The name “January” comes from the Roman god Janus, the god with two faces, one looking to the past and the other looking to the future. This is indeed a time to look back at the year that has just ended and to look forward to the new year ahead. How did I use this one year of my life that has just passed? Did I use it to advance my goals and objectives in life? Did I use it to enhance the purpose of my existence? Could I have done better last year in the way I invested my time between the demands of work, family, friends and society, and the demands of my spiritual life? What things did I achieve last year and what did I fail to achieve? How can I consolidate the achievements of last year while reversing the failures and losses in this new year? Through soul searching questions like these we find that a review of the past year naturally leads to setting goals and resolutions for the new year.
There are people who tell you that there is no point making new year resolutions. Do not believe them. We must set goals and make resolutions as a necessary conclusion to our review of the past year. And we do need to review our lives from year to year because, as Socrates says, the unexamined life is not worth living.
Today’s newspapers are full of individual and collective new year resolutions. Most of those, however, are not resolutions at all but only wishes. What is the difference between a resolution and a wish? A wish identifies a goal one wants to reach, a resolution specifies the steps one will take to reach it. A wish says this is where I want to be, a resolution says this is the road I will take, this is what I will do to get there. The wishful person says “I want to pass my exams this year” and the resolved person says “I will devote an extra hour to my studies everyday in order to pass my exams.” The wishful person says “I will have more peace and love in my family this year” and the resolved person says “I will spend more time with my family at table instead of rushing off to the TV, so that we get to know and understand ourselves better.” The wishful person says “I will live a life of peace and spiritual harmony this year” and the resolved person says “I will set aside this time everyday to pray and hear God’s word.” The difference between wishing and resolving is precisely the difference between fantasizing and making an action plan.
The Gospel this evening presents Mary as a model of that fully integrated life that all of us want for ourselves in the new year. We read that Mary is prepared to do something to realize this goal. What does she do? We read that the shepherds, having come to adore the Child in the manger, went out and told everyone all that the angel had said to them. “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Again after the boy Jesus was found in the Temple, we are told that “His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Mary is the woman who values the word of God as it is revealed in the everyday events of her life; she treasures the revelations that come to her in the ordinary and mundane. She takes time to treasure these moments of clarity, to meditate and ponder the word of God to her in the present moment. We Catholics like to say that Mary’s holiness is attributable to God’s overwhelming grace in her life, but we should also focus on her own willingness to set aside her own egocentric preferences, and surrender to that grace. She would not have become the “handmaid of God” had she not put aside her own doubts and reservations and simply said, “yes” to a God who was seemingly asking the near impossible from her.
Mary was conscious of the Presence and movement of God in her life, and after the visit from the shepherds as well as after finding her Son in the Temple at Jerusalem, she found the Word of God for her in those events. Mary knew something you and I so often forget, namely, that God continues to speak to us today in a multiplicity of ways: through the Scriptures, through the accumulated wisdom of our living Church tradition, through the natural and social sciences, and perhaps most importantly, through our personal life experiences. If we aren’t paying attention, however, we will miss the revelation. We will miss the message from God. We will miss the influx of God’s power to change us into the people we came here to be.
For most of us, 2009 has brought us abundant joys and celebrations, reasons to rejoice in God’s goodness and favor, but also many hardships and disappointments. We have met new people who are even now revealing the face of Christ to us; we have had to say some goodbyes to others who have, for a variety of reasons, left us without their companionship. There is every reason to believe that 2010 will be much the same. In the past year, we tried to surrender to God’s higher plan for us, and we trusted, as best we could, that God would guide us in finding solutions to our challenges. But we also carried some emotional and spiritual baggage with us last year that we, for whatever reason, were afraid to release. Tonight, as we stand on the threshold of a new beginning, we want to start fresh. We want to surrender more and cling less. We want to embrace the Word of God like never before, and to open ourselves and our hearts to pondering the revelation of our loving God at all times, not just tonight, not just at Christmas time. We want to make better connections with the God who has brought us to this moment in history, not only talking to this God, but also listening in the stillness to the answers that only God can provide. Prayer is supposed to be a conversation with God but sometimes all we do is pick up our iPhones, text our list of problems and worries to God, then shut the phone off and put it back in our pocket without waiting for God to text us back. As we move into the last few hours of 2009, let us resolve to become more like Mary in 2010: let us resolve to spend more time listening to the voice of God, to recognize it, to treasure it, to ponder it more deeply in our hearts.