Growing in Wisdom, Age, and Favor
January is generally a time when people make resolutions for the new calendar year. However, it almost seems as if there is an expectation that many of us will not be able to keep them. It is sort of a ‘cultural inside joke’ that by the end of January not only will we have been unsuccessful in keeping our resolutions, but that we may have even forgotten we made resolutions in the first place! To truly resolve to do something means that we sincerely desire to improve an aspect of our lives or to gain better habits. In spiritual terms, it means a conversion, a change in behavior which comes about through a bit of hard work on our part, while relying on God’s grace to help us achieve the goal. But in order to know what we could deepen or change, we must first do some reflection, perhaps pondering in a similar way as to that of the Virgin Mary when she held many things in her heart. Although we have come to the end of the Christmas season, it would serve us well to spend some time reflecting upon what we gleaned from it. It would make no sense to have celebrated such a rich season if we were to walk away unchanged and without any new insights into what it means to be disciples of Jesus, members of the family we call the Body of Christ. If that was the case, we will have missed a wonderful opportunity for growth “in wisdom and age and favor before God and others.” (Luke 2:52)
We might wish we could be like Mary and Joseph, pondering everything which happens and then applying to our lives the insights and wisdom we have gained, something we mistakenly think came easily to them. Their lives were actually no quieter than ours, but being totally in love with God, they could not imagine a day without spending time with the One they loved. Indeed, it does take time: even Jesus had to spend many years “growing in wisdom” as we observed on the Feast of the Holy Family. We also heard at the Epiphany that the Magi needed the time spent journeying in order to discern the events which unfolded in Bethlehem, sidestepping the evil desires of Herod while they came to pay homage to the Child. In these feasts a common thread is pondering, waiting, discerning, and then applying what God has revealed in order for growth in "wisdom, age, and favor" (that is, holiness) to take place. Therefore, if we desire to make a change or to grow in holiness, our resolution should be to dedicate ourselves to more prayer time for discerning what we are called to do and how we might go about it; if resolutions are going to be kept, we need to ask God for the graces and insights needed to reach our goal. It always takes a while: wisdom cannot be rushed.
But before we can resolve to grow in this way, we need to be aware of our relationship to Jesus. If we do not know what that is, there is little way we can grow in any kind of wisdom. My suggestion, then, is to make it our top priority to truly be His: if this is the only resolution we make, we are well on the road to growth. Remember that at His baptism (celebrated this past weekend), Jesus went into the river as an unknown figure in Israel. He had lived in obscurity for 30 years as a seemingly ordinary young man, a carpenter from Nazareth. Then He traveled to the Jordan River to be baptized, though He did not need to be cleansed of sin. Rather, He was inaugurating His ministry and teaching us about the relationship we are invited to have with God. No sooner than He emerged from the River, than the voice of the Father was heard saying that He was pleased with Him. Another way to look at this is to see God as a proud Father saying: “This is Jesus: He is mine and I love Him!” Therefore, when we came up from our baptismal waters, we can be sure that the Father said the same thing of us: “This is my beloved: she (he) is mine and I love her (him)!” God has claimed us as His. And so we need to resolve to truly claim Him as ours, too.
As we enter into Ordinary Time it is important to be aware of whose we are, but also to keep in mind that each of us belongs to the wider family of the Body of Christ. Therefore, it might be good to devote some of our daily prayer to focusing on others, discerning who we need to pray for, (and then act upon it); simultaneously, we can also pray to grow personally, in some specific way, as a member of this family. We might pray to be more welcoming or to accept the welcome and assistance of another member of the Body of Christ extended to us; or perhaps we might need to accept a specific responsibility, or to reach out to someone in our own sphere of relatives, friends, and acquaintances. It could be that we need to grow in generosity, (inspired by the Magi), or to grow in welcoming the stranger, (inspired by the Holy Family who were not welcomed and consequently had to find a stable for Jesus’ birth). Or it might be to find wonder and awe in simple beauty, such as a flock of sheep, the stars of night, or a tiny baby. Whatever it is, in order to come to new insights or wisdom, spending time in prayer with the insights of the Christmas season can help us to keep alive the spirit of love and welcome which seem to come more easily during the holidays.
If we belong to God and truly acknowledge this, we can see more clearly that He expresses His love in many ways, not the least of which is through our communities, specifically our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus chose 12 apostles along with other men and women, (including His own mother, Mary), who were true disciples. These committed people kept the mission alive and thriving after His death and resurrection. And after they were gone, many other holy ones devoted their lives to the spreading of the kingdom, continuing the work of building up the community of the faithful. These holy women and men continue to teach the lesson that it takes a family, the Christian family, to make this mission effective. Therefore, it is important to ask the Spirit’s help in discerning the call of the Lord to Whom we belong and Who belongs to us, that we might put our prayer into action with our brothers and sisters and for our brothers and sisters.
