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What We Considered Unworthy, God Made Glorious

The Ascension, by Benjamin West

As God [Jesus] was never without those graces which He received as man, and by that means communicated to our nature; His union with which will by no means affect His Divinity, so as to give it any occasion of soliciting such graces. On the contrary, it highly glorified the nature it assumed, and very richly benefitted the race of man.

As the Word of God, and as being in the form of God, His creatures always adored Him; and, although He has become man, even the man Christ Jesus, He still exercises an absolute dominion over the whole creation. All bend their knees at this Holy Name, and acknowledge that the Incarnation and cruel death of the Son of God, instead of derogating from, do rather conduce to the glory of God the Father.

For it is indeed to the glory of the Father, that man, created and afterwards lost, should be found again; and should be snatched from death and given life once more, and should become the very temple of God.

How highly is our nature dignified, since the Son of the Most High God is adored Incarnate! Angels and Archangels and all the heavenly host now sing those praises to the Blessed Jesus, which before they had always sung to God the Word.

And so after this, it will not be a matter of such great surprise to the heavenly host to see such bodies as ours, of the same nature and form as our Lord’s, admitted and welcomed into those glorious mansions; as otherwise we may suppose it must have been. For this would not have happened unless He, who is in the form of God, had taken upon Himself the form of a servant, and had been pleased to humble Himself to suffer the cruel death of the Cross.

Behold, then, what men considered unworthy of the Wisdom of God, namely, the infamy of the death of the Cross, has become of all things the most glorious! For the certainty of our resurrection entirely hinges upon this; and hence it is, according to the prediction of the Prophet, not Israel only, but the whole Gentile world renounce their idols, and acknowledge the true God, the Father of Christ Jesus. The impostures of evil spirits are all defeated, and the true God alone is worshipped in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For since, when our Lord is believed on as the Son of God in the nature of man, and by the name of Jesus, and the knowledge of the Father is conveyed to us through Him, it is plain, as has been shown, that not the Word, as such, but our nature receives additional graces and privileges. For it follows from His having a body of the same nature as ours, that we are become the temples and the sons of God, so that even in us the Lord is now worshipped, and they who behold us may cry out in the words of the Apostle, that “God is in us of a truth” (1 Cor. 14:25).

As S. John also says in his Gospel, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God” (S. John 1:12); and again, in his Epistle, “Hereby we know that He abideth in us by His Spirit which He hath given us” (1 S. John 3:24). And this is an instance of His great goodness towards us that He has thus exalted our human nature by personally uniting it with His Divine nature. This He condescended to do for our sakes, that Almighty God, from whom all our good things do come, should surpass all other manifestations of His favour in enlarging the object of them by the addition of a part for the redemption of the whole.

Our Saviour humbled Himself exceedingly when He took upon Him our frail unworthy nature. He assumed the form of a servant in making that flesh, which was enslaved to sin, a part of Himself. He received no advantage from doing this. It was impossible for the Word of God to do so, whose being is incapable of any improvement. Our nature gained all the benefit, for “He is the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (S. John 1:9).

Get April’s free bookThe Navarre Bible: Saint Luke’s Gospel.

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This excerpt is adapted from Athanasius of Alexandria, The Orations of S. Athanasius against the Arians (London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden, & Welsh, 1893), 56–57.

Novation on Christ’s Humility: 4 Reflections for Good Friday

Passion of Jesus; sculpture of Crucifixion of Jesus observing Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus (known as Pieta). National Gallery of Slovenia. 14th and 15th century.

