Q: With the start of the New Year, I always feel like I should make a resolution. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Either way, I never end up keeping them, and it just feels like I never change. What do you recommend?
A: Thank you for this question. In honor of Mary, the Mother of God (the feast we celebrate on Jan. 1), I have a couple of thoughts.
First, I want to acknowledge the fact that we mark the passing of time. That might seem obvious, but I believe that it is significant. As human beings, we mark the endings of things, and we mark the beginnings of things. Days and weeks, months and years, seasons and lives are only appreciated when we weigh them up, when we stop and take note of them.
Think about what life would be like if we didn’t mark the significant passage of time. I wonder if we would even have an awareness of ourselves. The way we understand our own identity is so closely tied up in our memories and experiences. We know ourselves by knowing our past. If we do not note the story of our lives, then we will struggle to truly know who we are. Not only that, we will likely fail to recognize the significance of life — our lives and the lives of those around us.
That being said, Mary can truly be a model for this. Luke’s Gospel notes that, as the events of Jesus’ life unfolded in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nazareth, “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” I believe that there is an awful lot packed into this short phrase, and it might be helpful to try and unpack it.
There are at least three ways that we can follow Mary’s lead in this. We can Hold, Reflect, and Remember.
As the year has come to an end, our temptation is to rush immediately into the new year. But if we look to Mary, we would see that, in order to “keep all these things,” we need to stop and notice them. We need to hold on to the events of the past year. This means cultivating an awareness of the significance of life.
Too often, life simply flows past each one of us. And yet, we are in the middle of life. This is the only life that we get on this earth, and God placed us here and now in order to do his will. If we are oblivious to him and to the ways in which he is acting in our daily life, then we will ultimately miss out on the ways he is moving in our entire lives.
Cultivating an awareness of significant moments can be simple. It can look like appreciating a conversation that you had with a family member. I know for myself, I can fool myself into believing that there will “always be another time” when I can talk with my parents or my siblings. But when I stop and think about it, the number of conversations that I will ever have with my family members in this life is numbered. If I can be aware of this fact, then those moments are given their proper value. I need to learn to notice them and “hold” them. I need to take note of them and value them.
Next, we can live like Mary if we reflect on the moments we have noticed and held. Again, the temptation to move from one event or season to the next is strong. I work on a college campus, and the calendar is incredibly cyclical. There is always “the next thing.” We scarcely finish one event or season or semester when we are already working on the next one. And yet, when we take time to reflect on what just happened, we begin truly living.
I was talking with some brother priests about this idea a couple of months ago. One of them mentioned that his mentor encouraged him to reflect every day. This was distinct from prayer (which also needs to happen every day). Prayer is our relationship with God and looks different from pondering. Now, our reflection can turn into prayer. For example, in reflecting on the events of the past day or past couple of days, we can turn to the Lord and relate what we have reflected on to him. I highly recommend this, but it begins with reflecting first on the events that have occurred in our lives and how we responded to those events. So many do not know why they do the things they do because we haven’t taken the time to reflect!
Third, we remember. If you are familiar with the Bible, you will know that, all throughout the Old Testament, the Lord God continues to command the People of Israel to “remember” what God has done — to remember who God is, to remember the relationship God has brought them into. This might seem like an optional piece of advice to some people.
But this is a command of the Lord God, because God knows us. He knows that, unless we take the time to actively remember (which is markedly different from passive remembering), we will forget. Unless we actively call to mind all that God has done in our lives, we will fail to remember the goodness of God in times of trouble, we will fail to remember the promises of God in times of distress, and we will fail to remember the presence of God in times of darkness.
But we can never afford to forget in the dark what we knew was true in the light. Because of this, we need to act like Mary and Hold, Reflect, and Remember. If we do this, we will find that life will never simply “pass us by.” It won’t be able to, because we will actually be living.