Solemnity of Mary 2017

Did you ever wonder how Mary and Joseph kept it together?  For the past few weeks, we have heard of their remarkable journey.  It is composed of an unending stream of miracles, prophecies, angels and dreams, all speaking of a life beyond their imagination. Given how outrageously the mission of giving birth and raising God’s son was given to them, how did they handle it so graciously?  Why isn’t there a verse around Luke 2:46 that says, “And then Mary had a panic attack.”

We learn a great deal about why in this Gospel when we hear, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” She did not allow any detail of God’s great plan escape her notice.  She held on to all of them and reflected on them, making sense of what this meant for her child, her family, herself and her nation.  It did not get too big, because in her immaculate heart there was enough space, creativity and love to hold all these marvelous things together.

Mary contemplated.  Mary prayed over the events of her life. In doing so, she was exercising a practice that existed even thousands of years before her.  Nowadays we hear of “Mindfulness.”  Mindfulness is focusing on the moment, the here and now, while blocking out the past and not slipping into the future.  It is a wonderful tool that has become all the rage, but it also deeply connected to contemplation, a gift shared by even the most diverse religions.

One day this past semester, a college student wrote me an email asking a theological question. Let me say that again.  A college student wrote me an email asking a theological question.  This is what I dream about.  I get up in the morning for moments like this.  She asked my opinion on mindfulness. I told her how much I appreciate the gift of now and the urgency of the present.  I responded that Jesus seemed to me to be awfully mindful, acting in a moment, moved with pity as when he raised the son of the widow of Nain with no greater purpose than to relieve her pain.  Her email encouraged me to be more mindful of those around me a part of my vocation.

I also shared my reservation.  I think that Christians need not fear the past or the future for we believe we live in a redeemed world.  If grace is always a part of us, even the most difficult things, we should consider it knowing that God has taught us and given us enough to go forward.  That we should be present to a wider spectrum than just the now.  For not all the past is toxic and not all the future is forbidding.

A Christian mindfulness then might have us contemplate the past in such a way that we consider all those moments that brought us to this place.  The people whose love has shaped our lives, the circumstances when God’s love was apparent to us and where our lives shared the same plane of God’s love.  Then we could confidently move to the present knowing the God who has always been there for us will be for us now.  We can look at what our opportunities are and buoyed by God’s abiding presence, seek where we are needed and where we might be best fed.  Finally, we cannot turn a blind eye to our future for hope is a bedrock Christian value.  The future is an unfurling of God’s grace.  We dare to look forward to a future of unlimited horizon and love given us beyond our imagination.  This must color our present as we are called to let the promise of salvation seep into the now so that we might share something of our heavenly hope for all around us.

I recently tried to put this in practice when the Bishop asked me to take on the new role of Vicar for Catholic faith formation and education.  It is weird when a Bishop asks you something because it is like, well, you know you are going to do it.  But you should know why you are doing it.  And it turned out the very next day, I was driving to hospitals in Cooperstown and Saratoga, so I had a lot of time to contemplate.  I thought of the past, and how every time in my vocation, a new opportunity presented itself and I pursued it with faith, I had been so richly rewarded.  I thought of my present, and the strength and support I have from all of you and knew that I would be capable.  And this allowed me to be excited for a future of helping to build something beautiful that we might all rejoice and share our beautiful faith.  It was amazingly comforting.

So that is my plan.  It isn’t really worked out or practiced that much.  It is why I call it Bobfulness because it isn’t really a part of our spiritual heritage. But perhaps it is a way to look at our lives as Mary did:  with an eye on the providence of God which she counted on, with a yes to all that God presented her and finally to a future full of the salvation she made possible through the birth of her son.