Solemnity of Mary Mother of God
Solemnity of Mary / A
December 31, 2016-January 1, 2017
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
One of the things I love about our Catholic Tradition is our art. Even though I am not cultured enough to understand it, it still speaks to me and touches my heart. One form of art I am fascinated with are mosaics. I am amazed at how an artist can take thousands of little pieces and put them together in a beautiful image.
A few years ago, I found a mosaic of Mary and the infant Jesus that I liked and could afford, and it is in my dining room. The only thing I do not like about it is that Mary looks sad. That is true of many of our images of Mary; she just seems sad. Perhaps it is meant to make her look pious or holy or serious. But to me, her expression looks more like resentment, almost a chronic depression that her life did not go as she planned.
This image does not fit with the Biblical Mary, the real Mary. I imagine her as a tremendously strong person who was totally free. And because of her freedom, I imagine her as full of spontaneous joy.
Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. It is also a time when we look back at 2016 and look ahead to 2017. In today's Gospel, we hear that Mary reflected on the events of her life in her heart. She was not non-stop activity, running from one thing to another, from one year to another. Mary stopped, she stopped and reflected deeply. And because of that, she was able to see God working in her life in a way that very active people often miss.
As we reflect on 2016, our year was probably a mixture of good and bad, of some tough moments and moments of great happiness. As we look back, it is good to remember that our faith teaches us that our level of joy does not depend on what happened to us. Joy does not depend on what happened outside of us. It comes from what is happening inside of us. Our level of joy depends on the degree with which we surrender to God's plan for our life, just like Mary.
This past Tuesday I met with a few other priests of our archdiocese who also work in vocation ministry. One gave us an article to read, by Fr. Michael Heintz. I don't know who he is, but he must be really smart because he has a PhD! His words are a bit dense and it took me a few reads to understand him, because I am a bit dense as well. He writes this for seminary formation, but it applies to all of us. He says this is how we come to experience joy:
"This celibate joy is not merely being upbeat or giddy, a human optimism or cheerfulness, but rather the fruit of Christ's Spirit, who liberates us from our enslavement to ourselves. When we learn counterintuitively to dispossess ourselves of ourselves----when my priorities, my desires, my plans, my aspirations, my ambitions . . . are freely laid aside, then joy can blossom."
This is a great insight which is enfleshed in Mary. The Holy Spirit gave her the freedom to lay aside her plans for her life. And because of that, she must have been a person of great joy.
When Fr. Heintz says this is counterintuitive, he is certainly right. Our world tells us that joy comes from being in control of our lives. It comes when we write a play in which we produce and direct, and we are the star of the show.
Mary shows us the real path to joy. Joy is found when we let go of control, and so find real freedom, which is a beautiful paradox. Joy comes to us when we freely accept our role in God's play of salvation, which is not based on our ego but on God's plan for our life.
One day I hope to find a mosaic of Mary where she is not sad, but full of spontaneous joy, because that is the real Mary. May we all experience divine joy in 2017----by imitating Mary.