December 9, 2016
Dear fellow pilgrims,
Happy Friday, and happy Advent! I hope you all are joyfully anticipating Christ’s birth!
After reading today’s Mass readings, one theme emerged: one surefire way to depression, loneliness, listlessness, confusion, general discontent is through following one’s own whims rather than the Lord’s way and commandments. The responsorial psalm, Psalm 1, is one of my favorites…
“Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.”
What a beautiful image! But… at the same time, what a boring image, if you’re not Thoreau. How disappointed would you be if your patronus was a “tree planted by running water”? In other words… holding on to another’s yoke, rootedness, stability, submission to a law above you isn’t really the most attractive and sexy option you’ll encounter in life. People most often choose to follow their obvious attractions and desires in many spheres of life, but it’s not because that’s what will make them happiest in the long run - and in my experience, most people understand that truth, sometimes even within a backwards, pseudo-self-sacrificing, “I’m-not-worth-it-anyways” way.
But this fatal error of following our own way is not limited to those whose decisions are openly available to outside criticism. The primary task of sanctification is the practice of perpetually and more deeply submitting your will to God’s will, learning to listen and harken to His voice, and then heeding His beckoning in even the smallest whims and decisions of your day. For example… when you wake up, do you check your phone, or do you give thanks to God? How many times do we choose to follow our fleeting desires throughout the day, and then at the end of the day, feel empty and listless? I am speaking from experience.
In the gospel, Jesus gives an embarrassing portrayal of “this generation”: a group of people (“children”) who seek responses from others and not to listen to others (“‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance…’”), and who don’t really know what they’re looking for. You could easily substitute things like “We posted the prettiest picture, but you did not comment or like it, I sang a cover of Adele but you did not clap” or “We got the highest degree from the best college, but we were not loved more, We explained the most complex concepts, but we were not appreciated more.” In the midst of the crowd “calling to one another” for reactions and entertainment, and rationalizing away God and His prophets’ relevance and integrity, there is an ancient beckoning, a whisper from this God: “If you would hearken to my commandments…”
In Advent, we anticipate the Lord’s coming to earth. I think we can take today’s readings to open ourselves up more to how the Lord wants to reveal the areas of our lives where we are striving for something other than Him, for Him to reveal how His love can satisfy us in much deeper ways than we could ever fashion for ourselves. We must allow ourselves to begin our lives again, with Him, in a humble little cave, in a manger… waiting for the inspiration of God to animate our limbs and hearts out of a simple joy of being created and loved.