December 8, 2014
Paddy Gilger, S.J.
St. John's Parish
click here for photo and information about the writer


Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Patronal Feastday of the United States of America
Lectionary: 689

Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Psalm 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Luke 1:26-38

Praying Advent

Today's Advent Prayer

Just a few days ago Pope Francis, in his daily homily, preached about the same pattern we can see stretched between the first and last readings on today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception. He preached about: fear and hope, scarcity and abundance. He said:
“[Jerusalem] was afraid to be visited by the Lord; afraid of the gratuity of the Lord’s visit. The city felt safe in the knowledge of what it could handle. We all feel safe in the things that we can handle ... But the visit of the Lord, its surprises, those we cannot handle.

"Jerusalem was afraid of this: of being saved by the surprises of the Lord. The [people] were afraid of the Lord, their Bridegroom, their Beloved. And so Jesus wept. When God visits His people, He brings joy, He leads us to conversion. We all fear happiness – that joy that the Lord brings, because we cannot control it. We are afraid of conversion because conversion means allowing the Lord to lead us."

The people were afraid of their beloved, and not for the first time. In today’s first reading. fear is found in Adam’s response to the very God with whom he had walked in the cool of the evening. “Where are you, Adam?” God asks. But Adam is afraid.
It is so dominating, this fear. It dominates Adam such that he hides himself from the one who pushed air into his clay body. His fear is so dominating that it separates him from the vulnerability of love, telling him instead: you are vulnerable! protect yourself! His fear is so dominating that Adam cannot even respond to God’s question; all he can do is make an excuse, and blame another.
We have all lived inside the fear that leads Adam into hiding. We know the cool clench of the heart and the anxious rush of adrenaline. We know what it is to be afraid that we will be… exposed, hurt, dismissed. We know what it is to be afraid that there will not be enough, that we will not be enough, that, in the end, there will not be enough for anyone and scarcity will rule the day.
It’s this that lies at the root of our fears, I think: scarcity, insufficiency. We are afraid that there is no road back from the mistakes we have made – or that we will never find it if there is. We are afraid that we will have to let go of the ways we protect ourselves and that, when we do, we will be hurt. Like before. We are afraid that we will be exposed, judged, found wanting. We are lead by our fears and we are comfortable with it because we know what it is like to live afraid.

We know this because our fear is not a one time thing, it’s a human habit, a pattern of behavior we make our own, a logic of scarcity that colors our thinking and hides our woundedness.
“I cannot give because there will not be enough.”
“I cannot open up because then I will be revealed.”
“I cannot say yes because…”

And then there is Mary. Mary who, though greatly troubled at Gabriel’s greeting, does not hide but waits. It’s not that she wasn’t afraid. It’s that she didn’t hide herself in her fear. It’s then that she hears: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

This is the moment, I think, the moment that lead to millions of Hail Mary’s tumbling off of millions of praying lips. It’s the moment while she is still greatly troubled but has been asked not to fear where it all hangs in the balance.

God became Jesus, joined with us as Emmanuel, because Mary was willing to believe that there would be enough. Not because she didn’t feel afraid, but because she refused to be lead by her fears.

This is why we praise her, and pray ourselves: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”

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