Sunday, December 21, 2008

Attitudes of Understanding and Doing

As the Nativity of our Lord quickly approaches, we are confronted with a deeply personal question. Have we taken seriously this season of Advent? Have we heeded the Church’s wisdom as she calls us to find a desert so that we may prepare our hearts for the Lord? The desert in this context is referring to repentance, fasting, and introspection. So then, what has our attitude been during this season? If it has been one defined by a constant conversion of the heart then we have run the race well thus far and we only need to finish strong. However, many of us (including myself) may not have responded to this call of preparation as seriously as we would like to have responded. For students, finals can dominate our attention to the point that we feel “forced” to exclude all things not school related. The corporate world is reacting to another business cycle come to an end with an economic future that appears unpredictable and unstable. The pressures from work to capitalize on the remaining days of the 08’ year may be “forcing” many of us to exclude other more “optional” activities so to meet particular seemingly impossible deadlines. Amidst this chaos the Church is reminding us of our true identity: We are not defined by our successes but rather by our sanctity!

We can do next to nothing with our own lives if we do not know who we are. During this season of Advent, what has been our attitude toward understanding more deeply who we are? As Catholics we know we are human beings made in the image and likeness of God. Through our Baptism we know we are also disciples of Jesus Christ with a particular vocation as man or woman. These truths are all very good but have we taken seriously the call to understand who we are as the unique and unrepeatable child of God that each of us is? Have we strived to listen to the voice of the Lord during Mass, or have we become too comfortable with the liturgy to the point of deactivating our minds altogether? Have we listened intently to the Lord only to quickly succumb to the noise of the world thus preventing any real possibility of deep internalization of His voice? It is Christ and only Christ who reveals man as male and female fully to himself or herself! If this is true as we claim it to be, what better way to understand who we are than by reading the life of Jesus Christ. It is never too late to pick up Holy Scripture and begin reading one of the Gospels with the intention to understanding who Jesus is so that we may understand ourselves better! We all desire to give ourselves to another. Jesus provides us the way to do just that. By revealing Himself to us, he reveals our self to our very selves thus opening up new horizons of self-giving love!

This leads us to our attitude of doing. A couple weeks ago I heard a young child ask his mother, “How do we get to heaven?” The response was a startling, “If we live good lives, we go to heaven.” A sinking feeling overwhelmed me when I heard this response. All I could think of was that this child may one day become another disaffected Catholic simply out of misinformation. How many of us believe that as long as we live decent lives, we are doing well with God. Such an assumption makes a mockery of the cross as it reduces such a horrific reality to an illustration of God’s love. I want nothing to do with a God who must send His son to undergo unbearable pain exclusively for “illustrative purposes.” We must be careful not to hold to the forms of our religion while denying the power of it.

We rejoice in our anticipatory hope of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ! We rejoice because we know that while this mystery of the incarnation communicates to us a reality of what it means to be authentically human, it also provides for us a real transformative power, enabling us to live lives as we were meant to live! Brothers and sisters, we can do NOTHING good without God. Living lives through self-righteousness will only lead to disenchantment and despair. The Christian norm is not one defined by success but rather through the forgiveness of sins. To this end, we are being called to open our hearts to the Lord so that He may heal our rebellious and self-seeking hearts. Responding to Israel’s anxiety as Pharaoh’s army was bearing down on them, Moses says, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still” (Ex. 14.14). Be still this advent season and allow God to fight for you! However, God waits, like our Immaculate Mother, for own personal fiat to God: our yes to God. May we open our hearts to the Lord with integrity and with a singular vision so that we may be reconciled to God and to others. There is no better way to prepare in this fashion than through taking at least one hour a week before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration. It is here that we can truly be still before the Lord, allowing Him to fight for us!

Finally, in typical paradoxical fashion, Christ desires us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Mat. 5.48). This is where the power of religion must be embraced alongside its forms otherwise such a command will only lead to despair. We cannot achieve such a high standard, but in Christ—and only in Christ—all things are possible (cf. Mat. 19.26)! We are not called to be still for the sake of being still, but rather for the sake of perfection. It is God who works with us for our salvation if only we open our hearts to Him (cf. Rom. 8.28; Eph. 2.10). Such a truth will never lead us to despair but rather hope toward a continued and deepened conversion. We must always remember that while we strive for perfection/excellence, the norm for the Christian is the forgiven sinner.

May we strive with repentant and open hearts to the Lord this Advent Season. May we fall prostrate before our Lord in silence before the Blessed Sacrament so that He may fight for us. May we read the Gospel so that Christ may reveal ourselves to ourselves. May we deepen our conversion this season in renunciation of those things that keep us from Christ. When Christmas comes, I pray that God will look to each of us and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master” (Mat. 25.21). May God be Praised!

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