Monday, December 31, 2007

A TREASURE WELL-KEPT IN THE HEART

Catholic Homily/Reflection
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

We all have our own storehouse of what we consider precious in our lives. I remember my maternal grandmother had a wicker chest (baul) full of a great many and varied stuff, from pieces of cloths (retazos) to old clothes, and a number of old little boxes containing more trinkets. It dawned on me only when I was already an adult that that chest was grandma’s storehouse of memories of times gone by.

Up until quite recently, I, too, had my own version of this chest. It contained a whole lot of memorabilia from my first assignment as a practical trainee in a small start-up parish that was no more than 3 years old then, as a student of theology, as a young priest, of my various travels in the U.S. and in Europe. Everything precious…everything memorable…everything worth reminiscing…we keep them for posterity. We treat them as some kind of a priceless treasure.

But there are things that we cannot keep or hold on to. We cannot hold on to certain things for one simple reason: they are not things. Stuff like memories of events in the past, or values that we have learned to cherish… they cannot be kept in storage. Though they are treasures all the same, they can only be cherished in the greatest and unlimited storehouse available to humans alone – the storehouse of the heart.

The heart, both traditionally and Biblically, stood for the core of the person. It stands for what and who the person is essentially, the summation of everything that a person is, or is perceived to be. What is in the heart of the person is what the person is worth, in the long run. What the heart is full of, the mouth gives utterance to (cf. Luke 6:45). The heart represents the person for all he or she is worth.

The Church presents to us today, a towering figure of a woman who has a big, big and magnanimous heart – Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God.

To be magnanimous is the opposite of being pusillanimous. For us to see whether we, or others have enough magnanimity of heart, we only have to look at the treasures kept in that unlimited storehouse of our own hearts. What sort of a treasure trove do we find therein? What sort of trinkets do we consider important enough as to crowd out other objects or considerations in that heart? What kind of memories do we hold on to within that heart? What dreams and plans do we nourish and nurture in our heart? What would we rather rehash and remember in our quiet moments?

Puny little hearts beat mostly for self-centered concerns. They are always only a heartbeat away from what benefits them, aggrandizes them, and fulfills them – temporarily, that is. They aim mostly after ephemeral stuff, things that do not last, all the temporariness of life in this world: power, glory, the adulation of men, material goods and “carrion comfort.” Herod, the one who got pretty much insecure at the news of the birth of a boy whose coming was signaled by a star followed by wise men from the east, was a clear example. His heart was no bigger than the worms that eventually consumed his body in life and in death. The storehouse contained nothing more than selfish concerns. So, too, was the fate of Julius Caesar, whose heart nurtured ambition more than anything else. He sacrificed truth and justice on the altar of his personal desire to wield power.

Pusillanimity of heart abounds in our society, in our times. Just look at how many programs meant for the common good get stalled, if not shot down, all because of too many people with puny little hearts who could not find it in their heart to allow room for dreams whose benefits extend far, far beyond their own immediate and personal good! How many of those who lord it over others, whether in government or in the Church, whose hearts are so tightly packed with their egos that they seem unable to expand their horizons, broaden their concerns and squeeze in some good initiative or good idea simply because it is not theirs! How much longer are we to wait before we can get a set of lawmakers, judiciary people, and executive people in government who are magnanimous enough to let go of their own agenda and really work for that which benefits the greater majority of our people – the poor?

Pusillanimity is all about hemming in, fencing in, gathering in for oneself – and obviously – closing in on oneself! Pusillanimity is all about selfishness and getting caught in a rut of utterly personal concerns. It has to do with constriction of heart. There is a virtual narrowing, not only of the arteries understood as conduits of good towards others, but also a constricting of pursuits and dreams and visions that all are reduced to a myopic search for more, for oneself, that is.

Magnanimity, its opposite, is all about opening up, expanding, giving! Magnanimity of heart has to do with a broadening, not a constriction of dreams and visions and programs. Magnanimity is all about pushing up and not shooting down! It is all about leaving wide room for others’ initiatives and ideas that are for the good of others, even if they are not one’s own!

Magnanimity of heart is all about motherhood and fatherhood! It is all about giving and not counting the cost. It is all about doing, while not fully understanding the whys and the wherefores, provided one knows it is God’s will. Magnanimity of heart is being like Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of divine grace, the woman above all women and men!

Today’s solemnity, then, is a feast and a song to magnanimity and motherhood! This is a song about the magnanimity of Mary’s Divine Motherhood. This is, plain and simple, about a Mother, a woman, who held nothing back, who held onto nothing for herself, whose storehouse of everything good – her maternal heart – only contained “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious” (Phil 4:8). This feast is to extol the praises of a woman and mother who stood like a towering figure who represented to the full what the Gospel speaks about: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

There surely is something for us here to learn today. Mary’s heart was a storehouse of veritable treasures the world may no longer consider as such. The Gospel of today reminds us: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Mary’s heart contained the treasure of God’s word and promises proclaimed through the angels and the prophets. Mary’s heart was a storehouse of all that would redound to the good of others, not her own – for generation upon generation! Mary’s heart held on, not to doubt and uncertainty, not to questionings and self-centered political posturings, but to openness and readiness, availability and willingness, to do God’s will so that others may live!

The title of today’s reflection is really a misnomer. But I did it on purpose. Mary’s treasure, indeed, was well-kept in the heart, for her heart was that of a magnanimous mother who gave all. That treasure was well-kept in the sense of being well-thought out, well-reflected on, well-meditated on – and well-accepted as coming from the Lord! But its effects, its fruits and consequences – in the form of Divine Grace from above, the grace above all of salvation – is something well given, well-shared, well spread out, for, in the final analysis, she allowed herself to be the conduit of salvation by bringing to bear Jesus, the Son of God, the Most High!

Blessed are you among women, Mary! And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!

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