A Word for the Year

This homily was given at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Roseburg, OR on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, January 1, 2023.

You might have seen a picture going around recently on the internet. 

It’s a comic in three panels. 

First it shows a woman smiling and laughing; the caption says “2019.”

The middle square is completely black and empty.

Then it shows the same woman, waking up, confused: “2023.”

That sums up the experience of the last few years pretty well: going from one thing to the next at breakneck speed, hardly knowing how we got there.

Today we’re on the threshold of a new year, but for many of us, the last one passed like a blur, not to speak of the one before that, or before that!

Today we are on the eighth day of Christmas … and it seems like just yesterday we were wrapping the presents and lighting the tree.

As we live faster and faster, hurrying from one thing to the next, even against our will or better judgment, the pace of our lives drives out recollection.

Recollection is that spirit of attentiveness, listening, staying alert, paying attention, being present to the present moment.

Like a fragile flower, it takes time and effort to cultivate, and it’s easily lost in a stormy season.

As we lose the spirit of recollection in our busy lives, we live more and more on the surface of things, becoming frazzled, burnt out … and we miss the deeper story of the passing years and seasons: what God is about.

We forget, in fact, that in each of our life’s stories, God is the author and the protagonist, and He is about something good, here and now.

Jesus Christ calls us to go deep this year with Him: to live our lives with him, to be attentive, listening, present to all that He is saying and doing.

And Mary, the ever-Virgin mother of God and our mother, goes before us this year, showing us how to live a life of recollection, a life with God. 

First: Mary listens. 

At her Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel arrives with a message from heaven which changes the course of her life and all human history, she is not busy or preoccupied. 

She’s listening, in prayer.

It may seem a small thing, but this posture of listening receptivity is the first principle and foundation of the Christian life.

As we listen, we become still and silent, waiting on the Lord in patient hope.

The silent, listening heart is ready to receive the words from heaven when they come: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”

Second: Mary believes. 

“How blessed are you,” says Elizabeth, “who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!”

Hearing the voice of the Lord, she places her trust in Him.

As we believe what we have heard from the Lord, we choose to place our trust in Him and in His promises, not in ourselves or in any other power.

But we know it is not always that simple for us, to hear and believe.

We are beset with many doubts and distractions.

That’s why Mary’s third disposition is a very important example for us.

She not only hears and believes … she reflects on all these things in her heart.

Reflecting on the Lord’s words, His actions, His promises, His providence, His faithfulness, His mercy, His love, increases our trust in Him.

As we remember the goodness of the Lord, we can choose more easily to trust Him, here and now, even in the midst of storms and busy seasons. 

And then, fourth and finally, Mary acts. 

She does not live on the surface of her life; she acts out of the depths of her listening heart, from the fullness of her reflection and contemplation.

Having heard the word of God and placed all her trust in Him, she carries it out with hope and faith and love.

Today, at this first Holy Mass of the year 2023, we are at a new beginning. 

Here and now, ask Jesus to speak a word to you for the new year, and following the example of Mary, be patient in listening for the answer. 

When it comes, write down this word in a place you’ll see it throughout the year—the front of your prayer book, the visor of your car—and return to it often, telling Jesus you believe in the word He speaks over you. 

Use this word as a reminder that God is active, that He is present in your life; use the word He gives as a lens to interpret what He is saying and doing.

In your prayer times this year, reflect on the events of the year, the desires and movements of your heart, the graces and trials that will surely come, in the light of the word of God. 

And after listening, believing, reflecting … strive to act each day in accordance with what the Lord says and what He shows you. 

As we live in Mary’s spirit of recollection, listening, believing, reflecting, and acting, we become more like Jesus, her son. 

And on the last day of this year 2023, Jesus will be proud to stand before his Mother and Father in heaven and call us his brothers and sisters, for all who do the will of God, like Mary, belong to the family of God, and have a place in his home for ever. 

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