Discernment: Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart

Posted: 1/18/2017

The words in the above headline, from Luke’s gospel, struck me more profoundly than ever as I listened to the priest proclaim them at Mass on New Year’s Day. I recognized that reflecting is indeed an appropriate spiritual stance to take at the beginning of a new year.

I need to take the time to reflect, to recognize God’s hands in my life in the past year and to recommit myself to God in the future. More importantly, hearing those words made me realize that Mary can teach all of us valuable lessons about discernment.

I offer three reflections on Mary’s life to those who may be struggling in their discernment.

Courageous faith in the midst of uncertainty and fear

The angel appeared to Mary proclaiming remarkable and troubling words. She wondered. She was afraid. She did not understand. But in the end she responded in faith and with courage:

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Courageous faith is absolutely needed in responding to God’s call to religious life. I do not know of anyone who has sincerely responded to God’s call without embracing what Mother Angelica used to call “a theology of risk.” Any Glenmary priest or brother would attest to experiencing doubts and fears, but they put it all in God’s hands. Discernment to religious life requires that same courageous faith that Mary exemplified in responding to the angel’s message.

Anything less does not cut it and only leads to yet another stalled discernment.

Love of neighbors especially people living in margins

Mary cared about people living on the margins. She went to visit her cousin Elizabeth–a woman ridiculed because she supposedly could not conceive a child. On that visit, Mary’s song demonstrates how she identified with the poor.

“For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.”

In apparitions recognized and blessed by the Church, Mary has appeared to people considered of no importance. If you go to the shrine at Lourdes in France, the majority of people you will see are people in wheelchairs and using crutches. This affinity for people living in margins goes hand-in-hand with responding to God’s call. I do not know of anyone who has sincerely responded to God’s call without having great empathy for the poor. Any Glenmary priest or brother would tell you that the most memorable and fulfilling moment in his ministry is the time spent with the suffering. Discernment to religious life must include that same love of neighbors very visibly seen in Mary’s life.

Pointing others to Christ

During the wedding at Cana, Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. Her life was all about leading others to her Son. The Church treasures the devotions to Mary because they are vehicles to grow in our relationship with Jesus. A healthy devotion to Mary is valuable in helping us respond to God’s call.

I once read about a young man and a very pious old priest. The young man said he had lost his faith. The old priest simply responded: “You’ve lost your faith because you’ve lost your mother Mary!”

I do not know anyone who has sincerely responded to God’s call without having a devotion to Mary. A Glenmary priest or brother ends his evening prayer asking the intercession of Mary to help him sow comfort, harmony, hope and care–gospel values that are needed to be able to point others to Christ. Discernment to religious life must include a healthy relationship with Mary who in turn leads us to Christ.

I sincerely hope that Mary’s words can help you through the steps that you personally take in your discernment. May her Courageous faith, love of others and pointing us to Christ encourage you to take the next step in responding to God’s call.

There is an abundant need for more men to serve in Mission-Land, USA. I invite you to make time for a Come and See Mission Trip where you can experience what Glenmary life and ministry is all about.