[Jesus Christ], who though he was in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and found in guise as a man; he humbled himself, being made obedient even so far as to death, and that the death of the cross: wherefore, also, God exalted him exceedingly, and gave him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord in the glory of God the Father.” — Phil 2. 6–11

Being in the Form of God

“Who though he was in the form of God,” he says. If Christ were man only, He would have been described as “in the image of God,” not “in the form of God”; for we know that man was made in the image, not in the form, of God. Who, then, is this, Who was made “in the form of God,” this—angel? Why, we do not read of the form of God even in connection with angels; there is but One, this Son of God, incomparable and noble above all, the Word of God, Who in all His works is like unto His Father, Himself working as His Father works—He alone is, as we have asserted, in the form of God the Father. Rightly has He been declared to be in the form of God, seeing that He is above all, and holds divine authority over every creature, and is God after the pattern of the Father; yet this is by gift from God, Who is peculiarly His Father, that He might be both God and Lord of all, and God, according to the form of God the Father, begotten and brought forth from Him.

“He thought it not Robbery”

He, then, though “He was in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God.” For although He bore in mind that He was God, of God the Father, He never compared or ranked Himself with God the Father, mindful that He was of His Father, and that He holds the place He does, because the Father had given it to Him. Hence it is that both before and after He took upon Him the body of flesh, and again, after His resurrection, He rendered, and does render, all obedience, in all things, to the Father. All this proves that He never thought of His Divinity as a kind of usurpation, that He should make Himself equal to God the Father; on the contrary, He was obedient and subject to His Father’s rule and will in all things, content even to take upon Himself the form of a slave—that is, to be made the Man of Whom we know—and the substance of flesh and body, which He took upon Himself at His birth, as it came to Him from the slavery of the sins of His forefathers according to His manhood.

“He emptied Himself”

It was then that He emptied Himself, not disdaining to take upon Himself the human frailty that His new condition of existence involved. For if He had been born as a man only, He would not have been emptied thereby. A man is made the greater, not emptied, by being born; he begins to be something which could not be his when he did not exist, so that he is not emptied, as we said, but rather is made the greater and the richer. It was not so with Christ. He is emptied by the very fact of His birth, in taking upon Him the form of a slave. How, then, is He man only? If He were, it would have been more true to say that He was enriched by the incident of His birth, not emptied; as a matter of fact, the authority of the Divine Word, condescending for a time to take upon Himself manhood, and laying aside the full exercise of His powers, lowers and deposes Himself, for so long as He bears the manhood which He has taken upon Himself. He empties Himself, so long as He stoops to bear insults and abuse, listens to blasphemies, and submits to indignities.

The “Name above Every Name”

Yet at once His humility bears noble fruit; for He received “the name which is above every name”—the name which assuredly we can only understand to be the name of God. For it belongs to God alone to be above all things; it follows that that name, which is above every name, is His only, Who is above all things. For the name which is above every name is the name of God; this name must then of necessity belong to Him, Who, though He had been in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God. Indeed, if Christ were not God, every knee of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, would not bow at His name; things visible and invisible, and the whole creation, would not be in subjection and subservience to a man. It would remember that it existed before man.

The Conclusion from the above Language

To sum up. Christ is said to be “in the form of God.” He is shown to have emptied Himself, even so far as to be born according to the flesh; He is declared to have received from the Father the name which is above every name; it is shown that every knee, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, bend and bow down at His name, and, strange as it may seem, it is asserted that this redounds to the glory of God the Father. It follows, that He is man, not only because He was made obedient even so far as to suffer death, and that the death of the cross, but not man only, seeing that from all these considerations, which shout aloud the Divinity of Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ is proved, in despite of the wishes of the heretics, to be God as well as man.

Get April’s free bookThe Navarre Bible: Saint Luke’s Gospel.

This excerpt is adapted from Novatian, The Treatise of Novatian on the Trinity, trans. Herbert Moore, Translations of Christian Literature: Series II: Latin Texts (London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Company, 1919), 103.

He Has Been Raised; He Is Not Here

Easter Vigil

Throughout Lent, we’ve shared excerpts from Lenten Grace, an inspiring journey through the season’s Gospel readings. Please enjoy today’s Easter Vigil reading. Also, you can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections at 20% off.  Get it now.

Already own Lenten Grace? Open today’s reading in Verbum.

Lectio

Mark 16:1–7

Meditatio

“Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.

He has been raised; he is not here.”

