At the heart of the scriptural word for today’s liturgy is the call to every human to disclose God’s presence and plan in creation by seeking and doing God’s will on earth. The salvation of the created order depends upon its obedience to God’s plan for it. If there is any great truth in the mythic story of the “Fall” in Genesis it is that humans refused (and still often refuse) to do God’s will. The core of human sin is not about sex, it is not about consumption, or a host of other possibilities. The sin of the human race that brings about its destruction as well as our seeming enmity from one another and the rest of creation is our refusal to do God’s will, just as Ahaz refuses in the first reading.
Our greatest joy, our flourishing, and our road toward human fulfillment begin and progress in subordinating our self determination to God’s desire for each one of us. In the Post-Enlightenment world of the glorification of the individual person, this is rankest heresy. If there is anything for which secular culture cannot forgive practicing Christians, it is obedience to what we believe to be the Will of God.
How can any of us know God’s will? It’s hard enough to accurately read our own desires, much less to somehow plumb the desire of God. A number of years ago when I undertook the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius for the first time, I hit this question head on. I was guided by my director to pray with Mary in the events described in today’s Gospel. I remember asking Mary to give me some insight into her desire, even her thought process when this request of God was placed before her. What came to me that day as clearly as if she had spoken was “Eileen, if God wants you to accomplish the divine desire, it cannot be impossible to understand or to discover it. Rather it has to be almost easy, but it will seem outrageous to your fears, and that is what makes it hard. So discover what you are afraid of – truly afraid of – and you will hear the invitation to God to not be afraid and to take the step that will disclose God’s love for you and for all you are called to serve.”
I was shaken to my core by that grace. I did not want to know what I was afraid of. I didn’t even want to think about fear . . . or feel it. . . or even to know that I was afraid! But I found that this insight has been discovered by all the great saints of the Christian tradition. No wonder the voice of God always begins with the statement “Do not be afraid.” When we can identify our fear(s) we are freed to discover the clues to God’s desire for us .
What is it that modernity runs from and cannot face? Fear. What do we call the greatest “criminals” of our time? Terrorists – purveyors of fear. If we can turn and face and endure the depth of our fear we become open to discover what it is that God asks. Most often, as Ignatius of Loyola discovered, the divine will is already embedded in our own deepest desires, in our talents, our training, our opportunities, and the needs of those we love – but hidden to us under fear.
I sometimes feel the breath catch in my throat when I try to sing the response to the first reading today: “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will” but I know that Grace makes it possible to both sing it and mean what I sing. Grace grants the wisdom to perceive God’s desire, the courage to follow it, the joy that springs from it – the life of the Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
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