Sunday, October 28, 2012

We Aren't in Heaven Yet: Day 18 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

If God wanted to save us without our help, he wouldn't have made the entrance of Christ into humanity dependent on the yes of a woman. That yes—her "be it done unto me according to your word"—was all he asked for and needed, however, and that's all he asks for and needs from us. Yet how resistant we are to that one little word!
I scribbled this little paragraph while in the middle of reading the latest blog post of my multi-talented Australian Facebook friend Renato Bonasera. In his fourth post in a series on Mary, Jesus' mother, our Blessed Mother (see Luke 1:48 and John 19:26-27), he reminds his readers (and instructs those who didn't previously realize) that Blessed Pope John Paul II was devoted to and much influenced by Mary, and clarifies that she is present in many of the documents that emerged from the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) that took place in the 1960s.

One of these documents is Lumen Gentium, the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church." If you sincerely want to understand the Roman Catholic Church and have time to read only one thing, then read this document that came "from the horse's mouth," so to speak.

Lumen Gentium is rich in both scripture and metaphor. The first sentence is this: "Christ is the Light of nations." The purpose of Lumen Gentium, as stated in the first paragraph, is this: "to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world [the Church's] own inner nature and universal mission . . . so that all men, joined more closely today by various social, technical and cultural ties, might also attain fuller unity in Christ." ("Universal" is what Catholic means.)

Chapter VIII of this document teaches how the Church understands Mary: "The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother." Section II of this chapter, "The Role of the Blessed Mother in the Economy of Salvation," shows that Mary is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, that her salvation by grace (and the foreshadowing of ours) is announced by the angel who greets her as "full of grace," and that she accepts that grace (as we also are invited to) with her fiat ("be it done unto me according to thy word"). "Thus," we are told, "Mary, a daughter of Adam, consenting to the divine Word, became the mother of Jesus, the one and only Mediator." It is by saying yes to God's gift—at that moment and for the rest of her life, both on earth and for eternity—that Mary cooperates with God's grace. When we say yes, we do the same.

At Mass today, the sentence I've used as the title for this post popped into my head. I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget it, not completely sure what it was calling me to write about, but knowing that just as taking pictures with my camera helps me to see, writing helps me to listen and hear.

Lately I've been praying a lot for a friend and for our broken friendship. This has made me think, more than usual, about the efficacy ("the capacity to produce an effect," according to Wikipedia) of prayer. Although Jesus is recorded as saying such things as "everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:8; see also today's Gospel reading, Mark 10:46-52), this is often not what seems to happen. The common response to this concern is that we just don't always recognize God's answers, or he often doesn't give us what we ask for because it wouldn't be good for us, or he has another plan. These reasons may often or even usually be the case, but I think it must also be true, at least sometimes, that we—meaning sometimes I and sometimes you—don't say yes to what God asks of or offers to us. This must be what happens sometimes, otherwise our yeses would be meaningless and unnecessary. This is often why we suffer: because we or someone else has said no to grace—which, after all, is what sin is.

Lumen Gentium reminds us that we are on a "pilgrimage toward eternal happiness." We're not there yet. Meanwhile, sometimes we must, like St. Paul, be "content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints" (2 Corinthians 12:10). When others say no, we must still say yes to God's commandment to love, even when the only way to do that, for a while, is through prayer.

Amen.

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