DISPOSITIONS OF THE HEART FOR THE NEW YEAR Homily of Fr. Primitivo 'Jun' Viray, Jr.
Church of the Gesù, Ateneo de Manila University
1 January 2021, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
How can we best prepare to welcome the new year? In a VUCA world, that is, volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, what anchors or handles do we hold on to help us? Or to put it in another way, what dispositions of the heart can we consider as we begin another year? The heart as we know is a symbol of our emotion, affect, and love, thus it encompasses our whole person. How can we properly dispose our hearts, our entire person, to respond to this VUCA world?
First, we can beg for the grace of gratitude for the past year. It may be all too hard to take this in having seen how wrong and devastating the year 2020 has been—the loss of lives and livelihoods, the staggering hunger and poverty.
For skeptics, this is too hard to swallow: how can God have allowed all these to happen? But Pope Francis from the very beginning of the pandemic, reminded us that the pandemic with all its impact on the world can be a place for metanoia, of conversion. It can be an opportunity to move us out of our selfishness and look outwards to care for others, to be the Good Samaritan touched by the suffering he witnessed and goes out of his way to help.
We can be grateful for being alive and well, secure and safe with all that we will ever need. We know that there is so much to be grateful for.
In the 1st Reading from the book of Numbers, the Lord instructs Moses how to bless the people of Israel. Today as we begin a new year, we listen to the Lord to speaking to us and blessing us directly as he did the people of Israel:
I will bless you and keep you! I will look upon you kindly and let the splendor of my face shine upon you. And grant you peace and grace and wholeness!
Today, we invoke your name, O God. Look on all of us kindly. Please bless us, every one of us.
As God has always been faithful and generous to us in the past, we turn to him and beg from him to dispose our hearts to receive his blessing of peace for the coming year.
Peace: the Hebrew word Shalom includes the idea of happiness, good health, prosperity, friendship, and general well-being. Happiness here does not mean singing, dancing, and having fun but rather it means having the protective hand of God over us.
Happiness here does not mean singing, dancing, and having fun but rather it means having the protective hand of God over us.
It means that nothing can go wrong, and God’s guidance is ever present, looking over us, despite any appearances to the contrary. This is the peace that we are asking God to bless us and dispose us at the beginning of the new year.
Second, the second disposition we can ask for is that of hope and patient endurance until the end. In the 2nd Reading from Galatians, Paul beautifully reminds us of the great mystery of the incarnation, God becoming man for us and making us sons and daughters of God, able to cry out “Abba, Father!” because God has already sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts. Thus, we are invited once again to anchor and place our hopes and desires for the coming year on the undeniable reality of the Emmanuel—God-with-us—accompanying us through the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world awaiting us. St. Paul again reminds us, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Romans 8: 24 – 25)
Friedrich von Hügel, an influential Austrian Roman Catholic layman, religious writer in the 19th century, wrote a beautiful letter to his niece entitled, “A Spirituality for all weathers.” He says that in times of crisis, it is important to remain patient and steady, choosing reliable and proven means to weather the crisis.
It is important to remain patient and steady, choosing reliable and proven means to weather the crisis.
He gives the examples of an experienced mountaineer, a seasoned sea farer, and a desert traveler. An experienced mountaineer when faced with dense fog in the mountains will stop and camp patiently under some slight cover and move only when the mist has cleared. The seasoned seafarer when faced with great storms at sea will ensure that in his cabin he will select a few and appropriate things to do while the storm is raging—a small trunk fixed in one end, a chair that would keep its position, tumbler and glass that would do ditto. And finally, a desert traveler when faced with a sandstorm will simply dismount from his camel, fall prostrate face downwards on the sand, covering his head with a cloak and lie there for an hour, three hours, half a day, until the sandstorm is gone before continuing his journey. Patience and endurance.
Finally in today’s Gospel we beg for our third disposition: that we be like Mary taking on a contemplative stance in the face of a VUCA world of her time.
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. (Luke 2: 19)
One of the biggest grace that I have seen granted to my fellow Jesuits during this pandemic is the experience of having not only more time for prayer but also more quality. In my visitations (zoom and face-to-face), Jesuits have told me repeatedly of this wonderful grace of quality time with the Lord. One Jesuit cheekily coined it as a “pandemic grace.” And that is only one grace among many that includes more spiritual conversation, deeper community bonding, and a simpler lifestyle.
The steady and prayerful stance towards a VUCA world has made people more calm, grounded, trusting, hopeful, and outward-oriented to those most impacted by the pandemic. Our prayerful disposition like that of Mary, may not give us the desired answers to our questions regarding the future but it can be effective in grounding us and anchoring our hopes and desires on Him alone.
Let me end by quoting a beautiful line from one of my favorite movies, “The River Runs Through It”, set in the scenic mountains of Montana, USA. The grieving father, a Presbyterian minister, is preaching at the funeral of his own son. The son portrayed by Brad Pitt, had been the black sheep of the family, wasting his talent and engaging in gambling and drinking. He was murdered for being unable to pay back his debts. The father together with his wife were grieving and kept questioning themselves what they failed to do, where they failed to show love and care for their son that led to his becoming a black sheep and, eventually ended up being murdered. His final words were, “We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.”
We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.
Mary too certainly did not completely understand the unfolding mystery as she listened to the strangely, wonderful story of the shepherds of angels praising God on high and revealing to them the good news of the birth of God’s Son. Mary did not seek to completely understand all these but she treasured these things in her heart, preparing herself to love completely this gift of the Savior that God had offered to her.
In the coming year, may our hearts be disposed to gratitude and to receive His peace, to hope with patient endurance, and to love completely the Child-Jesus as Mary did amid a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.