New Year’s morning finds me posting again from home where yesterday’s delicious frosting of snow has given way to small patches of the white stuff scattered over green grass and puddles of water.
So far here, it’s been a morning for reflection and hope with the atmosphere charged by the sense that we’ve turned the page on a difficult year.
Making the most of the chance to start over on New Year’s is always a challenge, highlighted by the string of resolutions so many of us make and then quickly set aside.
At our house, the resolutions reflect a combined focus on spiritual well being and physical health. My resolutions focus on more time for prayer and reflection and a pared down, simplified menu aimed at discarding 20 well deserved pounds.
Weight wise, brother Pete doesn’t have to diet but after last year’s bypass surgery, he needs to watch the carbs, fats and all the rest so he’s on board with the health boosting plan as well.
Where the spiritual component is concerned, I’ve been combing through Catholic web sites which focus on this day as a celebration of the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the “first disciple.” A number of writers urge following in Mary’s footsteps by carrying a real sense of her “yes” with us into the New Year.
That advice is a real bell ringer for New Year’s Day. After the year we’ve had — and indeed the decade — it would be easy to just, as Mel Brooks so aptly put it in The Twelve Chairs, “hope for the best, expect the worse.”
Here, I turn to Jesuit Father James Martin for inspiration on how embracing her example can make for better days ahead:
“In the Gospel of Luke, Mary says yes to angel Gabriel, who asks her to bear God’s son. And she does so in perfect freedom. As do we—in our own lives. God meets us in myriad ways, through nature, through prayer, especially through people “For Christ plays in the ten thousand places, lovely in eyes and limbs not his,” as the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote. God invites us to join him, he invites us to follow him, he invites us to create with him.
But the decision is always up to us. We are free to say yes or no to God.
With her yes, Mary partners herself with the Almighty and is empowered to bring Christ into the world. This world-changing yes is what St. Bernard speaks of in one of his sermons on Mary: “Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.”
With our own yes to God’s voice in our lives we are also asked to nurture the word of God within us and bring Christ into the world—certainly not in the same way that Mary was, but in our own situations, and in our own ways. Using our own talents and graces we are called to bring Christ into the lives of others.
In describing the arc of the conversation between Gabriel and Mary, the Gospel of Luke perfectly describes the arc of the spiritual life: God initiates the conversation; we are initially hesitant and fearful; we seek to understand God’s word in our life; God reminds us of our experience, and, free to choose, if we say yes to God, we are able to bring new life into the world.
from My Life with the Saints, by James Martin