The sun was just inching its way over the horizon when the women sought to anoint you, Lord. Their love for you pushed aside any apprehension they must have felt at seeing the stone rolled away. Your messenger, the young man in white, told them the Good News: “The Crucified has been raised!” They saw the empty space where your body lay on Good Friday evening. They believed and were immediately commissioned: “go and tell” the apostles that Jesus is alive and “you will see him, as he told you.”

Lord, I often take this Good News for granted. Your paschal mystery encompasses your saving passion, death and resurrection. Sometimes I fall into a sort of spiritual denial by resenting opportunities to share in the first two parts of your paschal mystery. My sufferings and the little “deaths” of daily living pull a thick curtain over the window of my soul. When your grace reminds me of the resurrection, it pulls aside that curtain and floods my soul with the light of resurrection hope and joy. Of all the days of the year, today is a day to “rejoice and be glad.” Your resurrection erases all fear. It’s the bedrock of my faith. As Saint Paul says, without the resurrection, our faith would be in vain (see 1 Cor 15:17). Two millennia of martyrs and saints, a true “cloud of witnesses,” have gone before us and invite me to join them. Like the holy women, I too am entrusted with the message “to go and tell” the consoling news that death is not the end, but the beginning of eternal life.

Oratio

Lord Jesus, I kneel in awe before your tomb. I do believe in your resurrection and in my resurrection in the life to come! Thank you for your resurrection that roots me in Christian hope. Demolish the tomb of my woundedness, regrets, and bad habits. Let me look beyond myself to see those longing to hear the Good News from my lips, to see Good News in my actions and my conviction. Let me be aware of those next to me longing for your Good News. May my life be a sign of hope for all to see, and a song of thanksgiving for your dying and rising. Amen.

Contemplatio

He has been raised.… He is going before you.

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Download Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections to guide you throughout this lenten season. You can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections for 20% off. Get it now.

I Thirst

Good Friday

Throughout Lent, we’re sharing excerpts from Lenten Grace, an inspiring journey through the season’s Gospel readings. Check back tomorrow for the Easter Vigil reading. Also, you can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections at 20% off.  Get it now.

Already own Lenten Grace? Open today’s reading in Verbum.

Lectio

John 18:1–19:42

Meditatio

“I thirst.…”

So much has been written about the Passion in the last 2,000 years. What more can be said? Even more, how can words describe everything that the words “Good Friday” encompass and all that Jesus suffered for us? Perhaps Jesus’ cry, “I thirst,” best captures the human and divine pathos of this day. All of us know what thirst is. Did Jesus only mean that he thirsted for something to drink? Or was he thirsting for much more? What was Jesus really saying with these two poignant words? What resounding significance these words have! They declare that Jesus, the Son of God, had so completely been stripped of everything that he could not even alleviate his own thirst.

Was he expressing the thirst of God the Father for the restoration of our ruptured relationship? Was Jesus thirsting to taste once more the food of the kingdom of heaven, where he would enjoy the presence of not only his Father, but ours as well?

What will my response be? How will I alleviate Jesus’ thirst? Will I understand it simply as a cry for something to drink—a desire that an immediate human need be satiated? Can I hear Jesus cry out these words in the depths of my heart, allow them to reverberate in the hollow of my own abyss, and hear in the echo an invitation? Will this invitation become a point of continual intimacy with myself and Jesus, so that his death is truly the consummation of his life and mine?

The litmus test of my response will not be an abstract internal affair. Rather, it will take flesh in the way I respond to the cry of thirst from those in my life, a cry that is often suffocated. If I can hear the undertones of Jesus’ cry of thirst, I may be able to hear my own and others’ unspoken thirst. Such a thirst can only be satiated by one gift—me.

