I have been having a discussion for the last week with Gretchen Fundinger, a high school friend, about her health. She has been very anxious about the coronavirus and has been sick with symptoms similar to COVID-19. I tried to be comforting and encouraged her to be tested. She did. This morning I woke up to a private message from her telling me that she had tested negative and thanking me for walking with her on that journey (my pleasure). In that message, Gretchen said “like the Lord stilling the waters, you gave me calm and strength…”
In response to that image, I told Gretchen this story: Right after I was ordained to the priesthood, a friend of mine name Karen was diagnosed with a particularly nasty cancer. Soon after her diagnosis, I preached at her parish about Jesus' ability to calm the storms in our lives. (The Gospel reading was Mark 4:35-41, Jesus calming the stormy sea). Fast forward a year: Karen died after a big fight with that cancer. Her husband called and told me she wanted me to preach her funeral and that she had chosen Jesus calming the sea as her funeral Gospel. So I did. She had 2 teen daughters. All of their high school friends were at the funeral and I was blessed to help them with that same message that apparently had been help for Karen. After the funeral, Karen’s husband have me a gift from Karen: It was a small glass sculpture on which were carved the words "Peace, be still." Karen had had it made as a reminder when her cancer got really bad that Jesus calms the storm. She had written me a card saying that she had always intended me to have it when she died and how much comfort those words and that homily had been for the last year. I really believe in the idea that Jesus calms the storms of our life!
That facebook messenger exchange took place at around 6:30 this morning. Fast forward to later this morning: I watched the Holy Father’s extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing from St. Peter’s Basilica. I was moved to tears by the “coincidence “ of the Holy Father using that same Marcan Gospel text as the basis for his reflection.
It seems Pope Francis also wants us to understand Jesus’ ability to calm the stormy seas that upset us: “ Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.”
Gretchen, I am so happy you do not have COVID and I hope you keep getting better. Thank you, Lord, for calming all the storms which cause us fear and anxiety and for giving us the grace to trust in you
Historians sometimes engage in conversations like “Who is the most influential president in US History?” or “Who was the most important thinker of the enlightenment?” or even “Who is the most influential person in Western Civilization?” As a Christian historian, I have often thought in terms of “What are the most important events in our religious history?” For some years, leading pilgrimages in the Holy Land, I have said, while standing in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, that we were in the place where the most important event in human history took place. Others might argue the same thing standing in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. A couple of years ago in Nazareth, standing in prayer before the altar that commemorates the Annunciation, inscribed with the Latin words “VERBUM CARO HIC FACTUM EST,” I rehearsed that discussion again in my mind, and I felt the answer was in front of me: “HIC” (here, in this place) THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH. “HIC” occurred the most important event in human history.
Why would I say that? There is no Nativity, Passion or Resurrection without the “act of will” we celebrate on this feast day. It is very important that we do not confuse this with the human act of will depicted in the Gospel. Mary’s act of will is essential, but it is not that act of will referred to in the second reading: “Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will…” …By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:9-10) The Act of Will we celebrate today is the one of which St. Paul wrote tot the Philippians: “…though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross…” (Philippians 2:6-8). This is the act of will that makes human salvation and all other salvific events possible. Today is a Solemnity of the Lord that celebrates what St. Leo the Great calls the “condescension of compassion,” when eternity broke into time and bridged the gap between divinity and humanity.
St. Thomas points to 2 mysteries of faith as necessary for salvation: the Incarnation and the Trinity. Both of those mysteries are explicitly manifested to the Virgin of Nazareth in this episode: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God…” As recorded in Luke’s Gospel, the Annunciation would be the first time in Israel’s history that these two mysteries were made an explicit manifestation of God’s plan for saving his human creation. By the incarnation, Jesus brings the sacrifices of Israel (which cannot save humanity) to an end, and makes it actually possible for us to be lifted up to his Father.
When St. Paul tells the Philippians about the divine condescension, he begins the whole text by telling us that we must “let this attitude be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God…” We celebrate Mary of Nazareth as the first person to do just that. As she gives her consent to the plan of God (“Be it done unto me according to your Word.”) she becomes the first to do exactly what St. Paul says. She is offering herself in humility in imitation of the God who condescends to be born of a human woman. It is Jesus’ act of will that all of us, including the Blessed Virgin Mary, are called to imitate. As the first person to imitate her Son’s act of will, Mary is the first one to cross the salvific bridge erected by Jesus’ act of will, and is remembered as the first Christian.
So, on this solemnity of the Lord, as we celebrate Jesus’ act of will and remember how his mother aligned her will with his, let us give thanks for the Word made Flesh, and pray for the grace to align our will with the will of divine son, that we might be joined to the Trinity for eternity.
The Joyful Friar
These are the everyday musings and reflections from the life of Father Bart Hutcherson, OP, a Catholic Priest and Dominican Friar from the Western United States. I toyed with the idea of using the title "Ordinary Time" for this blog, but was afraid that people might be looking for deep liturgical reflections under that title. Nothing so sublime here - just the day-to-day. My friend, Carrie Rehak, suggested the title "The Everyday Mysteries." I love it. it captures my understanding of the everyday. God makes himself known in the everyday. I hope he reveals himself in some of these reflections too.