We tend to admire people who can make quick judgements, especially under pressure. It could be a quarterback, reading the defense and changing the play at the line of scrimmage; a police officer or firefighter, in the midst of a dangerous situation who brings order out of chaos; a businessman, in the midst of a market crash making choices that will keep them and their clients out of bankruptcy. It’s something we depend on at times, we want to put ourselves into such hands or we want to have that ability ourselves. We rarely see the hard work that goes into getting ready for such occasions, how someone spends all their effort and training just to handle a crisis.
The quick judgements we make are usually more foolish. One more piece of pie, one more drink, one more gadget we might use once a year, another 30 minutes of TV since it’s our favorite show. We’re conditioned to make quick judgements to satisfy our urges. We let ourselves be stampeded by false crises.
Mary was tempted to make a quick judgement. After all, a bunch of shepherds showing up out of the blue with incredible news was somewhat like having a biker gang drop by for a friendly visit. The story they told could have been the result of drinking too much wine under the stars, or fooling around with some strange substance. “The angel told us to come here.” Yeah, whatever. Mary and Joseph could have written them off as crazy, after all shepherds were unreliable witnesses, untrustworthy. She could have chosen not to listen, chosen to ignore what they were saying, even though some of it was news the world had been waiting to hear for centuries. Even though Joseph had a dream and Mary was visited by an angel herself, it was probably quite overwhelming.
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” This was no crisis, there was no need to act quickly or even think quickly. She knew that reflection would let her see the depth of what was happening, help her resolve her doubts, help her embrace her new role as the Mother of God. Plato had said centuries before Mary’s time that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Reflection was a virtue in that culture, and it’s a virtue still today.
We live in a world that doesn’t want us to reflect, to think about what we’re doing, to give ourselves time and space for wisdom to arrive in its own time. If we’re hungry, we’re not supposed to think about it: we’re supposed to grab a candy bar because we’re not ourselves when we’re hungry. If we see something or someone attractive, we’re support to seize the day and get it now. If we’re frightened, we’re supposed to defend ourselves before we know what’s going on, shoot first and ask questions later.
Mary gives us a model, to reflect on things in our hearts. She probably spent most of her life pondering what Jesus meant to hear, from the beginning of the story to the end of it, from Gabriel’s visit to the empty tomb. Jesus becomes part of us today through the Eucharist, is part of our new year and new possibilities. It takes time to reflect on what that means, Christ becoming part of us through His Body and Blood, how that’s supposed to guide our thoughts and actions, our principles and our goals. The resolutions we make this year and the ones we keep are something we should ponder in our hearts like Mary did. Only when we do that, can we understand what the angels were singing out over Bethlehem 2000 years ago. When we reflect in our hearts about Christ’s coming, will we start to see the true state of the world, its blessings and its challenges. When we reflect in our hearts, we can see the Hope Christ brings us, in spite of whatever bad may be going on in the world, in spite of our own failings and those of our society. Reflection brings us the Hope we need in this year and any year. Reflection brings us the peace we need to respond to the chaos that surrounds us at times, and keeps us from making panicked choices we later regret. Reflection on the meaning of Christ to us gives us the path we must take in this world, and the key of Paradise which is coming into being around us.