Oratio

Jesus, I see you naked, bloody, suffering terribly. You cry out in pain and agony. I hear you say, “I thirst.” I feel helpless because I don’t know what you mean. How do you want me to alleviate your thirst? I need help getting in touch with my own thirst—a thirst that I unconsciously fill with so many distractions that leave me unsatisfied. I thirst. I thirst. I thirst. I know most of all, Lord, that I thirst for love. Could that be what you ultimately thirst for, too? Then help me fall in love with you. Amen.

Contemplatio

“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37).

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Download Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections to guide you throughout this lenten season. You can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections for 20% off. Get it now.

He Began to Wash His Disciples’ Feet

Holy Thursday

Throughout Lent, we’re sharing excerpts from Lenten Grace, an inspiring journey through the season’s Gospel readings. Check back tomorrow for Good Friday’s reading. Also, you can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections at 20% off.  Get it now.

Already own Lenten Grace? Open today’s reading in Verbum.

Lectio

John 13:1–5

Meditatio

“[Jesus] began to wash his disciples’ feet.”

For three years these twelve followers of Jesus had listened to him preach, watched him heal and raise the dead, felt his power as he forgave sins. But now Jesus was doing something unexpected. Evening meals had been times of camaraderie and conversation, discussion and sharing. Tonight, however, Jesus was coming uncomfortably close. The conversation died down as Jesus knelt and tenderly washed and dried their feet. In this act, at this moment, Jesus seemed to say, “Everything that has gone before has been a preparation for this. Knowledge, information, and moral conversion are not enough.” He broke through all their inner barriers with this act of gently washing their feet. And he got their attention!

Imagine washing the feet of family members, friends, employees, employers, or enemies. It is an uncomfortable thought because it is so physical and so intimate. We often treat each other like shoe salesclerks. We’ll help others fit their shoes, but we’ll rub our noses as we do so, sit as far away as we can, and stay with them only as long as necessary. (And please keep your socks on.) Instead, Jesus is calling us to relate to one another as hospice nurses washing a terminally ill patient. What tenderness, gentleness, and acceptance there is on the part of nurse and patient in this act of vulnerability!

As Jesus knelt before his chosen apostles, he said that with this act of physical contact: “I know you. I know all about you, and I love you. I will keep on loving you.” It is difficult to believe that Jesus can know us and love us. It is even more difficult for us to know another and love that person.

Perhaps that is why Jesus continues to sustain this prolonged personal contact in the Eucharist. As the Last Supper, the Eucharistic Celebration is about familial, human, essential things, where we too are touched, held, and washed by Jesus in very intimate ways.

Oratio

Jesus, wash from me the leprosy of self-hate. Wash me again and again until I can love myself because you have loved me, loved me enough to give your life for mine. When I receive you in the Eucharist, it is easy to be distracted or bored. Jesus! Impress on me how close you are at this precious moment. Break through my inner barriers with your intimate personal presence. Amen.

Contemplatio

You know me and you love me.

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Download Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections to guide you throughout this lenten season. You can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections for 20% off. Get it now.

This Cup Is the New Covenant in My Blood

Palm Sunday

Throughout Lent, we’re sharing excerpts from Lenten Grace, an inspiring journey through the season’s Gospel readings. Check back on Holy Thursday for a new reading. Also, you can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections at 20% off.  Get it now.

Already own Lenten Grace? Open today’s reading in Verbum.

Lectio

Luke 22:14–23:56

Meditatio

“This is my body.… This cup is the new covenant in my blood.…”

An interesting contemplative exercise would be to jot down in two separate columns the words said by Jesus and those said by everyone else in this Gospel passage.

The disciples and religious and civil leaders say things such as: “Who is the greatest?” “Lord, I am ready to go to death for you!” “Look, here are two swords. Shall we use them?” “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” “This man perverted our nation.” “Crucify him!” (cf. Lk 22:24–23:21).

Jesus says, “This is my body.… This is my blood, which will be shed for you.” “The leader is the one who serves. I am among you as the one who serves.” “You, Peter, will deny me.” “Pray not to enter into temptation.” “Judas, do you betray me with a kiss?” “If I tell you who I am you will not believe me.” “Father, forgive them” (cf. Lk 22:23–23:34).

