Sometimes it’s interesting what people pick up from their parents. We develop different habits, different facial expressions, laughs, or even speaking habits from our parents. From my dad, for example, I received the incredible ability to raise my left eyebrow as I lower my right one. My mom can’t do it, but it is one of the great inheritances that my sister and I received from our dad. We also received what is affectionately called the “Grosch Tongue”, where when we find ourselves hard at work, our tongue likes to poke out of our mouths to assist in the effort. We learn a lot from our parents. Maybe I didn’t receive any odd facial expressions from my mom, but I received countless other things that have helped me to become the man that I am today – how to sew a button, how to wash black clerical shirts without having them fade, how to clean the kitchen as I cook. The point is, no matter how much we like to think that we’re individuals or that we define ourselves, we take after our parents.
The same was true of Jesus. Jesus was the Son of God, and the Son of Mary. He was like us in all things but sin, but nevertheless, I would still think that the example of his parents, especially his Mother, taught him how to live. I sometimes wonder what Jesus received from her. Did he have Mary’s eyes, her nose, or her smile? Maybe. But more importantly, he probably learned other things from her as he grew up. Maybe he learned his obedience, openness, and surrender to God – things which would ultimately find their greatest expression on the Cross – from the total openness, acceptance, and humility of Mary. I feel very confident in saying that he might have learned to pray from Mary. We hear of Jesus going away early in the morning to a deserted place to pray. But this practice didn’t just come about on its own. Maybe he learned that from the reflective and contemplative heart of his Mother, who kept all these things in her heart.
If we’re going to be spiritual brothers and sisters of Jesus, we also have to be spiritual sons and daughters of Mary. She was his mother in the flesh, but she is also our mother in grace. Just as I learned from my mom sewing and laundry and the like to make me a mature adult, so we learn how to be mature Christians from Mary – we learn how to be not just followers, but disciples. Today, Mary teaches us one of the most important virtues of all: wisdom. She responded to all the wonderful things that God was doing in and around her, and she kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Put yourself in her place for just a second. How strange would it have seemed if all of a sudden, these shepherds knock on the door looking for your baby boy? And then a few days later, magi from the east, exotic astrologer kings, come to offer these ridiculously rich gifts. I mean, these people are just showing up! But rather than just noting how random these occasions were and letting them roll right off her, she opened herself to the awe and joy of seeing the truth of her Son revealed to her and to the world. Just as Mary’s womb was opened to receiving the living Word of God, so her heart was open to receiving God’s ongoing words and messages and blessings as he continued to speak through the events of her life. That is the mature faith that she passes on to us today to learn from her.
There have been a lot of lists the past few days. The St. Louis Post Dispatch had their list of top stories from 2012. There were lists of the best and worst movies of 2012. Even MLB Network had a show last night on the top 25 ejections of 2012! (Man, do I miss baseball!) Maybe today’s feast reminds us and challenges us to look back at the events of our lives with a mature faith – with contemplation and gratitude. This isn’t just seeing these things as random events that simply make up one more year of our lives that has passed on to oblivion. A mature faith is following the example of Mary. How was it that God made himself known to you this year? What are you called to reflect on in your heart today? Obviously, we do that in a special way today on New Years Day, but I think God challenges us through Mary to not simply be reflective on our lives one day a year, one year at a time, but each and every day. When we follow the example of Mary, each day is a new day of grace, and we find ourselves reflective and thankful for the blessings of the past year and attentive to what he will bring us in the year to come.
Let us turn now in praise of Christ, who gives us today the example of his mother, who is our mother as well. Let us give him thanks for the great example of motherhood that we receive from her, and as we begin this new year of God’s grace, let us think on all the events of 2012 and anticipate 2013, reflecting on all these things in our hearts.