by Rev. Mark Connolly

St. Augustine once said that a man can never really grow unless he knows how to reflect. When he uttered this idea, his son, who was called Adeodatus (the name means gift of God), asked him what he should reflect on. Augustine answered by saying, "think of all the billions of people God could have made and didn't." And then Augustine said, "think of what he expects from you whom he has made."

I would like to share with you a few thoughts on a most important subject, the subject of reflection. Not reflection that borders on introspection or self-inspection. Not reflection that turns you in on yourself, but reflection that enables you to grow and mature in the language of the Gospel in wisdom and grace before God and man.

Reflection is one of the major ingredients in a good healthy prayer life. You cannot have a sense of meditation unless you have an awareness of the purpose of reflection. And it is rare that you learn the qualities of reflection or meditation from your high school or your college days. For most of us, it is something that has to be self taught. When you look back on the formative periods of training that most of us went through, we were for the most part, note takers. One professor I had used to define notes as that which came from the notebook of the professor to the notebook of the student without entering the minds of either. The point being is that this type of academic work does not help us concerning the basic practice of reflection.

Reflection....what does it do for us? It enables our minds to be stretched in three different directions - the direction that leads to a proper relationship with God, the relationship that leads to a healthy relationship with others, and the relationship that leads to a deeper understanding of oneself.

With winter and winter breaks very much in evidence and with all formal religious training practically non-existent, each one of us has to be mindful of the fact that we don't take a vacation from God just because we have stopped formally studying about him. Each one of us, as part of our destiny, has an obligation to grow in knowledge and love of God. Unless you constantly reflect on the fact that the God you worship is a God of love and mercy, then your religion will come down to be a set of cliches, expressions and even slogans. The God you worship becomes more real to you through your personal reflection about him. He might be abstract in your text books, he might be abstract in the society in which we live, but if we do not cultivate a personal desire to learn more about him through reflection on what he has done for you, then he can become as abstract to you as he might be in the books that you read.

Every great spiritual teacher or director will tell you that reflection helps you to hear the voice and the words of God through your conscience. The words, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do"; the words, "into your hands I commend my spirit"; the words, "to love one another", were words spoken by Christ and not meant to be forgotten. These are the words that take on flesh through personal reflection. These are words that are acted out in your spirit of forgiveness to others; words that are acted out in your sense of trust in a personal God no matter how tough things become in your life. Without this spirit of reflection the quality that enables you to get in touch with God, the religious training you have received will not be implemented and your religious growth will be stifled.

Another reason why reflection is so important is that it enables us to think about words that Christ has spoken to us through the centuries and enables them to be implemented in our relationship with others. When you look back into your years of study, you realize how many of the words you utter today are not yours, but the words of those who taught and directed you. Reflection enables you to do your own thinking, to develop a set of values and standards that are personally yours. And those standards and values will be very high in proportion to your closeness to God. I think this has to be pointed out to young people who are looking for jobs, whose aim is to get a little money and a little independence. This year should be one of deeper spirituality for all of you. It cannot be just a question of a few dollars and earning money. If you are a reflective person, you should consider that this year you reflect on the fact that God has a mission for you that you cannot put a price tag on. You have a commitment to bring the charity of Christ, the consideration of Christ and the compassion of Christ into the lives of those whom God has put in your path. And while on this point, you have to keep in mind that you can run the risk of becoming a spiritual schizoid if you can give all these qualities to others and not give them to those at home. In the beautiful year ahead of you, you can never forget that there are parents who would like to once in a while have their children say something that borders on a compliment or a word of encouragement. With all the limitations that parents have, they still are the ones giving you all the opportunities that you might be inclined to take for granted.

Personal reflection, in the language of Solomon, helps you to develop an understanding heart - a heart that enable you to live with your limitations, a mind that enables you to recognize your greatness and a disposition to help your moods. Reflection teaches each one of us that the most aggressive, cynical personality is no help to either himself or his family. Reflection, when developed, helps the person to develop thoughtfulness of act and behavior. Reflection on the part of a moody person can teach that person how to make his life happier and his moods controllable. Reflection helps us to grow. It helps us to mature. There is no one in the kingdom of God who got there without reflecting on the God who loves, the people who love him and the love he should have for himself. Augustine was right when he said, think of the billions of people that God did not create. When you do think of themes like this, you have started the cultivation of the habit of personal reflection. It can make you Christ-like.

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