Friday, March 25, 2022

Saying "Yes" to God

Solemnity of the Annunciation

The Solemnity of the Annunciation is one of those beautiful feasts I love.   There are two events we are celebrating in this one Gospel passage: the Mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made Flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and the maternity of Mary.  The Pro-life movement chose this feast for its Patronal feast day and the reason is I think pretty obvious.  I like this feast not because of the vision of angel or supernatural light.  In fact, there is nothing in the Gospel which explicitly tells us how the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.  For all we know it may not have been a visual encounter but an internal locution or apprehension.  All we can be sure of is that "God had sent his angel to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the House of David, and the virgin's name was Mary."  I like to imagine Mary exactly as she is portrayed in the photo above- in the midst of the ordinary.  God comes to us in the ordinary events and circumstances of life.  Without fanfare and fireworks.  Just in the ordinary, right in the familiar and everyday.  It is in this cloak of the ordinary which makes us sometimes miss Him.  But Mary, who ponders all things in her heart, and in silence waits lovingly for the promise of the Messiah like all the women of Israel in her days, recognized the moment.   And when she recognized the presence of something special, she was afraid.  But only for a short moment because the one who is full of grace was open to all possibilities.  Her doubt was not the expression of unbelief but a sign of openness to what was being spoken by the angel.  What was announced to her was still an invitation, and she was free to choose.  

The lesson of the Annunciation is the "fiat" which Mary uttered.  "I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me as you have said."  These are the words we try to live by everyday of our lives.  This "Fiat" is the word we not only say once in the big moments of our life, but in the everyday, ordinary events of life.  It needs to be renewed at every moment because God makes His Will known to us at every moment and we are asked to respond.  According to Caryll Houselander in her book "The Reed of God" saying "yes" does not so much mean that we agree to do something for God.  It is more that we agree to have God do something in us.  Transform us, make us more like His Son, live His life again in us so that He can continue His mercy and works in the world.  It is complete abandon to the merciful designs of a loving God who knows what is best for us.  When I am faced with a choice, I think of the Annunciation, and try to work my way from fear, to doubts, to resignation.

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Temptations: Good or Bad?

"The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.  The breath of life... this breath is sometimes referred to in some theological books as the "soul" given to man making him a spiritual being.  Did you ever wonder why the story of creation began with the natural world and ended with the creation of man?  Why did God created Paradise before he created Adam and Eve? It was an act of pure love.  He wanted to make sure that they would want for nothing, everything would be ready, when they opened their eyes for the first time.   It was a great act of hospitality.  How good God is.  "Lord, what is man that you care for him?" the Psalmist would ask.  The story of Adam and Eve is I think a story of great betrayal.  It is a story of great ingratitude.  It was not the apple which made the difference but the disobedience, the total disregard, to what God had requested them not to do.  
"The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it;"  Spiritual writers have warned us that sin comes to us in the guise of good.  St. John of the Cross has this to say: "it must be noted that, among the many wiles used by the devil to deceive spiritual persons, the most ordinary is that of deceiving them under the appearance of what is good and not under the appearance of what is evil; for he knows that if they recognize evil they will hardly touch it. " (Counsels of Love and Light).  In our world where the idea of freedom is treated as an absolute value, separate from accountability and responsibility, this might be an apple we may want to bite without hesitation.
"and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it."  Misery loves company.  I wonder if Adam ate it because he loved her too much and wanted to share with Eve whatever would come about, or was it because he just didn't know any better?  Sin made malicious what was previously seen as innocent.
Why did God created the serpent which created this mess that Adam and Eve found themselves in?  It comes down to the notion of choice.  The greatest thing about being human is the fact that we were created with our reason and free will.  These are gifts which elevate and give us dignity.  When God endowed us with free will, he was running the risk of us using it to our own advantage- and so it happened.  But love opens itself to risks.  True love, if it is to be true, think only of the beloved's good.  St. John of the Cross warns us that true love subjects the lover to the beloved- so be careful who and what we love.  If we fix our heart on frivolous things, we become frivolous.  That's why St. Paul encouraged us by saying: whatever is noble, whatever is beautiful, whatever is true, think about these things.  We become what we love.  Temptations can make us humble because we are forced to acknowledge our weaknesses and depend on God's grace .  They can make us strong when we persevere in resisting them.  They can make us wise when we learn from our mistakes.  They can make us compassionate towards others because we learn to understand their struggles.  Ultimately, the choice is ours.

The Gospel reading on this First Sunday of Lent is about the temptations of Jesus.  Temptation can be both external and internal.  We are tempted by what we see or hear or perceive around us.  But it can also be internal because we have our inner obsessions, compulsions and addictions.  Jesus was tempted by the devil over three important areas of human needs: physical (food), knowledge,and possessions.  Jesus shows us that having the Word of God for our foundation, we can fight the snares of the devil.  If we know the truths of God, we will recognize the lies of the devil.  The truth will set us free.
Temptations can be good even when we fall.  We don't look for them, just as Jesus didn't look for his, but if we cling to God's words and trust in his mercy, everything will work out for the good of those who love Him.