I love this month’s cover of Magnificat Magazine — Madonna and Child, by Marianne Stokes (1855-1927), Wolverhampton Art Gallery, West Midlands, UK. (© Bridgeman Giraudon) — it captures the simple youth and energy of Mary, who would have been about 14 years old: her gaze is direct and open, and so is the child’s. It almost harkens to Christ’s ministry, and his command, “Ephphatha, be opened!”
We are living in urgent times, where illusions are swirling all about, making it difficult to discern what is true and what is not. We are distracted by a thousand things, especially in this season — and our attention is being spun toward the promptings of every sort of gadget, gizmo and noisemaker.
What happens when we are constantly spun? We become dizzy and cannot see things with directness and clarity.
Directness and clarity are at an absolute premium, these days, and I think I am not alone in wondering if we maintain our willingness to be spun and distracted at our own peril.
The challenges before us are going to be formidable, and very complicated. Without adjusting our antennae — fine-tuning them so as to be able to discern what is the truth and what is not — we’re going to become lost in the impenetrable fog that serves only the father of lies.
If Advent were to serve only one purpose it would be to point us to the “True North” of Creation — a point devoid of fogs; a point of clarity based on the Word; a Constant Reality of Christ that begins in Genesis — with the ultimate “Yes” of intention that brought everything into being with a big bang.
It leads us to the mystery of this very moment, where we ponder how the mirroring “yes” of a created creature — the young Jewess named Mary — assisted in re-creation with a big bang of salvation.
Of the million profound lessons given us in Advent, perhaps the most profound is this: God is the very energy of “Yes”. He is all that is Affirmative and affirming. It is by his “yes” that all things come into being. And it is by our “yes” that are able to co-operate with him, for our own good, rather than against him, and thus against ourselves.
We know that God is Love; being love, he cannot be hate. It follows then that if God is “Yes” then we can trust in that; he cannot be “no.” He cannot give us “no” — he can only give us yeses that we do not immediately understand, though eventually we do.
The relationship with God grows and deepens through a constant exchange of “yes” between creature and creator. We cannot always see it; when Mary said “yes” to God, what she received back may not have always seemed like a “yes.” Hearing Simeon’s prophecy; being exiled to Egypt — she might have thought, “Lord, where is your ‘yes’ in all of this danger and difficulty?”
And yet, we know that God answered her “yes” with a profound “yes” of his own, even if she could not know it.
Mary, for her part, trusted that her fiat would be answered with a yes. And that is what we have to learn to do. That is the profound lesson of Advent: be opened; learn to trust the “yes” you give to God; learn to believe utterly that God’s response to your “yes” will always be met with his “yes” in return, because he is never outdone in generosity. Trust in the directness of his “yes”, even if you cannot see it; clarity will come.
When I had the privilege of interviewing Father Robert Barron re his book Catholicism, this was part of the exchange:
What I took from this book was something very warm and joyful—a continual gathering, or drawing in; a continual invitation that confers meaning on all people, all things, all events and leads us to one joyful and ecstatic moment of affirmation. Catholicism, then, is a giant and echoing “Yes,” reverberating from the moment of creation, described in Genesis, and relayed from Mary’s fiat?
Yes! Catholicism is about God’s “yes” and it presents humanity at the fullest realization of who God intends for us to be when our response to God’s yes is “fiat.” Let your “yes” be accomplished in me, in the Church, in the culture! This is why the Mother of God is the paradigmatic expression of the Christian life.
We need to grasp this and internalize it and really practice trusting in God, in his Ever-present “yes”. The times are going to demand it of us. The only way we’re going to get through some of what is before us will be by practicing openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit — practicing saying “yes” to God, and trusting that his own “yes” will echo back. All of my life experiences — and I’ll bet many of yours — have shown me (as does scripture, again and again) that he may be trusted in this, even though trust seems foolish.
On Wednesday night I had the gifting opportunity of speaking before a small group at Holy Cross Church in Rumson, New Jersey (where Father Michael Manning preached a terrific homily at the Vigil Mass for the Immaculate Conception and Pastoral Assistant Lori LaPlante made me feel ridiculously welcomed until I just wanted to get on my knees and say, “no, seriously, I’m a huge jerk, but I’ll try to be better!”). It was a great but very humbling experience.
The truth is, when the parish approached me about visiting, I kept wanting to say “no.” You know I hate to travel; I hate to leave my house; I hate to leave my comfort zones. I want to say “no” throughout the weeks of planning. I wanted to say “no” as I loaded the GPS with the church’s address!
But something kept making me say “yes” all against my own will. And now I know why. I had a lesson to learn there, and I think I have. Do not be afraid. Say yes. Trust. Put your “no” to the side, so that God’s “yes” has room to move forward through the Holy Spirit!
I am so glad I allowed a “yes” to happen and got to meet those remarkable people — so much more opened and joyful than I am, myself, so alive in Christ. I said “yes” and it was good.
I have to learn to trust that a yes to God will always be met with his bigger and better and more perfect yes. We all need to learn it, and quickly.
Via Patrick Madrid: a affecting short film
Kathryn Jean Lopez Am I Not Your Mother?