For most people who celebrate Christmas, this season becomes a time of surviving tasks and events. We spend days, if not weeks, planning parties, lunches and dinners out, lunches and dinners in (involving grocery shopping, cooking, prepping the house), making our lists and checking them multiple times, buying gifts, sending gifts, writing letters, sending cards, traveling to others’ homes or hosting others in our homes, and so on. Add to that the difficulties that often confront us in our family situations, and the stress simply multiplies.
It helps to remember that the Holy Family was undoubtedly stressed during the days of that grand event that started it all. Mary and Joseph were Jews living under Roman occupation, which meant that life was consistently unpredictable and regularly dangerous. They certainly were not accustomed to feeling in control of their lives. And, closer to home, there was the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy and how its timing was not exactly respectable. Tradition maintains that Mary’s parents were righteous people, and we like to believe that they supported Mary, her marriage to Joseph, and the role they had agreed to fulfill. But I can imagine that dynamics in the large extended families were not smooth and happy. Keep in mind that communities were built upon the family and tribe; honor and righteous living meant everything. Questionable pregnancies were unwelcomed and often punished.
I know that some people view Mary as being so “full of grace” that she simply did not suffer the normal stresses and doubts that the rest of us experience. This view downplays her humanity—and if Jesus was fully human, then certainly his mother was as well. I believe that Mary learned faith and wisdom as she walked through each day and situation. She had to work out, day to day, how to navigate her life and its unbelievable calling.
How did she do it? I believe she managed her reality by attending to the present moment. I love this statement from Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She learned very early—at the beginning of Jesus’ life—to sit with the moment at hand and to treasure her experience.
St. Ignatius would agree! The best gift you can give yourself, and others, is the habit of attending to this moment in your life and paying attention to your actual experience. Living moment by moment, in an attitude of thanksgiving that treasures every gift, is just one of Mary’s lessons to us.
- Try to stop at least once every day during this Christmas season and ask yourself, “What is happening right now? What does it mean to me? How will I respond?”
- Consider that your presence with others—right here and now—is the real gift you give them.