By: Fr. Thomas Rosica
Standing in the middle of the present day city of Nazareth is the mammoth Basilica of the Annunciation, built around what is believed to be the dwelling of Mary. In a grotto-like room at the heart of the basilica is a small inscription on an altar. It reads, "verbum caro hic factum est," here the Word became flesh. There, it is believed, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, and her response changed the world forever.
Imagine yourself in Mary's place, asked to say "yes" to a divine plan so vast, so profound and so seemingly impossible that you cannot comprehend it. "How can this be?" she asks, bewildered. She is rooted in the faith of her ancestors, and yet now an angel has appeared in the midst of everyday life, extending a startling invitation. "You have found favor with God," the angel says, "and you will conceive and bear His Son." Will she accept?
It is Mary above all others who can teach us what it means to live by faith, and how to respond when God's providence disrupts the daily course of our lives, overturning its rhythms and expectations. Despite her fears and uncertainty over how this promise could be fulfilled, she still answered "Yes." Are we able to respond to God this way?
When we reflect on the Annunciation to Mary, and her acceptance of the angel's message, we also reflect on our own vocation -- our own calling from God. In the Lord's Prayer, we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" -- an echo of Mary's "Be it done unto me according to your word." Each time we commit ourselves to embracing God's call and accepting His will, we mark a new point on the path of our relationship with Him. For the rest of her life, Mary pondered her extraordinary encounter with God, turning the weight of the angel's message over and over again in her heart. From the manger to the cross, Mary's life was radically changed -- her relationship with God profoundly deepened -- the moment she said "Yes."
Mary received and welcomed God's Word in the fullest sense -- becoming impregnated with it, and bearing it to the world. Angels might not appear in our doorsteps, but we do encounter God in each of our daily prayers, and he whispers to us a similar invitation: Will we accept His love and bring it joyously to those around us? Will we trust in His providence, even when we can't see the path ahead? Amid the noise of everyday life, will we listen for and embrace his call?
When making his pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Annunciation, Pope Benedict XVI offered this prayer to the humble Virgin of Nazareth. It speaks for all of us who likewise seek to accept God's will with joy:
Mary, Mother of the "Yes," you listened to Jesus, and know the tone of his voice and the beating of his heart. Morning Star, speak to us of him, and tell us about your journey of following him on the path of faith.
A question for today:
When have I felt that God was calling me to something greater than myself? When have I succeeded, and when have I failed, in accepting His will? What was the outcome of those situations?
Written by Gail Rodgers
Lord, I want to trust you, but I don’t know how!
When life throws that curve ball and you have the wind knocked out of you, what do you do? Where do you turn?
When we were kids we used to put a small hole in each end of an egg and then blow the contents out. The egg looked like any other in the bowl, but it was hollow. When pressure was applied to it, it broke easily into shattered pieces. I often think of that egg as I field life’s curve balls and as I watch others do the same. A hollowness in our souls will leave us feeling shattered from the pressures of life.
When a relationship becomes strained, when illness robs your days, when your stomach churns with the stress of unpaid bills, when the unexpected happens, do you crumble like a hollow eggshell or do you know where to find strength for your inner soul?
God’s Word, the Bible, has principles for living. Principles written for us by the very God that created us and understands the hollowness that can creep unbidden into our souls. This is not merely positive thinking or visualization, this is help from the God of the universe, the same God that sent His son Jesus to be the source of everything we need to face the curve balls of life.
Listen to the promise for you that comes straight from the heart of Father God:
“May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in him
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Did you hear it? Joy, peace and hope offered to you by the God of hope!! This is not just a promise to “get by” or to be a “survivor” – it’s a promise of overflowing with hope – of being filled with joy and peace!!
Sounds a bit like fluff doesn’t it! Is it really possible to be pulled from the pit of despair and overflow with hope? Yes but it’s supernatural, it’s God’s part, He does it when we do our part.
And what is our part? It’s that little phrase sandwiched in – between the promise of being filled with joy and peace and the promise of overflowing with hope – our part is an individual thing – “as you trust in Him”.
