The Bible provides us words to live by — perhaps the most famous is the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Popular culture possesses similar adages, proverbs, sayings which are meant to guide behavior. Some we think are wise: a friend in need is a friend indeed. Others we tend to ignore nowadays: spare the rod and you spoil the child. Others seem offer conflicting advice: a stitch in time saves nine or haste makes waste. Which is it? Should we act now or would that be hasty? There is one ancient saying that I would question: experience is the best teacher. Experience doesn’t teach us anything; otherwise, I wouldn’t begin every baseball season thinking this year the Orioles will win the pennant. No, it is not experience that teaches but reflection on experience that is the best teacher. That is what Mother Mary demonstrates in the gospel when it reports: Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Mary’s reflection on her experience is what taught her.
Let’s imagine what that was like for her. First, Mary named her experiences. She had an angelic visitor, she got married, she gave birth to a child — all pretty wonderful things. She also had some negative experiences: she traveled by foot and donkey a hundred miles being nine months pregnant, she gave birth in a stable surrounded by muck and mire, she was being pursued by a mad king out to kill her child. Second step, after naming her experiences she sought to understand them, to make sense of them. She knew herself to be “full of grace” and that the Lord was with her but that did not prevent all of these negative things from happening. She came to understand that being highly favored by God did not mean you would be exempt from suffering in this life. The third reflection: what kind of person was she going to be? Would she trust that the Lord was with her in everything or would she only find God’s presence when things were going well? That led to the fourth reflection: what should she do? We know from ongoing story of Mary that she continued as she had begun saying, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” It was Mary’s reflection on her experiences over the years that equipped her to deal with the ultimate tragedy in her life on Calvary’s hill.
Beginning a new year it is traditional to make resolutions. Let’s together make a resolution to imitate Mary and reflect in our hearts on our experiences. We can do this in silent prayer, by keeping a journal, even in conversing with an intimate companion. By reflecting on our experience we will find God acting in our lives. Let me give an example. Let’s say you have the experience of someone cutting you off while you are driving and you get right up behind them and blast them with your horn. When you unpack that experience to try to understand it, you say to yourself, “that guy really made me mad.” But when you assess what that says about you there is a realization that you have given this other person power over your feelings. Why should I let someone who is rude and crude take away my peace and serenity? No one can make me mad or make me anything unless I let them. So you make the decision to say a little prayer to the Holy Spirit whenever you find yourself losing your temper. You have learned by reflecting on that experience. Or to take current events — an old friend invites you out to dinner. Your reflection on that invitation is that you would really like to go because you are feeling isolated and bored but you know that it will be impossible to keep social distancing in that environment. You take the next step in reflection and ask whether you are the kind of person who values having a good time more than the danger of catching and then spreading disease to those in your bubble. You make the decision to defer the invitation until a less dangerous time.
So my suggestion for a new year’s resolution is to prayerfully reflect on our experience as Mary did. First, name the experience; second, understand what the experience means; then, assess what the experience says about you; and finally, decide on how to act because of that experience. Doing that on a regular basis will really be the best teacher. Have a blessed 2021.