Those who snowshoe know that it is much easier to walk where others have already gone. They have left a trail to follow. Step in their tracks, and the going is easy. You rely on their knowledge of the area and go where they have gone. You go and return without fear of losing your way or falling into an unseen hole.
It is much harder to go where no one has yet gone – to break trail. You have to decide what your path will be. Walking becomes much more difficult. You may look for landmarks as guides. You don’t know where the pitfalls may be. Though you can find your way back, there is no guarantee that you will find your way to where you wish to go.
In our life of faith, we usually walk where others have gone – not only the holy ones of generations past but also our spiritual mentors now. We trust that the Holy Spirit led them to choose this way rather than that. They have left us reliable paths to follow.
Sometimes, we must break trail. It may not be a new trail in the experience of the Church, but it may be new for us. Going in a new direction may be exciting, but it may also be unsettling, even frightening. We look to see if others have broken trail in that direction before. We search for landmarks that can help us find our way. We trust that God will show us which way we must go and help us avoid dangerous spots.
A new year may be, for at least some, an invitation to break new trail. It is most fitting, then, that we begin the year with the feast of Mary, Mother of God. Mary was called to break a most unique trail: she was invited to be the Virgin Mother of God. That announcement, at first, made Mary perplexed, even fearful. Gabriel assured her that the same God who had already done wonders for her cousin Elizabeth would do still greater wonders for her. Mary, thus reminded that she belonged to a people of the promise, knew that she had landmarks to guide her way. She was able to offer herself totally to the Lord’s will.
Mary’s Magnificat, with its echoes of the songs of ancient Israel, shows that Mary was firmly rooted in the hope of Israel. This hope, made new once again by the Holy Spirit, offered Mary a landmark, a map by which she could steer her way. After the birth of Jesus, Luke portrays Mary as pausing – more than once - to ponder all that was happening in her heart. While breaking her trail, she was attentive to all the landmarks – the traditions of Israel, the presence of the Spirit, the promise of Gabriel, to name only a few. With these inner landmarks, Mary could trust that she would find the way the Lord intended for her to follow.
Whenever we must break trail, we have similar landmarks: the Scriptures, the rich tradition of the Church, the wisdom of people who help us discern the Lord’s will for us. These helps will not make the going easy, but they assure us of the Lord’s guidance. May Mary’s example and intercession before us a model, a guide, and an encouragement whenever we must break trail in the fresh, deep snow of our own lives.
Father Mark P. Nolette, a priest/hermit of the Diocese of Portland, resides in Pittsfield and also does part-time ministry at Our Lady of the Snows and Saint Agnes parishes. Father Nolette also writes a regular blog which can be found at www.theanchorite.net/.