Advent day 10

Handel’s Messiah is one of my favorite things about Advent and Christmas. And today’s reading in the Old Testament is from the beginning of the oratorio: “Comfort Ye My People.”

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  Isaiah 40. 1-4

 

Advent day 9

God was speaking to me today of fear and trust.

The first reading for mass today was from Isaiah. The verse that particularly struck me was “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, fear not!'” (35. 4). I think my anxiety boils down to having a fearful heart. I fear that I’m not teaching my children well enough, that my confirmation class won’t learn what they need to, that I won’t touch their hearts. And why do I fear? Because I’m relying on my own strength, not God’s. I have to empty myself of self, stop relying on myself and my abilities, and completely surrender to God.

Then in The Noonday Devil I read that “Holiness consists of such a state of poverty that at every moment one is obliged to ask everything of the Holy Spirit, one is dependent on him, convinced that without his grace one can do nothing” (p.177). In my mind I know this to be true, but I seldom put it in to practice. It’s not me who is going to get anything done or teach anyone or plant any seeds. It’s God.

This brings me back to the spiritual childhood that I’ve studied and tried to implement. Since I am human and not divine, I’ll never “graduate” in love or perfection. I’ll never “attain” in this life. I have to remember, every moment beginning again. Conversion of heart, day after day, minute after minute. Even in heaven, Bl. Newman says, we will be in this state of spiritual childhood: “and so on for eternity I shall ever be a little child beginning to be taught the rudiments of Thy infinite divine nature” (Lead, Kindly Light p.120).

Lord, remind me that I am Your child. That I always will be. I’ll never graduate or complete a level. Remind me to begin again each day, each moment. Help me to trust Your strength, Your knowledge, Your power.

 

Advent day 7

Whoops. Missed day 6. First Friday, co-op, running 8 miles and a hockey game.

I love the daily mass readings in advent because they are from Isaiah. Prophecy is a beautiful genre, especially if it has been fulfilled and you can read it with understanding. In today’s passage I read, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (30.21).

Just a week ago, my husband and I were talking to a priest about some vague remarks our Holy Father has made in his pontificate. What a scary thing it is not to have clear direction. This verse brought me great comfort because if I stop to ask and to listen, I’ll hear that word whispering to me, “This is the way.”

My Lord, help me to quiet myself and hear Your voice.

 

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” It’s an English carol with origins in the 19th century, so probably Anglican, but I won’t hold that against it. The first verse is as follows:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan’s power
When were gone astray:
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

The idea of God and comfort has been running around in my mind for well over a month. When I had my conversion to the Catholic Church, I probably went overboard. I felt perhaps that I needed to prove myself to God, to show myself worthy, or something. And so I indulged in fasting, traditional observances of holy days, night watchings, etc. Not that any of these are bad, but if undertaken for the wrong reason, that is, not for love, they are.

And so God became, or maybe already was, an authority figure whose approval I had to gain through novenas, fasting, Little Office, rosaries, adherence to traditional practices…actions. My spiritual actions were a check-list, while what He desires is relationship. Fasting out of love. Rosaries because I wanted to spend time with Him. But I didn’t get that (nor have I yet completely). God was demanding, exacting, just. How could I ever measure up?

What I’m beginning to learn is that He is Love. Sure, He’s just. Saying God is Love doesn’t mean it’s okay to go on sinning, to go on doing what we want to because God will love us anyway. He loves me when I sin, but if I choose to continue in my sin, to ignore His Love that calls me to Himself and perfection, He will, in His Love, give me what I have chosen–a life without Him.

Even in the Old Testament, when God seems to be a God of wrath and destruction (context, people) He exclaims through Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned” (40.1). And, “I, I am he that comforts you” (51.12). And in the passage that Jesus reads aloud in the Nazareth synagogue (Lk. 4.16-21), “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me….to comfort all who mourn” (Is. 61.1-2). In the last chapter of Isaiah, God compares himself to a mother who comforts her child, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66.13).

David says to God in the Psalms: “I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (23.4). And again: “Show me a sign of thy favor…because thou, Lord, hast helped me and comforted me” (86.17). And “Let they steadfast love be ready to comfort me (119.76).

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the fulfillment of God’s promise, prophesies, “I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (31.13). The minor prophet Zechariah also speaks of this future happiness, “Cry again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem” (1.17).

Jesus fulfilled these prophetic words when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5.4).

But what started all this thinking about God and the concept of comfort was my reading of 2 Corinthians. St. Paul calls God “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (1.3-4). Why does He comfort us? Well, because He is a Father to us and “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1.4). He goes on to use “comfort” many more times in the letter, but the other examples are how we are to act as comforters to each other.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul again mentions God as a God of comfort when he says, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2.16-17).