If we desire to grow in holiness, and if we want to grow in relationship to Jesus, it is important to enter more fully into the mysteries of our faith through prayer and an effort to study, perhaps by immersing ourselves in a chapter of the gospels each day, some spiritual reading, or by listening to a podcast about the faith.* We can do as the secular world implies, but in a spiritual way; that is, we can ‘lose weight’ by letting go of the stuff that we drag along with us daily, the baggage of unforgiveness and old wounds which keep us from reaching out to others in love and mercy. Perhaps ‘losing weight’ also means sharing our goods, letting go of the ‘bloat’ of things we have accumulated which we do not use and do not need. We can resolve to put our reflection into action, taking to heart the example of the Holy Family and the figures of the Christmas season, all of whom needed one another to bring Jesus into the world and then to keep Jesus safe when He was young and vulnerable. We can align our efforts with the gospels, something that does not require any special gifts, by teaching it to our children through our example as well as our words. We could get involved in a parish ministry, and we could dedicate ourselves to reaching out to others in small ways as opportunities to do so arise.
To bring Christ into the world and to make His message known takes a family, and we, the Body of Christ, are that family. The best way we can grow in ‘wisdom and favor before God,’ (holiness), is to first understand our identity as belonging to the Father who loves us in the same way as He loves His Son. Then we can work together to bring the peace, mercy, and love of God into the world, offering this same understanding to those who do not yet know of it. If the joy, goodwill, and wonder of the Christmas season did not move us in some way, then perhaps now is the time to return to the mysteries, pondering with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, so that we might live as members of the Holy Family, in unity with one another, and in gratitude and love for God.
May we be inspired by Mary and Joseph to the prayer of reflection, savoring and pondering the insights received during the Christmas season! May we have the patience and courage of the Holy Family and the Magi to stay with that which is beyond our understanding and then to trust God’s prompting! May we recognize in the words of the Father at Jesus' baptism, that we, too, are His beloved! May we join with our brothers and sisters as one family in Christ working together to build the Kingdom! And may we truly carry the faith, good will, and joy we experienced at the coming of Jesus into the rest of the year! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Notes: The next post will be January 28.
* A suggestion is Word on Fire. Bishop Robert Barron has many podcasts that one can choose from. There are a few others who are also excellent who are also part of the Word on Fire team. http://wordonfireshow.com/ You can also look up some videos they have on YouTube. Here is the home website: https://www.wordonfire.org/
I would also suggest an article I read recently. The author suggests we think of Epiphany as a season, the way it was many years ago. I really like that idea, and it inspired some of my reflections in this post. https://aleteia.org/2019/01/08/the-forgotten-season-of-epiphany/?utm_campaign=NL_en&utm_source=daily_newsletter&utm_medium=mail&utm_content=NL_en
1.This painting is called The Road in Front of St. Simeon Farm in Winter, by Claude Monet. (1867). I chose it because it seemed an apt January scene, symbolic of the beginning of the year, but it also is a peaceful, reflective scene which can be pondered.
2. This is an inset from a work of Bl. Fra Angelico called Adoration of the Magi (1440-60). I chose this because it is hard to tell if the adorer is a shepherd or one of the Magi. That it 'blurs' the class distinction, is wonderful!
3. One of my photos, the Jordan River, Israel: I felt that this nondescript bend in the River, said to be 'the spot' where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, was appropriate. However, even if this was in fact the actual spot, the water is now brown, polluted, and overgrown with reeds; in short it is not very appealing. Yet there were many men and women being immersed here for actual baptism when we were visiting. The faith of those folks, allowing immersion into that now dirty water, was truly amazing!
4. I chose this photo of stars, taken through the Hubble telescope, because it is awe inducing! Perhaps we can resolve to see the beauty around us in some way on a daily basis. The challenge is on! (It is not that difficult once you let yourself really see.)
5. I took this photo of a stained glass window while in Le Mans, France, a number of years ago. I chose it because I love how St Joseph was depicted along with a more modern family. Personally, (though I do not know for sure) I think it is the Martins, a family which contained three saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, her mother St. Zelie Martin, and her father St. Louis Martin. If you think it could not be the Martins' because you see two boys along with the five girls, that's because there were two boys in their family, but they died as infants; the artist most likely included them because they truly were members of that holy family.
6. This icon is called Mary, Mother of Mercy - Dedicated to Pope Francis in the Year of Mercy, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose it because I love the playful child Jesus, who seems to be almost dancing on the globe while blessing the viewer and perhaps the entire world. I see joy in this icon: the child Jesus and Mary seem to be sharing a wonderful moment. You can obtain a copy of this at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mary-mother-of-mercy-dedicated-to-pope-francis-in-this-year-of-mercy-289-william-hart-mcnichols.html
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