The words of the disciples and leaders are characterized by self-protection. They are the words of people seeking to plan and control their lives from within their own framework or perspective. They are words of violence toward others. Their words reveal their desire to forfeit their identity for the safety of the rush of the mob. Jesus’ words, on the other hand, show that he has made himself vulnerable, that he will hand himself over for the sake of others. Jesus wasn’t trapped in his own fear of death, but knew himself to exist within a reality more spacious than his own fearful neediness, something ultimately good in which his life was held, beloved, even were he to die on the cross.

In a word, perhaps that was just it. The attitude of the disciples and leaders in the face of threat was one of non-acceptance and fear. Jesus’ attitude was one of acceptance despite his fear.

Oratio

Jesus, when my plans, security, or future are threatened by the cross, I want to protect myself, like the disciples. I want to be first, successful, important, beautiful, happy. I think that if I plan things just right, everything will lead to success. I hold on to everything so tightly, and in grabbing things I crush them. It was only after your crucifixion and resurrection, when you forgave the apostles, that they realized that something greater was planned for their good, that the cross was not a threat and couldn’t ultimately destroy them. They were beloved and safe. They discovered that they could trust you. And so can I. And so will I.

Contemplatio

I am beloved and safe.

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Download Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections to guide you throughout this lenten season. You can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections for 20% off. Get it now.

Whoever Lives the Truth Comes to the Light

fourth sunday

Throughout Lent, we’re sharing excerpts from Lenten Grace, an inspiring journey through the season’s Gospel readings. Check back every Sunday through Easter for a new reading. Also, you can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections at a 20% off.  Get it now.

Already own Lenten Grace? Open today’s reading in Verbum.

Lectio

John 3:14–21

Meditatio

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …”

The liturgy proclaims that God sent his Son to redeem us. How hard it is to wrap our minds around this fact! The Creator of the universe loves human beings so much that his Son entered into and endured our human condition, gave his life for us, and will continue to be one of us for all eternity! Mind-boggling. If we start to think about this, the question comes spontaneously: Why?

The age-old answer is still valid. We humans hadn’t gotten it right. We hadn’t taken the natural law implanted in us seriously enough, or at least we were too weak to follow it well. We continued to hurt ourselves and others. Our attitude toward God was skewed. God was someone to fear when nature’s forces were unleashed, or to try to manipulate when we wanted to have our way. God was not someone to love. Yet God had created human beings so that he might enjoy our company, love us, and be loved in return.

Only God could “break through our deafness,” as Saint Augustine would say, and get our attention. Only he could restore the right relationship between him and us. His choice of how to do this was astounding. He became one of us and died for us. “No one has greater love than this” (Jn 15:13). If we let this sink in, the sensational in contemporary life becomes trivial—headlines, films, novels.… Can anything be more sensational than the love of God for the human race?

How can we better appreciate this love? How better know the mind and heart of such a God? Again, there are age-old answers: reading or hearing the Word; praying; trying to live uprightly. As today’s Scripture passage says, “whoever lives the truth comes to the light.” It’s the challenge of a lifetime, and now is the best time to start. “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.”

Oratio

Jesus, help me to understand the love that motivated the Father to send you into the world. It is the same love that compelled you to live and die for me. Show me the relative unimportance of so many other things in my life. Give me a new perspective. Help me to see that coming to know you and the Father is the challenge of a lifetime—a challenge I need to accept here and now, in this Lenten season. Enable me to live the truth, come to your light, and respond wholeheartedly to your love for me.

Contemplatio

[W]hoever lives the truth comes to the light.

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Download Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections to guide you throughout this lenten season. You can get this entire six-volume series of daily Gospel reflections at a 20% off. Get it now.

Stop Making My Father’s House a Marketplace


Throughout Lent, we’re sharing excerpts from Lenten Grace, an inspiring journey through the season’s Gospel readings. Check back every Sunday through Easter for a new reading. Also, you can get this entire 6 volume series of daily Gospel reflections at a 20% off. Get it now.

