Building a Temple for God

This year, the fourth week of Advent is only even a day long—not even a day really! This might lead us to think it is an unimportant week—why would we cut it so short if it was important?

But it’s so important!

In the first reading, David wants to build a temple in which God may reside. He wants to provide for God, and Nathan the prophet gave him the go-ahead. God had other plans. He told Nathan to stop David. Why? Why would God stop David from honoring him in such a way? It is good to praise and worship God, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t David build him a house?

David hadn’t yet learned the most important thing God wants each of us to learn. He had not yet learned what Mary knew at the Annunciation. He had not yet learned that in all things, God will provide. At the Annunciation, an angel told Mary that she would be with child. Mary, confused, asked how this could happen, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” She was a virgin, and was planning to stay that way.1

Her question, if we were to ask it, would sound more like, “Yes, Lord, I will do it, but how can a virgin have a child?” She didn’t doubt God, but sought clarity from Gabriel. Gabriel’s response confirmed that God will provide what is needed for Mary to have a child—she need not to worry. Mary’s response was the most important yes in human history, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it done to me according to your word.” And God provided for Mary and all of us.

So too did God want to provide for David. He wanted David to end searching for God in places where he would not be found. He wanted David to find his rest in God, for our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. 2 God wanted to provide for David, so he told David that his Son would build the Temple, that his lineage would sit on the throne for all ages. David had to spend the rest of his life learning this lesson: God will provide.

Like with David and with Mary, God wants to provide for each of us. He calls each of us by name. To hear this call, we must open our hearts to him. We must silence the other influences in our life that shut out the voice of God. We must be still and allow God to enter our souls, to make the silence into a pregnant stillness. We must be like Mary, who “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”3

Today’s Readings:
December 24, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

My Soul in Stillness Waits…

Note: My apologies for the lateness of this post. Time simply got away from me. -Matt

Nearly everyone I know has at least a couple of Bible passages memorized. One of these is almost always 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”

How can I pray without ceasing? That seems impossible.

That depends on how we understand prayer. If prayer is muttering some Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and going to Mass when we must, then of course unceasing prayer is impossible! If, however, prayer is how we stay in relationship with our God, where we lift up our hearts and minds to him, it’s a totally different story. We pray without ceasing when we are open to receiving God in his fullness. This openness comes only through one of the hardest things to learn: silence.

Through silence, we purify ourselves. By cutting ourselves off from the noise of the world, we slowly and painfully begin the work of introspection. We start to recognize those things to which we are attached, and in the silence, we are able to see if these things lead us toward or away from God. In this recognition of the good and the bad in our lives, we begin remove our attachments to those things around us which lead us away from God, all of them being things that eventually die. We silently remember our value, that God loves us. We remember our dignity, the importance of what we do, and we stop getting lost in a formalism where we just go through the motions.

Stillness is another word for silence. Where silence makes us think of quieting our minds and our words, stillness is a quieting of our bodies, of the motion around us. Praying very early or very late always gives me a sense of this stillness, and I think that Advent is the prime season for a stillness. Advent isn’t a time of empty silence, but of pregnant stillness.

It is in this silent and pregnant stillness that we become simple. Instead of demanding that things go “my way or the highway,” we stop quenching the Spirit and listen to what God tells us. Because it is God speaking to us, we can trust the message. We cast off the fear that prevents us from following God, from being simple, from being able to receive the Lord and his message for us. In the simplifying silence, we prepare ourselves by making straight the way of the Lord in our own lives.

When we are silent, when we are still, when we are simple, when we are prepared, only then may we join John the Baptist when he cries out from the desert. Only by entering the silent stillness ourselves, becoming simple ourselves, preparing the way of the Lord for ourselves, only when we have done all of this ourselves, only then may we cry out for others to do the same.

When we have done all of this, we will be ready to receive the gift God has prepared for us. God wishes to give us a gift far surpassing any diadem—that’s a crown with a lot of jewels, in case you were wondering what a diadem is—or jewels. He wishes to give us salvation and justice itself: Jesus Christ. To truly receive a gift, we must recognize the gift. We must be able to recognize the gift of Jesus Christ that has been given to us before we will be able to allow him to enter into our hearts and transform our lives.

What better relationship with God could we have then to allow him to enter into our hearts? This is how we pray without ceasing.

On these final days of Advent, let us enter the silence. Let us recognize the pregnant stillness around us, and join it. Let us become simple in the face of God. Let us prepare ourselves and make straight the way of the Lord. Jesus comes at Christmas! May we be able to recognize him and thus, to receive the ultimate Christmas gift: Our God become man—Jesus, the Christ.

Today’s Readings:
December 17, 2017
Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Come, Lord Jesus!

Welcome to the new liturgical year! We begin with Advent. Advent… What is Advent all about? Didn’t Christ already come? Why do we have to ready for something that already happened?

Christ did come to us 2,000 years ago. He comes to us every day through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and we experience him being truly, entirely, and substantially present to us in the Eucharist.1 Christ will come again, but not as a baby: he will come in glory!

We don’t know when this second coming will happen, so we must be ready for it. If Christ is already present, though, why do we need to spend the season of Advent preparing?

We forget. It’s that simple. We forget that Christ is going to come again. We forget how important the Incarnation is. Nobody expected the Incarnation! In the first reading, the Jews are pleading for God to save them. They beg Him to “rend the heavens and come down.” So he did. God became a human being. He became a little child, the son of a carpenter and a virgin. Nobody expected it to happen that way. Few accepted it. Who was able to recognize Jesus as God?

The only people capable of recognizing Jesus are the childlike—those who have the simplicity to trust in God’s plan, even when they don’t understand. Fr. Luigi Giussani2 writes that even after the Resurrection, the apostles still expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. He corrects them, and because of their childlike simplicity, because of their trust in him, the apostles “let it drop; they don’t hold to the demand that He answer their questions just as they may have imagined, but they remain attached to Him more deeply than they were attached to their opinions, with a greater simplicity. Because being attached to one’s own opinion requires the loss of simplicity, the introduction of a presumption and the predominance of one’s own imagination over [God’s plan].”3

How do we grow in this childlike simplicity? How do we learn to abandon our certainties about how the future will play out, to accept what God has planned? In a word, how do we learn detachment? Three practices, in particular, assist with learning detachment: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three practices help purify us of the evil things that slowly creep into our hearts without us realizing. Practicing prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is hard, but that shouldn’t stop us. Paul tells us that God has bestowed, and continues to bestow, Jesus Christ on us, enriching us in every way. He will keep [us] firm to the end. By spending Advent in preparation for Christmas, we prepare ourselves for Jesus’s glorious return.

Advent is the time of year where the famously ambiguous “already, but not yet” is most visible. Jesus is already present to us, but he has not yet come again. This is summed up in a fantastic word which almost never hear outside of Advent: Maranatha. It is one of the last words in the Bible, and was used in the ancient liturgies. We aren’t sure exactly how to translate it, because the Aramaic words can be broken up two ways. It could mean “Come, O Lord!”, or it could mean “Our Lord has come!”

Isn’t this ambiguity perfect? Our Lord has come, but he will come again. What glorious news!

Let us prepare for the Word to become flesh at Christmas, and in doing so prepare for Him to come again. Jesus tells us to Be watchful! Be alert! … so that when Jesus comes, he may not find [us] sleeping at the gates.

Maranâ thâ! Come, O Lord! Let us be ready to greet you, so that when you come we might exclaim Maran ‘athâ! Our Lord has come!

Today’s Readings:
December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37