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Transform: 1. To change markedly the appearance or form of; 2. To change the nature, function, or condition of; convert.

Ponder: 1. Think about (something) carefully, esp. before deciding or concluding.

This weekend we continue our reflections on the transformation of the peasant girl from Nazareth named Mary.

A few weeks ago we remembered the Annunciation. The Angel Gabriel visits the insignificant town of Nazareth and makes the most significant announcement in the history of the world- “this virgin will conceive a boy and that child will be called Jesus and he is the Son of God. “

Mary “ponders” – thinks carefully about what she has been told before concluding what to do. Each time we are told that Mary ponders what she has been told we get an extraordinary glimpse into her humanity.

When we meet Mary in Luke’s gospel, she is a young girl who over the course of the next 30+ years grows into a wise woman. Her life however, is a time of continual change and as she grows older she comes to understand what the things she has pondered in her heart actually mean.

This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary- the Mother of God. Of all the titles we have given to Mary over the years the one I believe she most likely holds dearest is the one of “Mother”.

When she says yes to the Angel Gabriel, a yes that is based entirely on faith, her world is changed and she is forever transformed.

Mary becomes the mother of Jesus. She is now responsible for the life of this infant who she knows is different from the rest but she does not completely understand how his life story will play out.

In John’s gospel the role of Mary as mother is clarified in two highly symbolic stories.

First we meet her at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-11).

In this story Mary “encourages” Jesus, who is at first reluctant, to get involved in helping their friends. I often imagine that Mary gave Jesus that look; many of you know the look, the one only a mother can give to a child who is questioning her request and immediately Jesus agrees to help.

Mary approaches the wine steward and says- “Go to my son and do whatever he tells you.”

The next time we see Mary in John’s gospel is at the foot of the cross. In John 19:26-27 we are told that When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”

 It is in these two stories in John’s gospel that the primary role of Mother Mary is established for all time. At the foot of the cross Jesus tells us that Mary is our mother. The unnamed disciple that Jesus loved represents each of us. At this moment we become the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus, which means that Abba, becomes our loving father as St. Paul tells us in the second reading and Mary is our spiritual mother.

It is as our spiritual mother that Mary plays her most important role. Mary points us to Jesus- just as she did at the wedding feast of Cana. When we pray to Mary, her answer is always the same- “Go to my son and do whatever he tells you.”

Ten years ago I had an experience that shaped this understanding of the role of Mary for me. It was the first weekend of the diaconate formation program. I met Father Chris Rupert, a Jesuit, who was facilitating our weekend on prayer.

He was the first person to introduce me to the idea of meditative prayer. He had us relax and imagine a scene where we could meet Jesus.

I have a pretty active imagination and almost immediately I was on a lake driving a fast boat heading towards an island. As I docked the boat I noticed two men in a garden, one younger than the other and there was a beautiful cottage. I decided to go into the cottage.

Inside there was a woman and I immediately felt comfortable and welcomed. She noticed me looking out the window and she came up behind me and said- go into the garden my son is waiting for you.

All I remember is watching the scene unfold as I go out into the garden and the younger of the two men embraces me and we head off into the surrounding forest for a walk.

This is where my relationship with Jesus took on a new and deeper meaning. I understood, perhaps for the first time, that Jesus is my brother, teacher and friend.

A second transformational experience happened just before my ordination when I encountered Charlie. I have shared Charlie’s story numerous times. He spent his childhood in institutions where he was terribly abused. As an adult he became the abuser.

After spending most of his adult life in jail he was about to be released. My friend Rev. Harry was the pastor of a small Mennonite church at that time. He came to the congregation and asked them if they would be willing to welcome Charlie into their community.It was a difficult decision and I won’t go into the details but eventually a small group of people stepped forward and formed a circle around Charlie. They called themselves Charlie’s angels- and for the next 10 years they became his friends and held Charlie accountable for his actions.

The only time I met Charlie was on the occasion of his 10th anniversary as a free man. He was on stage getting his award with tears running down his cheeks. When I looked into the audience the members of his Circle of friends were standing and their tears were also flowing.

It was Charlie’s friends who had been changed.  Their experience had transformed them because they had taken the time to see the face of Christ in one of the weakest and most despised of our brothers and sisters. For the first time in my 50 years of life I understood what it meant to be a Christian.

We each have our own story. This New Year’s Eve/Day you may be contemplating making some changes in your life. Some small ones, perhaps a few of you are wrestling with major decisions.

As this New Year dawns find some time to be quiet and to be alone in prayer.  Visit in your mind and heart with the most gentle of people to ever walk this earth, Mary our mother. Do not be afraid when she points you to her Son, your brother Jesus.

If you choose to walk with Jesus long enough and listen closely you will hear a call to change. He may well ask you to dedicate your life to those others consider to be worthless.

When this happens, this call will be something to ponder and it will help if we remember the words of the Angel Gabriel to Mary-“Do not be afraid” as we decide if we have enough trust to allow our lives to be transformed by Christ.

2 Responses to “Homily: A Story of Transformation to Ponder”

  1. Neil Sweeney says:

    Mike,
    I don’t know if you happened to notice but as you walked back onto the alter after your homily, with the exception of one crying child, you could have heard a pin drop. The child was probably crying because you finished.
    I found today’s homily one of the simplest and yet most profound messages you have shared with us. You manage to keep presenting down to earth common sense approaches to our relationship with God.
    We are truly blessed to be able to walk with you on your journey.
    Thank you

  2. deaconmike says:

    Neil

    Thanks so much for your encouragement and your help over these past years. they mean a great deal to me and the ministry. Mike