“But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, RSV)
What were these “things” our Blessed Mother was keeping and pondering? And what exactly do those two key words signify? While of course we can’t know exactly what Mary was thinking, it seems pretty obvious to me what she must have been trying to understand: the strange, unexpected, delightful, but also distressing things that had happened ever since the angel Gabriel announced that she would become the mother of the promised Messiah of Israel who was also – amazingly – the Son of God. The extraordinary, miraculous, singular means of this child’s conception and the Spirit-inspired words of Elizabeth confirmed the miracle and inspired a glorious outburst of praise on Mary’s part (see Luke 1:39-56); these things were congruent with Gabriel’s message.
But other distressing, incongruent occurrences stood in stark contrast: the sudden need for an arduous journey to Bethlehem in the last stage of pregnancy; the appalling lack of a suitable place in which to give birth to the long awaited Messiah, God’s own Son. These were certainly hard for her to understand. Even the strange visit by shepherds who had heard about this birth by the proclamation of no less than an angelic choir was puzzling: is this actually how God announces His coming to earth – to poor shepherds? How in the world to make sense of these disparate elements of life?
When Scripture says that Mary “kept all these things”, it perhaps shows us that she never rejected anything that God’s Providence had allowed in her life. Full of God’s grace, she trusted Him, assured that divine Wisdom was guiding everything. She didn’t (as I so often do) find herself angrily thinking that something “shouldn’t have happened”. She did not “judge God” about her life’s difficulties, placing her own understanding above His and resisting her circumstances (something I am guilty of, often). Childlike, she trusted herself and her experiences to God, letting go of her own demands and expectations. She lived trustingly in the mystery of God’s will, believing that His love and goodness would eventually work everything out for His good purposes. That didn’t mean she was never puzzled or even sometimes very perplexed. It just meant she wasn’t willing to put her own understanding of a situation above God’s. She “kept” every situation, not rejecting or discounting anything, awaiting the eventual fulfillment of its purpose.
Scripture also says that Mary “pondered these things in her heart”. The word “ponder” derives from a Latin word which means “to weigh, to appraise, to estimate the value of something”. What scale are we to use to assess the value of an occurrence, a situation, an experience as we also ponder? We know that Love alone is eternal, as it describes the essence and very Being of the Trinity. We come from Love, are meant to return to Love, so as to dwell eternally with Love. So whatever helps us toward this goal, whatever strengthens us on our journey home to God, these “things” have more “weight”, and therefore more worth on God’s scale of Love.
Mary, our model, kept everything in her heart, weighing every experience, every unexpected or unwelcome situation, on this scale of Love. She carefully considered how to respond in trustful surrender to whatever happened, for she believed that all was from her Heavenly Father’s hand. He had actually entrusted Himself to her in asking her to be the mother of His Son; she in turn handed herself over to Him for safekeeping. Her own Son later said, “…even the hairs of your head are all numbered…Fear not, therefore…” (Matthew 10:30-31a). Perhaps he first learned this at His mother’s knee.
Like Mary, we also require God’s continual grace so that we too may be enabled to trust God’s Providence in our lives. We need His constant help in order to relinquish our prideful desire to “be in control”, as well as our wish to make sense of things that happen to us to our own intellectual satisfaction. Cultivating and maintaining this ongoing prayerful connection with the Supplier of this supernatural help, this essential grace, is crucial. Exercising our “trust muscle” and growing stronger in childlike trust in God’s goodness is an ongoing process. We can learn to surrender: we can learn to pray, “Jesus, I trust in You”, over and over until it “takes” in our souls. For that childlike trust in God’s faithful goodness and His love for us is the solution to our fears.
Our Blessed Mother knew that secret; that is why she “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Let us pray without ceasing and try to imitate her. Let us keep everything; let us ponder God’s words and ways within each situation, no matter what it is; and let us allow Love Himself to use each thing in our lives to unite us to Him, transforming us into His likeness.