In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at what was said, and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. – Luke 1:26-29
Looking upon grace as an expression of divine charity, we can redefine the providence of God as the constant, solicitous care he has in directing every moment and every detail of our lives to that final goal of union with himself in beatitude. Instead of considering grace as a sporadic assistance or even a static possession, we thus see it as a perpetual outpouring of divine benevolence, channeled through creatures and a dynamic power that God intends to have grow and mature under his providential hand.
Above all, if we identify grace with divine love, we place it in the stream of daily life, where it really belongs. In the last analysis, grace is an invitation; it is not coercive. Actual grace can be resisted, and habitual grace can be lost. They require a loving response on our part to become effective in one case and remain alive in the other. Cooperation with grace, therefore, is our answer to the prior love of God – “The Catholic Catechism” by John A. Hardon, S.J.
(Part 7 in an on-going series “Made Known”)
I’m the kind of person that likes to get right to the point in a conversation. A meeting without an agenda, stated purpose, desired outcome and (my favorite) action items, with assignments, can easily leave me frustrated within a matter of minutes. Friends and co-workers would tell you that I am highly organized and efficient. I get things done.
With that said, therefore, I must admit that, until recently the above (well-known) reading in Luke always left me feeling a bit like, “why does it take three entire verses to get to beginning of the Incarnation? We all know this story read so many, many times at Christmas. Let’s get straight to the end game, okay?”
And so, when I started my morning Tuesday with my scripture readings for the day (Luke’s verse was the focus of the Immaculate Conception feast day, celebrated in Catholic churches at Masses held world-wide despite a locked-down COVID world on Dec. 8), it was easy at first to gloss over those opening lines, as I have done in years past. I was eager to get to Mass where I was the 6:30 a.m. cantor, get home, and get on with the dozens of things demanding my attention at this busy, hectic time of year. Things that seemed important but yet were certainly lacking a certain amount of (ahem) grace in their execution, value or time spent.
Fortuitously, or perhaps I should better say, thanks to the Holy Spirit, on this past Tuesday, when I arrived at my computer screen after Mass ended, to start checking work emails and returning phone calls, my PC was giving me a persistent pop-up message:
“Your Dropbox is full.”
I could launch into an entire side blog post about Dropbox, cloud-based storage, tech demons that have plagued my computer lately, and my general on-going love/hate affair with all-things-Internet, but that’s not really where I want to go with this particular post. The point is, on a particular day when I was feeling like Luke could have revealed the foretelling of the birth of the Christ-child in a more straight-forward manner, without all the setting up the scene, time and place, the Holy Spirit brought me up short with a very simple warning, courtesy of the PC that has become a permanent glowing fixture in my once-sacred space in my little home office pre-teleworking-from-home-during-COVID-since-March:
“Your Dropbox is full.”
It was not lost upon me (because I pay attention to these signs and words now, like a tuning fork ready to be struck upon a rock, thank you Jesus) that the word “full” was coming at me in a brightly-banded blue box on the same day that I had just found myself more distracted with earthly things than giving honor to the one who was “full” of grace and destined to give birth to the Word, made flesh. The young girl visited by an angel, who would become the Mother of God (and who, by the way, looks spectacular in blue…)
Holy Spirit, you are the clever one, aren’t you? You find ways to talk to me that span time and space and eternity, because, well, that’s what you do, and you’re very, very good at it.
Yes indeed, my dropbox was a bit too full heading into the second week of Advent, and lacking a whole lotta grace. Instead of a Dropbox, I had a dropped box, and I was too busy peering about my feet with concern for what I was dropping on the floor when I should have been more like Mary, looking up into the face of an angelic vision, pondering this wonderfully mysterious message that had just been made known to her, and only her.
What must she have been thinking, when Gabriel left her alone in that tiny little stone cave. When the light that had filled the room and lifted her heart to God ebbed and faded away, and she realized it was true. And that any plan she had formed up until that very moment, was now re-formed into a new, and very different plan. Or, did she instead always “know” from the moment of her conception, that God had something very special in mind for her, and even if she didn’t know what it was, she knew He would reveal it when it was time for it to be made manifest. To be made known.
I thought about all of that, looking at that pop up box on my computer, and I was overwhelmed with the magnitude – the Magnificat – of that moment.
Instead of turning to my PC to clear that message, I took some time that morning to turn my heart instead back to God, and asked Him to help me see the error of my ways, and how to carve out the proper disposition and path forward to take me through a rich and meaningful Advent. How to drop that box and instead kneel beside a manger, gazing in wonder at the Christ child instead of worrying about what is, or isn’t, getting crossed off my To Do list.
It’s not easy. I’m not perfect. But I’m trying, and giving God my best. Trusting Him to say, go here, turn there, walk this way, go straight when you would turn to the right, or to the left.
In these high-tech days of GPS and Google Maps and cars that (practically) drive themselves, I think we’ve come to rely far too much on being on auto-cruise-control without having to think too long and hard about where we’re going. With my iPhone hooked into my car stereo and the “thump thump” haptic of my iWatch on my wrist reminding me to turn here, take this exit, don’t get in the left lane when you need to stay in the right lane or you’re going to be in big trouble in a minute…
Well, it’s easy to forget that, even if you get lost, Siri is going to calmly come back on the speaker and, without condemnation, tell you that she is “Recalculating” to find you a new, alternative route to get you to your desired destination. Sometimes, you can take a side street, or turn left at the next stop sign, or get off at the next exit. Sometimes, you simply have to turn around and retrace your steps.
Grace does that for us, too, if we will choose to cooperate with God’s plan for our life, and let Him provide the navigation.
If your Advent seems a bit off course, if your life seems to be journeying further away from God instead of drawing closer, if you’re anxious to just drop that box you’ve been clutching to your chest for far too long because you thought it might contain something you really “needed” along the way…I hope this post gives you the courage and inspiration to retrace your steps and begin again. His mercies are new every morning, and He is waiting for you in the stillness and awe that precedes every dawn.
O come, O come, Emmanuel.