Saturday, December 17, 2011



On Thursday of this week the gospel at mass ended with Jesus speaking about John the Baptist:

I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.) (Lk 7:28-30)

I was struck by the phrase, “[they] rejected God’s purpose for themselves.”
Other translations include: “[they] frustrated God’s purpose for them (Phillips Bible)” and “[they] thwarted God's plan for them (NJB).

When I was reflecting on this passage about the people who “frustrated God’s plan for them” and applying it to myself I decided that instead of looking at the hundreds of ways I frustrate God’s plans for me, I would take a more positive approach and look at what happens when it DO cooperate with God’s plan for me. The exercise was tremendously gratifying.

I discovered that the events or periods in my life that have been most satisfying usually show one of two characteristics: risk-taking or putting myself second. And these just happen to be the characteristics of the two principle personalities of the Advent season: The Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.


The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Dec. 18) is the story of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel gets Mary’s consent: “Mary said, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” Mary is the perfect example of willingness to cooperate with God’s plan. But of course, Mary had an angel appear to her and tell her what God expected of her. That made it a lot easier, right? We keep wishing that God would just send US an angel the way He did to Mary, and tell us what he wants. Then we’d be able to do God’s will much more easily.

But Luke makes it pretty clear that Mary was in fact uncertain about what was happening and what she was getting herself involved in. Think about it: She was saying yes to something that was unheard of, unthinkable in fact, that she would conceive through the Holy Spirit 'the Son of the Most High God." This makes her Let it be done to me that much more impressive. She had to keep “pondering all these things in her heart,” trying to discern God’s will for her. She is actually a good model for us who are living with uncertainty in our lives and who have to take risks without the security of knowing for certain if this is the right thing to do.

So, in my own reflections I found that two of the most blessed times of my life involved risk-taking, venturing out of the comfortable circle of the given into alien, unknown places. Specifically, when we decided to re-open St. Benedict’s Prep in 1973 we were leaping into the dark because it seemed to be what God was asking us to do at the time. The second life-changing event was when I left the security and routine of monastery for an eleven-month sabbatical, traveling to completely new places both physically and spiritually. There’s no doubt in my mind that these two decisions were part of “God’s plan” for me.


As I reflected on how I’ve managed to “follow God’s plan for me,” I found that often this involved putting myself second. This seems, in fact, like a universal property of life at least in my experience, like one of Newton’s three laws of motion: the less self-centered I am, the more satisfying my life becomes. When I go out of my way to stop and pay attention to a little child who wants to say something to me, that is always rewarding – and it’s clearly God’s will for me. When I skip my afternoon walk to talk with a troubled student who needs a sympathetic listener and a word of encouragement, that is always a rewarding experience – and it feels like God’s will for me.

The Advent model for putting myself second is, of course, John the Baptist. The gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent (Dec.11, 2011) tells of how John bore witness to Christ. “I am not the Christ,” he told those who asked him. His job was to decrease so that Christ could increase, to point out to people “Look! There is the Lamb of God.”

John is the perfect model for “It’s not about me!” If I want to follow “God’s plan for me,” then, I need to follow John’s lead and remove myself from the center of the stage so that Christ can become visible to people through my actions, words and attitudes.


“Does God want me to put the house on the market now?” “Does God want me to start looking for a new job?” “Does God want us to take our daughter out of the school she’s attending and transfer her to another one?” We shouldn’t expect help from God in the form of answers to these questions. (Sorry!) The answers are simply not going to come.

But we can be sure of THE WAY in which God wants us to approach those questions. We get two good adverbs from the example of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.

The first adverb is “confidently:” “Does God want me to trust in his goodness as I try to decide to accept this job offer?” “Does God want me to wait in joyful hope as I wait for the results my medical test?”

The second adverb is "humbly:" “Does God want me to grab the limelight and make myself the center of attention as the family is grieving over the death of my aunt, or does He expect me to help people meet Christ through my humble loving words and my quiet sharing in their various ways of dealing with their grief?”

It’s clear HOW God expects me to act in these cases even if I don’t know exactly WHAT I should do. But it’s the “how” that I'm going to be judged on, it seems to me. Did you act humbly? Generously? Openly? Considerately? These ways of acting are without any doubt “God’s plan for me.”

And I’ve found that they are also the keys to living a life that is rewarding, fruitful and life-giving..

,,,,,Henry Owassa Turner "The Annunciation"

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