But how? How does one trust? In the storms of life I find people desperately wanting to trust this God that offers hope, but simply not knowing how to when the waves are coming fast and threatening to pull them under.
God even gives us the formula in His Word. Listen to it – it comes from the book in the Bible named “Lamentations”:
“Because of the Lord’s great love
we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is His faithfulness.”
Lamentations 3: 22 & 23
When trouble strikes and our hearts grow faint we so often forget the great love our Father in Heaven has for us and we begin to doubt the goodness of God toward us. When that happens we begin to be consumed by our stress and our fears and begin to blame God. When we follow God’s formula and recall His great love for us, reminding ourselves daily of His compassion toward us, our hearts gain strength.
God knows the daily need we have to remember His kindness toward us in the middle of our unkind circumstances, so He calls us to focus on it every morning. His compassions that never fail us are His resources to carry us through our day and all the hard points in our present storm. Has hope, peace and strength vanished in the wind of your storm? His peace, His strength, His wisdom, His understanding, His hope will become yours as you ask Him for it – supernaturally His source of whatever you need today will become yours.
As you lean into His great love for you today, and lean on His resources you will not be consumed, you will not be crushed like the hollow eggshell. You will find Him faithful step by step by step – that’s trusting.
Never doubt the love and the goodness of God to you. He doesn’t promise a storm free life but He does promise to be the anchor in the storm so that you will not be overcome!
Trust Him daily. Trust Him hourly and learn to trust Him moment by moment. His resources will not only get you through but you will truly grow to experience Him as the source of hope overflowing “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Try Him. Trust Him. He is our faithful God!
By Gerald M. Fagin, SJ
Mary at her Annunciation models faith for us. She shows us that faith is more than assent, but is also trust, commitment, obedience, and submission. Mary trusted in God’s promises, was obedient to God’s word of invitation in her life, surrendered to the mystery before her, and committed herself to be part of God’s plan of salvation in Jesus.
At the same time, we can easily romanticize the Gospel scene—Mary is at prayer, an angel appears, and she says a faith-filled yes. The Scripture also tells us that she was deeply troubled and wondered what the angel’s greeting meant. Certainly the angel’s explanation only left her with more questions and concerns. She did not say yes because she fully understood or had all her questions answered. She said yes in faith and trust. We do Mary a disservice to think she had some infused knowledge that dispelled all her doubts. She was a young woman of extraordinary faith. The “yes” at the Annunciation was not the first “yes” in her life nor would it be the last.
The really significant yeses in our lives also demand a great deal of trust and openness. We cannot know all the implications of them. We respond to the gift of God’s call in our lives. We say yes in hope and trust. Like Mary, we say “yes” to something being born in us that must grow and mature and take a shape we cannot predict. We are called to that depth of faith as we contemplate the story of the Annunciation and all the stories of the life of Jesus in the rest of the [Spiritual] Exercises. We are called to trust, obedience, surrender, and commitment in our own lives. We will hear an invitation to share in the work of Jesus and respond and live in faith.
Living in faith demands surrender to the stories of God and Jesus recorded in the Scriptures. Christian faith especially demands that we let the stories of Jesus shape our minds and hearts. Paul Wadell says that to live in faith means that we “appropriate these stories, striving to embody their viewpoints, values, and vision as our own. To assent to the truths of faith portrayed in the Scripture is to allow them to become the interpretative framework for our world.”
Wadell feels we need these narratives “to mold and shape us, especially in the attitudes and virtues of Jesus.” Ignatian imaginative prayer on the Gospel stories is a powerful way to grow in faith by putting on the heart of Christ. As Jesus trusted, obeyed, surrendered, and committed his life to the Father, we are to respond in the same way. All the contemplations on the Gospels throughout the Exercises foster growth in the virtue of faith that empowers us to trust God and commit ourselves to service.
Excerpt from Putting on the Heart of Christ: How the Spiritual Exercises Invite Us to a Virtuous Life by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ.
