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.