Already own Lenten Grace? Open today’s reading in Verbum.

Lectio

John 2:13–25

Meditatio

“[S]top making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

It is easy when we read Scripture to comment upon how Jesus interacted with others. Look at those people Jesus drove out of the Temple! Imagine challenging Jesus like that!

The treasure of Scripture, however, is that it is really about us, about how Jesus interacts with you and me. Jesus comes into our practice of religion and overturns what we think had been good. I arrive at church on time. I drop my kids off at CCD. I volunteer to count the money three times a year. I cantor at the 12:15 Mass. I’ve entered a religious community of women and spend my life taking care of the elderly.… We too can settle into routine, just as the people selling animals for sacrifice in the Temple had settled into a routine expression of their religion.

Routine is not all that bad. At first it remains connected to the deeper meaning and motivation that prompts a way of living or believing. But what is simply routine over time can become disconnected with the deeper values that permeate it and slip into a rut, gradually degenerating over time into a mindless, heartless activity we no longer know why we are carrying out. Completing the activities of religious practice can then hide a heart that does not belong entirely to God.

Zeal for his Father’s house led Jesus to shake up the system, in a sense to force a personal answer to the questions: Why are you here? What are you doing? What do you expect of God? What have you given to God? What is your whole life all about? Jesus’ words refer to a prophetic verse in Jeremiah: Do not come to the Temple and say, “the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord,” as though that would cover over other areas of your life where you cheat and lie.… You’re making the Temple a den of thieves (cf. Jer 7:1–11).

Ask Jesus to come in and overturn those parts of your life where you have slipped into a rut; ask him to fill you with a zealous fire that burns with love of God.

Oratio

If I had been there that day when you, Jesus, came in and overturned all of our tables, doing what we thought was a good thing, I would have been angry and confused. If you come into my life today and force me to look at issues that I have safely swept under the carpet, I will be angry and confused. But I need you to do that, Jesus. So come gently but firmly, and show me where you would like me to change and grow into a deeper relationship with you.

Contemplatio

Help me out of the rut I’m in.

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Download Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections to guide you throughout this lenten season. You can get this entire 6 volume series of daily Gospel reflections at a 20% off. Get it now.

Rabbi, It Is Good That We Are Here!

second Sunday of Lent

Throughout Lent, we’re sharing excerpts from Lenten Grace, an inspiring journey through the season’s Gospel readings. Check back every Sunday through Easter for a new reading. Best of all, you can get this collection of daily Gospel reflections free. Get it now.

Already own Lenten Grace? Open today’s reading in Verbum.

Lectio

Mark 9:2–10

Meditatio

“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”

Before the humiliation and loss of his crucifixion and death, Jesus gives three of his apostles an experience of his glory. Jesus knows of what we are made. He knows we are fitful and frightened creatures. He knows that we dread the cross, that we fear loss. So he brought these apostles to Mount Tabor to experience with him the glory that is his.

Our community receives prayer intentions from many people who entrust to us their most heartfelt desires or deepest fears and problems. We pray for these persons who are encountering the cross and bearing life’s burdens. Though we all bear the cross in some way, in order to be like Jesus and to be with Jesus, we need to remember our own Mount Tabor moments. We all have had them.

These joyfully transfigured moments may have been celebrations of weddings, watching sunsets or sunrises with someone we love, the birth of a child, an experience of God’s presence at prayer or the liturgy. If we can’t remember a Mount Tabor experience, then perhaps our eyes have become more accustomed to the cross than to the transfiguration. Though the crucifixion and death of Jesus play an important part in redemption, they are only a part of the great paschal mystery, which includes the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. John even refers to the death of Jesus as his glorification.

Even in the midst of the crosses we carry we need to keep our sight attuned to Jesus, who bursts in upon our lives with light, with hope, with the sudden surprise of resurrection.

