At the very first Christmas after traveling 90 miles on a donkey while very pregnant, giving birth in the extreme poverty of a shelter where animals are kept and then placing her newborn in a manger, a trough that animals eat out of; Mary is never shown to complain. In the face of humiliation, poverty, and rejection she doesn’t complain, instead as we read in the Gospel of Luke she prayerfully, “Kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:18).
Mary’s response to these trials and humiliations can serve as a model for how we should handle the little crosses we face each day. How do we respond when our life is disrupted, when other people or events shake up our life and our plans suddenly have to change? How do we feel when we are not treated well, when we are not recognized or appreciated or not given the attention we think we deserve?
Many of us become anxious when difficulties come our way. We may panic and worry and pour all our energy into trying to fix the problems all on our own. Or we may just sulk when things are not going our way and complain when we’re not being treated well. Mary’s example, however, reminds us that no matter what may happen in our lives, we go to God first asking God what he might be trying to teach us through these crosses that come our way. Perhaps we have the opportunity to grow in patience or humility. Or maybe God wants us to grow in greater trust or surrender of our own willfulness. There will always be suffering in this fallen world, but God can bring good from those difficult situations and use them to help us grow in certain ways that are for our spiritual good. The next time something frustrating or painful happens in our lives, we should pray and ask God what he is trying to teach us through these crosses. We, like Mary should keep all these things, pondering them in our hearts.
I have a story about a 5 year prayer of the heart. About 30 years ago there was an Irish evangelization movement that brought hundreds of young men and women to Dublin. These young people felt called to evangelize the British Isles. These young people were randomly assigned to groups of two. These groups of two, either two men or two women, were then randomly assigned a city to evangelize. They would spend a whole month in that city. These young people were not allowed to have money and they could only bring one change of clothing. For all of their needs they had to rely on the generosity of the people they encountered. After one month of evangelizing they would be picked up and taken home.
Katie and Susan, strangers to each other, were paired together and sent to London. They arrived late in the day and it was almost dark. They had no money, not even for an emergency. So they decided to stop at the first Catholic Church they could find. They found a Church but it was locked, however, there were lots of lights on in the rectory so they knocked on the front door. And after a few knocks the door was finally opened by a nervous priest. Katie and Susan told Father about their evangelization program; showed him their documentation and then asked his if he had a place for them to stay and possibly a bit of food to eat. Even though there was plenty of food and space in the rectory and the empty convent next door. The priest quickly turned them away without even thinking about it. Katie and Susan even offered to stay in the church, sleeping on a pew. But the priest denied them. He didn’t even send them away with a snack. The priest watched as they walked away.
Katie and Susan didn’t know what to do. But across the street a new building was going up. So they decided to sleep there. For their first night in London they slept in a cold, drafty, under construction apartment building. With a street lamp outside of his window to help him see, the priest watched them enter the building and he could see them clearly in the first floor apartment huddled in a corner. The priest didn’t sleep very well that night. He tossed and turned and every couple of hours he got up to see if the young women were still there in that building across the street. They were, huddled in the corner looking very cold. Finally, at five in the morning Father couldn’t take it any longer. He got up and went to the building. He wanted to invite them into the rectory for a few hours of rest and a big breakfast, but they were gone. Katie and Susan hadn’t slept very well and they had had enough so they got up and left. Father never saw them again. The rest of their month went very well. Katie and Susan met some wonderful people through their efforts of evangelization and they always had enough to eat and a place to rest each night.
Fast forward five years, unknown to each of them Katie and Susan again sign up for the evangelization project. And out of a hundred women Katie and Susan were again randomly paired up. And again, out of the many cities available, they were randomly assigned to go to London. Katie and Susan were amazed and happy to see each other again. They hadn’t spoken to each other in a very long time; they didn’t even expect to see each other. What are the odds they said that we’d be back together again, going back to London. Once in London the very first place they wanted to visit was the Church where the priest had turned them away five years previously. They were going to try again. So they knocked on the door and the very same priest opened it. They were about to say, “You probably don’t recognize us” but before either of them could get the words out of their mouths. Father burst out saying, “Please forgive me, I should never have turned you away; it was like turning Christ away.” After calming down a bit the priest went on to explain, “Every day for five years I’ve prayed for you both but mostly every single day over the past five years I’ve prayed to God for the opportunity to ask you to forgive me.” And now here you are, “Please forgive me.”
This is the power of prayer. Pray always without becoming weary.
For five years that priest pondered in his heart repeating and asking for the chance to make amends face to face. His persistent prayer, I am sure, softened his heart and made him more generous and open in all the other areas of his life.
Pray always without becoming weary.
Because of the fall of our first parents our hearts have the tendency to become knotted in worry and anger, and anxiety. But let us look to the example and intercession of the BVM, who can lead us to God the undoer of all knotted hearts. At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we lift our hearts to the Lord. At that moment give him your cares, give him your worries, give him your sorrows, give him your anger, give him your anxieties, give him your prayers, give him your joys, give him your thanks, give him everything. And in return let our Lord give you the prayerful heart you are meant to have.
Let us become great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley