Sunday, December 18, 2011

Listen and then surrender

When she was visited by the angel Gabriel, Mary was a young teenager.  She was betrothed to Joseph, a much older man, but was not yet living with him.  Imagine how she might have felt when the angel told her that she would conceive and bear a son, Jesus, the son of God.  Mary questioned how she could bear a son since she had no relations with a man.  Then, the angel gave her a real shocker.  He told her that the Holy Spirit would come on her and that nothing was impossible for God. 

Mary surely realized that her life would never be the same.  She, a simple Jewish girl, had been chosen by God to conceive and raise Jesus, the son of God.  What an awesome responsibility!  And yet, God was not commanding her to become the Mother of Jesus.  He was asking for her consent to participate in the most important event in human history.  How would she respond to this incredible call?

I have friend named Chris.  When I first met him, Chris hadn’t been baptized and didn’t attend Church.   Then, a few years’ ago, one of Chris’s friends asked him to participate on a Christ Renews His Parish, or CFHP, weekend at St Francis.  This religious retreat was well outside of Chris’s comfort zone, but he decided to go anyway because he was looking for direction in his life. 

The CRHP weekend was very emotional for Chris.  It filled a void and was a life-changing experience.  Chris found Jesus in a group of guys who showed their love for him on the weekend.  Chris was determined to learn more.  He wondered if the Lord was calling him to a closer relationship. 

Mary quickly responded to the Lord’s call with her fiat, her acceptance.  She said: “May it be done to me according to your word.”  Mary placed her complete trust in the Lord.  She surrendered to his will.  In faith, she accepted his word that nothing is impossible for God.  With her simple “yes”, the son of God became man in the womb of Mary.  The world would never be the same.  This young Jewish girl had accepted the role that she was created for. 

The angel Gabriel spoke and Mary listened.  The angel told Mary of her role in salvation history and Mary accepted it.  She surrendered to the will of God for her.

Chris decided to attend RCIA classes to learn about the Catholic faith.  Then, several years ago, at the Easter vigil, he accepted the Catholic faith as he received the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.  Chris was home.  Chris still had a lot to learn about his Catholic faith, but he was confident that he was following God’s will for him. 

I talked to Chris about his conversion to the Catholic faith several months ago.  I asked him if he struggled with any of the Church’s teachings.  I thought that I might be able to strengthen Chris’s faith.  Chris taught me what faith was all about.  Chris told me that while he didn’t fully understand all the teachings of the Catholic faith, he didn’t question them.  He didn’t have the time or the background to challenge these teachings.  He chose, in faith, to accept the Church’s teachings, lock, stock and barrel.    He didn’t need me to prove any of these teachings to him.  Just like Mary, Chris was given the grace, in faith, to accept what he didn’t fully understand.  He surrendered, in faith, to the will of the Father for him when he became a Catholic and accepted the teachings of Jesus Christ.

These two stories have a simple message for us.  The message is to listen so that we can discern God’s will and then to surrender to His will.  Of course, most of us won’t be visited by an angel who will tell us God’s will for us.  But, God is constantly trying to get through the noise and clutter of our lives to give us the direction to follow which leads to Him.  He may be whispering to us or maybe even shouting his will for us.  We should slow down our lives, take regular quiet time to pray, and spend time listening.  It may take a week, a month, or even a year before we get the message, but eventually God will speak to us.  And, when we get a message which we think may be from God, we should test that message to make sure that it isn’t from the great deceiver.  God’s will for us always bears good fruit and never contradicts the teachings of His Church. 

Once we discern that the message is from God, our task is straightforward.  We surrender to God’s will for us.  As Jesus tells us in the prayer he gave us, the Our Father: My kingdom come, my will be done.  If we want the peace and joy of building his kingdom, we follow his will.

When I reflect upon Mary’s willingness to become the mother of Jesus and Chris’s acceptance of the Catholic faith and its teachings, I hear two clear messages for all of us.   These are our call to action.  Listen.  Then, surrender to God’s will.  Do not be afraid.  For nothing is impossible for God.