Imagine how Mary must have felt on the night when Jesus was born. The long days of waiting were over. Holding Jesus in her arms, She saw the fulfillment of what the angel had promised nine months earlier. She felt the joy that any mother would feel, but also the excitement of knowing that her son was destined to be Israel’s Savior.
Just as Mary was able to treasure the birth of her son, and just as she took time to ponder everything that had happened to her, we can do the same thing this Advent season. We can make this a special time of reflection—a time to ask God to give us new insights and a time to ask how we can build our own family to look more like the Holy Family.
So let’s look at Mary, the person who was closer to Jesus than anyone else, and see what lessons we can learn.
Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
His mother kept all these things
in her heart. (Luke 2:51)
During his time in Rome, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, kept a picture of the Holy Family on his bedroom wall. He was known to gaze at that picture for hours and ponder what it would have been like to be with them. He imagined himself at the manger or in their home at Nazareth. He pictured himself next to Mary as she stood by the cross or with the apostles on Pentecost Sunday. Then he locked in his mind all the insights and inspirations that had come to him as he did this.
It appears that Mary followed the same path that St. Ignatius did. Or perhaps it would be best to say that Ignatius followed Mary’s example! On the night Jesus was born, Mary soaked in all the details and treasured them deeply. Of course she experienced the joy that all new mothers feel. But she was also lifted up by the visit of the shepherds and their story of singing angels. And she surely was comforted by the strength of Joseph’s presence and the way he guided and protected her.
But Mary didn’t just mull these things over in her mind. She also opened her heart to God and gave the Holy Spirit room to lead and guide her ponderings. More perfectly than anyone else, Mary practiced the art of thinking prayerfully. You can just imagine her saying, “Heavenly Father, show me what you are doing here. I don’t want to let anything that is happening right now slip away from me. Show me how these events can help us become the Holy Family you have called us to be.”
On her own, Mary’s insights would have been limited. She would have seen Jesus’ birth more from her perspective and less from God’s point of view. But because she stayed open to God, she came to understand his purposes more clearly. She came to see her life from God’s perspective. It didn’t happen all at once, but it did happen. It took time and patience and trust—and Mary was rewarded for her commitment.
St. Theophilus of Antioch, a second-century bishop, summed up Mary’s pondering this way:
The Virgin, whether she understood or whether she could not yet understand, equally laid up all things in her heart for reflection and diligent examination.
. . . She pondered upon both his divine words and works, so that nothing that was said or done by him was lost upon her.
. . . This was her constant rule and law through her whole life.
Beyond Marveling. Scripture tells us that everyone marveled at what had happened the night Jesus was born. Everyone was impressed with what God had done. In the days that followed, they probably talked about it with everyone they met. But Mary went beyond just marveling. She sought God’s insights so that she could come to a deeper understanding of these things.
There is a big difference between marveling over the promises of God—as good as that is—and pondering them in your heart. While others marveled, Mary tried to take hold of the angel’s promises and place them in the center of her heart. She wanted to know what exactly was the “good news of great joy” that they had announced (Luke 2:10). She wanted to know why the heavenly host gave glory to God at that moment and why they were singing of “peace to those on whom his favor rests” (2:14). She sought to sift through the announcement that a “savior” had just been born (2:11). She tried to take in everything that was happening so that she could understand God’s purposes behind it.
If you owned a precious diamond, you wouldn’t just leave it out on your kitchen table where anyone could take it. At the same time, you wouldn’t lock it away in a safe where you couldn’t admire it and appreciate its beauty. This is similar to the way Mary treated the marvels that happened around her. She appreciated the “diamonds” that God was giving her. She guarded them carefully because she didn’t want to lose them. But she also kept them in the forefront of her mind so that she could fix her gaze on God’s work of salvation and let its beauty and mystery unfold in her heart more and more.
Ponder the Promises. Can it be any different for us? If we want to draw closer to Jesus, if we want to find guidance for the difficulties of our lives, if we want to learn how to become more like the Holy Family, our best answer is to imitate Mary.
During this season of Advent, let’s prayerfully ponder the promises Jesus has made to us and our families. He promised to supply our needs (Philippians 4:19). He promised that his grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9). He promised to give us the heavenly bread of the Eucharist (John 6:35). He promised to be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). He promised to hold us in the palm of his hand (John 10:28).
Jesus wants to bless you just as much as he blessed Mary. He wants to bless your family just as much as he blessed the Holy Family. Mary knew that as she reflected on what God was doing, her family would grow in holiness and deepen in love for each other. So let’s follow her lead. Let’s be sure not to lose sight of the amazing work that God did for us at Christmas. But let’s be careful not to lock it away and think about it only once a year. Let’s keep the miracle of God with us at the forefront of our minds so that we can stay close to Jesus every day.
Hail, Favored One! When he first appeared to her, the angel Gabriel told Mary, “Hail, favored one” (Luke 1:28). Yes, Mary had God’s favor in a special way, but that doesn’t mean he has reserved his favor just for her. God favors you as well. He favors your family, too. He wants your family to know that he is with them.
Every day this Advent, make it a point to pray for every member of your family, no matter what their situation. Ask the Lord to show them more and more favor. Ask him to show you how to love your family more deeply. Ask him to help you forgive what needs to be forgiven, to encourage what needs to be encouraged, and to be grateful for every blessing he has given you. Ask him to help you all take one step closer to becoming living saints.
While you’re at it, go ahead and ask for a miracle or two. Christmas is a time for giving gifts; maybe the Lord has a special gift he wants to give your family. Remember how Mary expected the outlandish when she asked Jesus to change water into wine (John 2:1-10). Remember how Jesus helped Peter with the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11). Remember, too, how he went so far as to hear Martha’s prayer and raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead (John 11:1-44). With miracles like these in mind, ask for the miracle of conversion for anyone in your family who is far from the Lord. Ask for those caught in the trap of addiction to be set free. Ask for anyone who is sick to be healed in the name of Jesus. Go ahead and ask and ask and ask.
Come to Me. God wants to rain his favor down on all of us—and he wants to do it in two ways. First, he wants to give us insights into his love and his plan. Second, he wants to work wonders in our lives and in our families. But in each instance, he is asking us to come to him, just as Mary did. This Advent, let’s treasure his mysteries; let’s ponder them so that God can teach us. And let’s be bold and trusting enough to ask for miracles. As Mary shows us, nothing is impossible when we come to the Lord!