The new liturgical year is upon us with the season of Advent. While the world celebrates Christmas at the culmination of the calendar year, the Church places Advent and Christmas smack at the beginning. It’s another way in which I am reminded that God’s ways are not my ways; God’s timing is perfect and my timing is not.
Which is a wonderful thing. As a Catholic, when I greet the seasons and days in order of the Church’s rhythm, I can see ahead and my heart is filled with a perspective that lifts me out of the imminent and into the transcendent.
Back in March of this strange year, Catholics recognized this time of Advent would be upon us when we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation. As winter loosed its cold grip, and lockdowns began, we knew even on March 25 that nine months away was the birth of our Savior.
What a journey that nine months have been for the world and for Christians in particular! Toilet paper was hoarded and meat cases emptied in grocery stores in mid-March; and as churches closed and the sacraments became largely unavailable to the faithful, I looked outside at the snow melting and small green shoots poking through flower beds in my yard, and I made angel food cake for dessert on March 25.
“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.”
from The Angelus
Reflecting on all the changes we have seen in such short order, think for a moment how the world changed quickly and forever with the message of an angel. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin and thus began, for her and others close to her, nine months of unpredictable effects of the Divine Conception.
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
Be it done unto me according to your word.”
from The Angelus
As word spread to Joseph, to Elizabeth and Zechariah, to family and friends and community, Mary’s life was put on a path she had doubtless never imagined.
And she acted upon the divine revelation in short order. She set off in haste after the incredible news of her cousin’s pregnancy, six months further along than her own, to serve her cousin Elizabeth. She learned of Joseph’s decision to divorce her quietly and bore the pain of that circumstance until the Lord revealed His will to him. She adjusted plans for her Son’s birth – the Savior’s birth – when at the very end of her pregnancy, she was compelled to travel for a political census. And she doubtless never expected that her Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, would be denied lodging or born in a cave.
And the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.
from The Angelus
So many things were beyond Mary and Joseph’s control – but firmly within God’s plan. Isn’t it like that today? So many things are firmly outside our control – the decisions of federal, state or local governments, the electorate, universities and schools, workplaces and health care facilities and even our loved ones. It’s unsettling and worrisome. What will come next?
I imagine Mary questioned where her “yes” was leading her, but I also imagine she did not question too much. Without a doubt, she trusted more than questioned, and such trust gave her peace and confidence in God’s will being accomplished in her—even at the foot of a Cross. All these strange, unpredictable and hard things were part of God’s mysterious, salvific plan.
If God’s ways are not ours, and if God’s timing is not our timing, how do we connect with this? Here’s an offering: practice integrity. Integrity is that virtue related to the cardinal virtue of prudence, and it connects our beliefs to our actions. Indeed, it means trusting God because we say we trust God. And that is always a good decision. At the beginning of the new liturgical year, we are convincingly reminded by the seminal event of its commencement – the Nativity of the Lord Jesus – that “in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)
In his classic book Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart Fr. Jacques Philippe writes,
“Man is never assured of obtaining anything, and everything which he holds in his hands can easily slip from his grasp from one day to the next; there is no guarantee on which he can count absolutely. […]
To preserve peace in the midst of the hazards of human existence, we have only one solution: We must rely on God alone, with total trust in Him, as ‘Your heavenly Father knows what you need.’ (Matt. 6:32)“
Like Mary did. Despite the challenges we face, the crosses we are invited to carry, and the unfamiliar terrain over which we may travel, be assured that Mary, our Mother, has led the way and will be leading you, in love, to her Son. I cannot think of a better way to go to Jesus than through Mary. Clinging to Mary, our mother in Heaven, we can confidently go forth in this new liturgical year to “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5)
I do not know what this next year will hold – whether for the world or in my own life – but I do see certain things. When I stay very close to the Lord through daily prayer, through the sacraments, and by celebrating the solemnities, feasts and memorials on the liturgical calendar, I remember that just as the seasons follow each other, so too do the chapters of salvation history.
Pour forth, we beseech Thee,
O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts,
that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son,
was made known by the message of an angel,
may by His Passion and Cross,
be brought to the glory of His Resurrection.
Through the same Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
from The Angelus
These few weeks of preparation will go quickly and Christmas will soon be here. Let us not waste a moment of time to watch, pray, repent, and act. Look at the seasons and days in order of the Church’s rhythm, and see clearly what comes next. The exile of earthly life is short, our home in eternity is long, and despite the twists and turns of life, or the effects of a pandemic, green shoots of grace are frequently seen and the Lord Jesus is coming in glory.
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