It is hard to do this. Contradictions, failure, or fear can wear us down unless we are invincible in our courage. The best place to begin anew to expose ourselves to the transfiguration of Jesus is in prayer—not the prayer that pleads for what we think we absolutely must have, but the prayer that quietly asks for light and surrenders to hope.

Oratio

Jesus, now, today, in this moment, in this place I drop all thought, memories of the past, figuring out of the future. You want to meet me today. You want to shine in my life. Sometimes you immerse me in gentle light. Other times when I encounter you in your glory, it is like coming out of a tunnel into broad daylight. Today—how will you come to me? How will you transfigure my life? How will you prepare me for my share in your cross? Come, Jesus, come.

Contemplatio

How will you come to me today?

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Download Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections to guide you throughout this lenten season. You can get it free through February! Get it now.

Awaiting Mary’s Yes to God

We began this Advent series of reflections with the question: what are you waiting for? With the busy-ness of Commercial Christmas constantly demanding our attention, it is easy to lose sight of the watchfulness and preparation the Church asks of us this Advent season. Let us now continue with our reflection series on this Fourth Sunday of Advent….

This Fourth week of Advent will only last one day, as Christmas comes to us the following day. Even so, it is important to reflect on this final Sunday before we embrace the celebration of the Christmas season.

Anticipation

We have been anticipating the coming of Christ through the Sunday readings since the beginning of Advent. As I reflect on the Gospel reading for today, the sense of anticipation is intense, the sequence of events almost seems to unfold in slow motion.

First, an angel, Gabriel, is headed for Mary in Nazareth, with staggering news. Upon learning of the approaching angel, we are told twice in v. 27 that Mary is a virgin, a pious and observant Jew. Yet Nazareth was a city of little consequence in Judea and an unlikely place for the appearance of an angel.

Second, as the angel approaches Nazareth, what is Mary doing? Presumably she’s at home attending to everyday domestic chores and tasks. She may be making preparations for her marriage to Joseph or attending to other family matters.

Heavy News

When Gabriel confronts Mary, with “Hail, favored one!” one gets the sense of Mary’s total surprise.  She is understandably startled and confused, as an angel of God has just manifested himself in the midst of her dinner preparations or wedding planning or house cleaning.  Mary is “greatly troubled” by the words of her new divine visitor and “pondered” what these words might mean.  The angel goes on:

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 will be no end.

Wow, was this a joke?  How could any of this be true?  The Son of God?  A ruler of the house of Jacob?  Maybe she had already heard of her cousin Elizabeth’s recent miraculous conception.  One can only imagine what must be rushing through Mary’s mind as this flood of new information about her future washes over her.  Mary, understandably replies with incredulity and with the most practical of questions: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

The angel goes on to explain:

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, as also conceived a song in her old age…for nothing will be impossible for God.

The sense of anticipation continues through the delivery of this “heavy news.” But what will be Mary’s response to this astonishing proclamation? She must have realized the position this would put her and Joseph in with their engagement. People in the community would start to talk of Mary’s “indiscretion.” Her status as a pious Jewish woman would be compromised. Who would believe such an incredible story?

The Ultimate “Yes”

Yet in the the face of this startling news and the seismic shift in her future plans, Mary famously responds:

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.

Mary gives her consent to the angel and to God to become the mother of the Son of God. As with the birth of any child, it changes the parents’ lives forever. But this birth is accompanied by a divine conception, both for her and her cousin, and a divine mandate for Israel.  What a perfectly serene response!

Mary is held up throughout the Scriptures as the model disciple, responding to God and His messengers with perfect obedience and submission. This was undoubtedly not easy for Mary to accept, but she does accept and embraces this new divine mission for her life.

As we await the coming of Jesus, how can we say a more perfect “yes” to God? 

  • What does that need to look like in our final days of Advent? 
  • Can we say “yes” to God in how we prioritize our time for prayer each day?
  • Can we say “yes” to God more often in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
  • What relationships in our life are in greater need of a “yes” to God?

 

Gospel Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

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.

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