March 25, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Faithful prayer and obedience keep us close to God

(Listen to the archbishop read this column)

With Mary’s “Fiat,” the Solemnity of the Annunciation on March 25 marks the beginning of salvation.

Pope Benedict XVI says it this way: “In Jesus, God placed in the midst of barren, despairing mankind, a new beginning which is not a product of human history but a gift from above.”

The entrance antiphon for the Mass is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 10: “As Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God’ ” (Heb 10:9).

And so the Annunciation features two obediences. Mary’s Fiat: “Be it done onto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38) and Christ’s “I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:9).

These are like parallel announcements of obedience to God’s will. Christ’s words are like an echo of Mary’s.

I had never particularly paid attention to this parallel expression of Mary and Jesus, but it has been there liturgically.

The Letter to the Hebrews is the second reading in the Liturgy of the Word for the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

This suggests a reflection on the significant role of obedience to God in our lives. Not only priests and deacons, who make a solemn promise of obedience at ordination, not only consecrated religious, who make a solemn vow of obedience, are called to this loving act in response to God’s love.

At baptism, we receive the call to holiness. This includes an active obedience to God’s will as it is expressed in the commandments, especially the great commandment of love.

It seems to me that this suggests yet another “program,” if you will, for our focused reflection during the season of Lent.

The great commandment was given to us through the Apostles at the Last Supper.

Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment: love one another” (Jn 13:34).

That great commandment is not as easy as it may sound. An archbishop friend of mine likes to say that “Friendship costs.”

He doesn’t mean the financial cost necessarily. He speaks of the cost of time and inconvenience that the demands of friendship often require.

How much time are you willing to give to your friends or to your family or to your children? How much inconvenience are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of a friend or family member? Yes, friendship costs.

Love one another may be a more difficult commandment than we think. If we truly love one another then we are willing to sacrifice for them—some of our time which is so precious, some of our convenience, which is also precious and calls for sacrifice.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that, “Faith in God’s love encompasses the call and the obligation to respond with sincere love of divine charity. The first commandment enjoins us to love God above everything and all creatures for him and because of him” (#2093).

It continues to teach: “The acts of faith, hope and charity enjoined by the first commandment are accomplished in prayer. Lifting up the mind toward God is an expression of adoration of God in prayer of praise and thanksgiving, intercession and petition” (#2098).

To neglect prayer jeopardizes our relationship to God. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3, Dt 5:7).

The author Jonathan Swift wrote a satire about one of the gods of our times in Gulliver’s Travels. When the giant Gulliver was washed ashore in the land of the tiny Lilliputians, the kings sent two investigators to examine him.

In going through Gulliver’s pockets, the investigators came across “a great engine” that made a noise like a waterfall—Gulliver’s watch. The investigators said it was either a strange animal or Gulliver’s god—probably his god because he consulted it so often!

A person’s real god is whatever he or she consults most often in life. Self, money, career success, another person, movie stars and sports heroes are often false idols in society. False gods may promise much, but they do nothing for us.

The true God loves us and comes first. No individual or group, no thing or ideology or human experience can come before God. Problems of faith and morality begin here. Obedience to a false god is enslaving in powerful ways.

Obedience to the God who loves us and who sent his divine Son among us to win real redemption from sin and death brings authentic freedom on the journey of life as we make our way to the only kingdom that counts.

Our ultimate goal in life is to enter the house of the Father. We have this annual opportunity of special Lenten grace to accept the Father’s gift that is not a product of human history, but comes from above. The guarantor of love for our true God is faithful prayer. †

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