As we enter the new calendar year, we frequently take an inventory. It is a time when we take a self-inventory and we make resolutions to change – to live differently, to eat better, exercise more. Sometimes we take an inventory of our possessions – we resolve to be more organized. It is a time when the businesses are busy advertising all sorts of ways for us to store our “stuff.” As I was starting my new year in much the same mode of organizing and thinking of ways to “improve,” the readings made me stop and reflect. They inspired me to think beyond these mundane thoughts, beyond organizing and reshuffling, to true analysis and prioritizing.
The longer version of the first reading captures not only the sorrow of and longing for a child but the haughtiness of the Peninnah as she gloated about her ability to bear children – her possessions, her stuff that was so important. These possessions were made all the more important because Peninnah had them and Hannah did not. Perhaps I am being naïve but it would seem the relationship between the two women could have been different if Peninnah with all her blessings was more sharing with Hannah rather than holding fertility over her head. It is understandable the bitterness that Hannah felt – the lack of a child compounded by the attitude of her “rival.” How many times do we look at our own possessions and blessings and are relieved that we have them? Sometimes we even have a sense of gloating that we have something that others do not. We have only to look at the size and luxury of the some homes and cars to see this. Even with our prize “possessions,” our children, we may find ourselves comparing their performance in school, in sports, their looks, their skills and abilities. We sport bumper stickers that say MY child is an honor student. Of course, we want to acknowledge our children’s achievements and perhaps most do it to applaud their child. For some, however, the reason for the bumper sticker is to let others know that we feel superior, not unlike Peninnah.
All the readings for today remind us of the power of belief and prayer. Regardless of our status, God hears our prayers. Our earthly possessions and skills make no difference. Not unlike the Beatitudes, the responsorial psalm depicts a reversal of fortunes. Sometimes we forget (I forget) the blessings that are bestowed upon us (me) and that they are there, indeed, by the grace of God. Once again reminding us that it is not about us and what we “deserve” or “earn.” It is the grace of God! Our hearts should exult – how did we become so blessed. The sacrifice of our Lord, Jesus, is beyond understanding at times.
The final reading, the gospel, again brings to our attention the power of the Lord. The ability to teach with authority and awe those listening – we, too, are awestruck as we realize the power, might, and grace of God. How insightful the unclean spirit is to recognize Jesus as “the Holy One of God,” when the others did not have a clue. At times, we are blind to our surroundings and the happenings that are there to get our attention. Events that clearly are speaking to us to open our hearts to the Lord and somehow, we do not get it. It was only in seeing the results of the unclean spirit leaving the man, that many then took notice of Jesus.
It is our challenge as we start this new year to take notice of Jesus in all we do. We need to recognize our roles as servants to God and to each other. As we organize our “stuff” and look to the coming months – we need to organize ourselves and embrace the grace that we receive on a regular basis and share that grace with others. We should all have new bumper stickers proclaiming our blessings, not to gloat over others, rather to offer that this is possible for all. We need only open our hearts, pray to Mary to intervene and help us to be one with Jesus, and celebrate our blessings.
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