Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
January 1, 2016 – Year C
Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Psalm 67 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21
by Rev. Mr. Mike Stinson, Permanent Deacon
“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
I’m a teacher, and one morning a few weeks ago, I was driving to school, and my son Jeremy was in the car with me. As we got to a long curve in the highway, I noticed a car that was coming the other way was drifting across the yellow line, moving into my lane.
I moved over slightly and assumed he would move back into his lane — but he didn’t. He kept drifting over towards me, and I moved over some more, and he kept coming, until finally at the last second I jerked my wheel to the right — then there was a loud bang! and then what was left of my rear view mirror was dangling from a wire, thumping the side of my car door as I drove on down the road.
I called the police, and they caught the guy a few miles up the road, and now his insurance company and mine are working out the details. But then, later that day, I suddenly realized — I could have been dead! The guy in the other car was obviously distracted. If I’d also been distracted and hadn’t swerved at the last second, we would have hit head on – and Jeremy and I could have both been killed.
Now this isn’t just a homily against distracted driving, even though I’m more concerned about it now than ever. But it is about distraction in a more general sense, and I do want to emphasize that distraction can be deadly — not just physically, but also spiritually.
You might have heard talk recently about how in our society we’re constantly distracted — not just when we’re driving, but all the time. I know that it’s a constant problem for me to keep my students’ attention. I don’t allow cell phones to be used in my classes, but my students still try to use them — even though the penalty when they do is a zero on an assignment.
And I see this in church, too. Several weeks ago, I was at Mass in a parish in another state and the man down the pew from me was distracting me – by checking his cell phone in the middle of Mass, both during the homily and during the Eucharistic Prayer.
OK, I’m intentionally NOT looking around right now to see if anyone is putting away their cell phone…
But the problem isn’t just smart phones. It’s also television and laptops and iPads and all kinds of other entertainment devices. And it’s not just technology. It’s also busy schedules, and the demands of school and jobs, and difficult personal situations, and the inability to say no. All these things combine to distract us.
And it’s not just our relationships with each other that are messed up. We’re also distracted from Jesus. And being distracted from Jesus, our source of truth, our source of peace, can be as deadly to us spiritually, as a head-on collision can be physically. So how can we avoid it?
Even if we’re not literally driving, we are all traveling down the road of our lives. And as we start the new year, this might be a good time to ask for help from someone who’s an ideal model of what it means NOT to be distracted from the things that really matter – and that’s Mary, the Mother of God, who we celebrate today.
Today’s gospel says that after the birth of Jesus, and the appearance of the angels, and the visit from the shepherds, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Some translations say she was “pondering” these things “in her heart.”
What was she pondering? The wonderful things about this new baby – Jesus. Who he was, what he meant to her, and what he meant to the world.
We know that Jesus is God, so we can honor Mary as we do today as the Mother of God. And she is also our Mother. And as Mother of God, and our mother, she’s an ideal source of help when we’re spiritually distracted. Mary’s attitude towards Jesus — her reflection, her pondering — is the opposite of spiritual distraction.
The gospels make a point of presenting Mary to us as a model for our lives. In the same chapter as our gospel reading, Luke 2 – after Mary and Joseph find the boy Jesus in the temple – we’re told again, “his mother kept all these things in her heart.” So we see Mary as a model of someone who was not distracted from what really matters. Mary kept these things in her heart, and pondered them – and so should we.
So Mary is a model — but she’s also something more than a model. She’s not just someone from the past who we remember, someone who once upon a time managed to live an ideal spiritual life. She’s also our help today as we try to follow her model. We don’t just try to be like Mary; we ask Mary to help us be like her. We don’t just admire her lack of distraction – we ask her to help with our distraction. And she will help us, just as she’s been helping Christians for nearly 2000 years.
How do we ask her for help? Prayer is the obvious answer. Of course that includes the rosary, and Marian prayers such as the Memorare, but it also includes spontaneous prayer. We can pray to Mary anywhere, any time, in any words that say what we really feel. The type of prayer that can work even in a busy, distracted lifestyle.
Mary is the Mother of God, but she’s also our mother. And she listens to us the way a loving mother listens to her children. Our words don’t have to be perfect. We can say just what we feel. When we talk to Mary and tell her that the distractions in our life are keeping us from focusing on her son – she will help us.
In just a few minutes many of us are going to be driving home. So – don’t look at your phones while you’re driving, ok? But whether we’re walking, or riding, or driving – all of us this morning are traveling into 2016. We’re all at the beginning of this journey through another year in our lives.
And when it comes to our spiritual life – our relationship with Jesus – we have a chance to decide whether we’ll be distracted drivers – or whether we’ll ask Mary to help us be more like her – to take the time we need to reflect on her Son in our hearts.