:
  1. Our “yes” let’s Jesus into our lives. Jesus wants to have a personal relationship with each of us. This is something He cannot force on us. We let Jesus into our own lives when we say yes to praying each day, reading the Bible and going to Mass faithfully.
  2. Our “yes” allows Jesus to enter the lives of others. If Mary had not said yes to the Angel Gabriel, then Jesus would not have entered the world. We allow Jesus to touch the lives of those near us when we say yes to witnessing to him by word and example.

God will never take our freedom from us. He invites us to use our freedom for the incredible purpose of participating in His work of salvation. Here’s a very simply suggestion for how we can exercise the power of our “yes” and help Jesus enter in the life of someone close to you: invite a friend or family member who does not attend Mass to come with you to Mass this Sunday. Don’t pressure or guilt them into it, just invite. Perhaps this invitation is just what they were waiting for.