So there it is. God is a Father who comforts us. From the Old Testament right through the early Church, it is repeated again and again. God comforts His people. That’s not to say He desires our lives to be easy! No, he knows that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5.3-5). Jesus did not promise His followers a life of ease and comfort in the modern sense–a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint. He says, “Take my yoke upon you” (Matt. 11.29); “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16.24); “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16.33). But He also promises “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11.30);  “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16.33).

I can take comfort in that.

The Four Words of Advent

On the First Friday of this month, the children and I attended a local parish that has a school attached to it. Now, I typically avoid “school masses” like the plague. I’m pretty sure I’d rather go to the dentist (yes, it’s pride. God’s working on it). Anyway, this school mass was not the horror that I anticipated. It was, in fact, the best school mass I have ever attended. Firstly, because of the priest’s homily and secondly, because it was followed by a period of adoration in which the entire school participated. Wow!

The priest in his homily spoke of the four words of Advent. Four weeks, four words. Do you know them? I didn’t. Well, I knew one.

The first week’s word is watch.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
[Gospel reading from first Sunday in Advent: Mark 13.33-37]

Help me, O Lord, to watch, to prepare myself for your coming, your adventus. 

The second word is repent.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

[Gospel reading from second Sunday in Advent: Mark 1.1-8]

Grant me light, O Lord, to know myself, that I may see my failings, repent of them and confess. Cleanse me and heal me, O Lord. Prepare me for your coming.

The third word is rejoice! Unlike the other three words, this one is taken from the first two readings and the psalm.

I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.
[Is. 61. 10-11]

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
[Lk. 1 46-49]

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.
[1 Thess. 5.16-22]

Even in this time of watching and repentance, grant, O Lord, that I may rejoice in the anticipation and fulfillment of your coming.

The fourth and final word is fiat. To find this word, you have to go back to Latin. Mary’s response to God’s request is “Fiat voluntas tua.”  In English, “May it be done according to your Will.”

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
[Lk. 1. 26-38]

May I, like Mary, O Lord, say always and to everything, Fiat voluntas tua. 

In God I trust?

“Father Abraham, had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham…”

The story of Abraham is one long narrative about trust and surrender. God promised him a son, promised that he would be the father of many nations. Hard to believe that promise when month after month, year after year, your wife remains barren. Still, Paul tells us, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4. 20-21).

My spiritual reading for the past few months [Into Your Hands, Father by Stinissen; The Diary of St. Faustina] has been tending this theme of trust. And so I’ve been asking myself, do I really trust Him? Am I growing strong in my faith and giving glory to God, fully convinced of His ability? Are my prayers of surrender, of proclaiming my trust in His goodness just empty words?

I say that I desire to abandon myself to Him, but I keep tight hold on the reins of control (or so I think). As soon as something happens that I didn’t plan or expect, I freak out, wondering, “What have I done wrong? Did I not cooperate with His grace? Why is this happening?” I may relegate to Him one or two paltry things. Or maybe I give Him a big thing and then won’t let go the little details. It boils down to this: I think I know what is best for me and fear that He won’t give me what I think I need. I don’t acknowledge His great love for me.

Of course, He knows this and so is trying to teach me through what I read and hear.

A couple of weeks ago, the homily at my parish focused on the idea that God, as Love itself, always wants what is best for each of us. Even the perceived bad events, God allows or wills that I may become the woman He has loved since before the world began. Stinissen says, “Is it not ridiculous to think that certain things could be lacking to us or that someone or something could put obstacles in our way? God knows exactly what we need…When we complain we usually do it because of our imaginary needs” (34).

Guilty.

He continues, “Frustration comes when we do not get what we think we need, when what we expect does not happen. Those who trust that God is guiding everything can never be frustrated. If they do not get a certain thing, they know they do not need it. If something they have waited for does not happen, they conclude that it is not meant for them” (35).

I get frustrated just reading that.

Then St. Faustina chimes in: “Nothing under the sun happens without Your will. I cannot penetrate Your secrets with regard to myself, but I press my lips to the chalice You offer me” (#1208).

Isaiah gives me a picture of God’s great love for me. “I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned; the flame shall not consume you…Fear not, for I am with you” (43.1-2, 5). Jesus Himself teaches His apostles, “Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7.9-11).

In A Western Way of Meditation, the author states that God’s goodness and willingness to give good things is “limited only by our weaknesses, our insincerity, and our unwillingness to accept the consequences of our communication with him” (Bryan, 9).

What’s the answer? Love. He loves me. I love Him. Not nearly as much as He deserves. But in His goodness, I pray that He sees my attempts. That in His mercy, He keeps showing me, little by little, areas of my life I need to entrust to Him. My self-image. Food. Finances. Educating my children. Schedule. Personal reading. Relationship with my husband. I’m like a little toddler with my fist clenched around a little pebble. He has to peel my fingers back one by one. I wish I could just let go. Fall in His arms and just be.

Lord, teach me how to let go. How to fall. How to be. How to love You.

trust_action

 

Oh, and just a note. Abraham didn’t always get it right, either. So Lord, please teach me to fail. And try again.