The 4th Sunday of Advent
In our Second Reading we heard the Letter to the Hebrews put these words into the mouth of Jesus: “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” And these words are contrasted with: “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”
To me, these two things represent the two different types of offerings we can make to God each day. On the one hand, there are the things we choose ourselves. For instance, I’m going to say the rosary; I’m going to pass up dessert at dinner today; I’m going to send a card to a shut-in. Then there are the things God chooses for us: illness, little bodily aches, and pains, a disruption of our plans, a person who rubs us the wrong way. Quite often, we have a natural inclination for the things we ourselves choose to offer to God; whereas, it is usually quite the opposite when it comes to the things he chooses for us. He sees the areas in us where there is still room for growth.
The first group of offerings are not bad and are certainly to be encouraged. In the Old Testament, sacrifices, holocausts, and sin offerings were a good thing. And done with the proper disposition they were seen as acts of piety. However, from the Letter to the Hebrews you get the impression they are to be looked down on because God says he neither desires them nor delights in them. But I think that was only in the case of Jesus. He came to be the supreme example of “I come to do your will, O God.”
Our Br. James is a great fan of Luisa Piccarreta. One of her main messages is to live in the Divine Will. That would mean embracing life’s circumstances as they unfold each day and seeing God’s hand in them. This turn of events in front of me right now is certainly not something I would have chosen on my own but I’m going to view it as the will of God and go with his plan rather than mine. I will offer it to him as a most pleasing prayer and turn something negative into something positive. I can turn a set-back into a leap forward.
As monks, we have a lot of things regulated for us in our everyday lives by our vow of obedience and the rules and customs of the house. There is always the inclination to take shortcuts on the parts of that package that chafe or we find inconvenient. But God’s will can be found in the details. It would be silly to take on extra practices that we choose for ourselves and then neglect things that are required. When Jesus took up his cross and walked to Calvary he didn’t say, “Wait a minute,” and put some padding here and there. He didn’t try to exchange it for a cross of a lighter material like styrofoam. He accepted it with all its hideousness, with all its revulsion. At the time he didn’t understand it, he wasn’t enjoying it. He felt like he was being abandoned by his Father. But he had to keep reminding himself, “I come to do your will, O God.”
As for these two groups of offerings, it’s not a matter of “either or,” but “both and.” The things we choose to offer to God on our own are pleasing to him and condition us and get us ready to take on the more difficult offerings he chooses for us. There is a place for both in our lives – both are important. But I think the message here is that the second is better than the first. The first can contribute to our pride and our spiritual complacency. We can hear ourselves in the words of the Pharisee when he was comparing himself with the tax collector, “I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on all I possess.” But a person like St. Damien of Molokai had to put up with the ever-increasing effects of his leprosy and make the best of the situation. It fostered his humility rather than his pride.
Those things chosen for us could be the ordinary, mundane things of everyday life: packing boxes in the online shipping area, preparing a meal, cleaning the floor in the cloister. We can do them in a half brain-dead state or we can whisper to ourselves, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.” In this way, we give eternal value to EVERYTHING. All the parts of our day have meaning and can be a source of joy and satisfaction.
For most of us, the crosses we encounter are fairly light. But for some chosen souls the cross they have to bear is crushing. It’s somewhat of a mystery why that is. Apparently, God is asking them to be “victim souls”. He sees they have the constitution and disposition to handle it and gives them the graces they need at each moment to not buckle under the load. At times, it feels like God is stretching them way beyond all conceivable limits. As St. Therese of Lisieux said toward the end of her life, “I never would have believed it was possible to suffer so much.” But God is using their suffering to further his plan of saving souls – maybe people on the other side of the earth that they will never meet until the next life. Just look at the example of St. Therese – she led a pretty insignificant life, and yet she has touched so many lives and been so popular after her death.
So a lesson we can take away from today’s readings is this: embrace the things that happen to us in life, the things we do not choose, as God’s will and offer them to him as a prayer and a demonstration of our love.