Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Pray for us, who have recourse to thee: An Advent Reflection
I wish that when I was 28 and taking classes for the RCIA program at our local Catholic church, that someone had come up to me and said this: "In five or six more years, you are going to love this. You are going to love being Catholic. You are going to find the rosary beads and the Church calendar so beautiful. All the things that seem so foreign to you now will be deep with rich, meaty meaning. You will look around and your faith will make you so deeply happy."
Right now it is December. We are doing it in the most Catholic way we know how: by observing Advent. When you think of Christmas, I hope you think of Jesus in a manger. I hope you think of his incarnation as a baby, taking the place there and in our hearts: front and center. But when you picture a nativity scene, what do you see? You see those who came to adore him: animals, shepherds, and wisemen. You see donkeys, lambs, doves, and sparrows. Perhaps you see a cow, if you're lucky.;) And of course, you see hovered over baby Jesus in the manger, his adoring parents looking on. Of all of these, I believe that Mary- that gracious mother most humbled by the events of this night in the piercing cold- was the most important attendant at the nativity. She was the person adoring Jesus that we should look at and learn from.
The animals bring an important element to the nativity. They were probably loud and obnoxious. There was moo-ing and baa-ing. They may have all had a spiritual moment: one of silence and adoration. I think of two songs: "The Friendly Beasts," where the animals are squirmy and wiggly and normal. And I think of "O Magnum Mysterium," about what a great mystery it was that animals would come to adore the Child Jesus. Perhaps they did, indeed, stop to look on in silence. Perhaps they were hushed for a moment at the Savior being born. What a miracle that would be! ;)
Next, I think of the shepherds. The shepherds have a very special place at the nativity. Is your heart like that of a shepherd? The shepherds were confronted by angels and they accepted with faith and courage the message of Heaven. Are you a Grinch at this time of year, or are you a shepherd? Do you gently shepherd your sheep, or do your first thoughts at this season bend toward a cocktail, another home decor item, or your dwindling bank account? Do you stop with your sheep to adore the Child Jesus?
Earlier this year, Stephen came to me with some news about his job, and it was shocking, to say the least. Without going into personal details, we were sidelined by something that we could never have imagined or guessed could or would ever happen. It was painful, and it was a hardship. It was a real blow to our regularly-as-scheduled programming, and it was happening within the walls of what we thought was a secure home.
I think of the wisemen. The wisemen followed a star in the East, bringing their gold and other treasures across the sandy desert to the place where they could worship and adore the Savior. Are you led by this profound faith? This year, as I said, we have had some profound challenges come up in our personal life. Unexpected, painful even. It is so tempting to feel bitter, helpless, and angry at God when unforeseen circumstances crop up in our lives. Are you a Scrooge around Christmastime, or are you a Wise man? Do you defend your wallet with all the gusto of Jingle Bells? Or have you brought the greatest treasure to the Baby? Where your heart is, there your treasure is- because they're the same thing.
What can I give him, poor as I am, if I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
if I were a wiseman, I would do my part,
yet what can I give him? Give him my heart.
Have you chosen wisely where your pennies go? Especially when painful things happen and you no longer feel in control of your wallet? And so, too, have you chosen wisely where your heart is?
Finally, I think of Mary and Joseph. But especially, I think of the Virgin Mary, mother of God. I think of the profound humility of carrying Christ. I think of the deep grief they must have felt to be shut out in the cold, both literally and figuratively- as their actions shocked their friends and family, and the innkeeper turned them away. What a comfort in hard times to think of Mary and Joseph's faith. They probably lost a lot of friends in this great sacrifice and huge act of their hearts. I'm sure it was not unlike Noah building an ark - everyone laughed as she got bigger and bigger. People scoffed when she claimed it was the Messiah. And if she claimed the truth to a large group or gathering- that she was a Virgin- who, among her acquaintances would have believed her?
Who should we emulate, as we look at the attendants at the nativity? Who of the people there present at the manger sets the best example?
Well, I truly believe Mary was the most important person- the greatest of the attendants- at the nativity. Why? Because we think of what she said, and how this impacted the state of her heart. She said, "Let it be done to me according to thy will." She did not say, "Let it be done to me according to the will of the people." She did not waver in her faith, though people mocked her, as I assume they did and must have. She did not seek the praise of men, or the attention of the masses. She suffered to be with child, and she suffered in the cold to give birth to this baby. A screaming, messy, fussy, normal baby. She suffered psychologically as she faced unbelief, criticism, and the very real experience of being an outcast: literally and also not. Normal yet not at all, because she bore to us the Son of God.
Although now she is the Queen of Heaven, in her day, Mary wasn't popular. She wasn't accepted in her time. But now, we have the greatest example in her. She left all and gave it all for faith, following God's leading and saying yes to his call to bear his Son Jesus. She listened to his will, she heard his message, and she followed with an obedient heart. We have the great privilege of having a connection with the one who has a connection to God. It says on a miraculous medal, "O Mary! Conceived without sin, Pray for us who have recourse to thee." Are you hovering over Jesus, as Mary is? If you are Catholic, I hope you see now how rich and beautiful your faith is, just as I am learning to discover. We should take advantage and ask her to pray for us. Her example and her life were immense and deeply special.
Advent is a time of joy. Do you have that joy? Do you have peace?
Linking up with Tuesday Talk
Cross-posting at Association of Catholic Women Bloggers