This reflection was written in 2011, but it still is true for our times now!! Let us pray and give thanksgiving!
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.
On this Thanksgiving Day, Americans are encouraged to pause and give thanks to God. In his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln wrote: “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”
As you may recall, in 1863, the United States was in the Civil War, a terribly brutal and emotionally horrifying experience. Thousands of young Americans had died, while others faced the prospect of imminent death. Yet, in the midst of such a challenging time, President Lincoln called upon Americans to remember the richness of God’s blessings and to be thankful.
So it should be with us. In many ways, 2011 has not been an easy year for our nation. We continue to struggle with economic hardships. Bad weather and natural disasters have devastated whole cities. Wars continue to take thousands of men and women away from their homes, and some of these brave soldiers will never return. Political tensions throughout the world bring the threat of further violence and death.
Thus, we need to hear the encouragement of Abraham Lincoln again. In spite of our challenges and setbacks, we have been richly blessed by God. Thanksgiving is due just as much today as it was in 1863, perhaps much more.
When we give thanks, we bring to mind God’s gifts to us. This, in turn, reminds us of God’s gracious nature. We think, not just of what God has done, but also of who God is. Thus, thanks is a point of entry to praise. In the language of Psalm 100, we enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, so that we might go into his courts with praise. There’s no biblical rule that states that thanks must always come before praise. But, for many of us, thanksgiving for what God has done leads us to praise God for who he is.
So, may you enter God’s gates with thanksgiving today, so that you might celebrate in his courts with praise! May God give you a rich and blessed Thanksgiving Day!
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How is it possible to give thanks even in hard times? Does thanking God lead to praising God in your life? For what are you most grateful today?
PRAYER: Thank you, gracious God, for your abundant gifts to me. Thank you for giving me, not what I deserve, but so very much more. Thank you for the ways you have blessed me throughout my life. Thank you for allowing me to live in a country where I am free, safe, and prosperous. Thank you, most of all, for the gift of life you have given me through Christ. Thanks for the incredible privilege of knowing you and living my life in relationship with you, both now and forever.
All praise be to you, O God, giver of all good gifts! All praise be to you, because your grace and mercy are without end! All praise be to you for the gift of life in this world, and life forever in the age to come! All praise to you, O God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
by Joyce Meyer
You shall not need to fight in this battle; take your positions, stand still, and see the deliverance of the Lord [Who is] with you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Fear not nor be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you. 2 Chronicles 20:17
All of us face various kinds of battles in our lives. No one escapes problems and challenges, which we often call “the storms of life.” The good news is that God already knows what He will do when we face difficulties. He has a plan to bring us victory. Second Chronicles 20 tells us that we do not need to fight our own battles because our battles belong to the Lord, not to us. All we need to do is take our positions and remain in them until our breakthroughs come.
What is that position? I believe it is worshipping God.
Unless we have a strong faith in God, anytime a storm comes into our lives, the first thing that happens is that we lose our peace and begin to feel fear. Our enemy, Satan, injects “what if” thoughts into our heads, and we often begin to think we will have the worst possible outcome.
As soon as this happens, we should realize what’s going on: The enemy is trying to keep us from going forward in God’s will and experiencing His good plans for our lives. God wants us to be totally free from fear. He doesn’t want us to live in torment, and He doesn’t want fear to stop us from confidently doing what He leads us to do.
When we have a deep understanding of God’s perfect, unconditional love for us, we realize He will always take care of everything that concerns us. That knowledge eventually delivers us from fear. As we gain experience with God and see that He always takes care of us and provides what we need, we begin to relax.
There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and [so] he who is afraid has not reached the full maturity of love [is not yet grown into love's complete perfection]. 1 John 4:18
God moves on our behalf when we focus on Him instead of our fears. Thoughts or feelings of fear are nothing more than the enemy’s attempt to distract us from God and His will for our lives. We may feel fear at various times in our lives, but we can trust God. And if we need to do something, even though we feel afraid, we can do it.
This “do it afraid” theory is something God began teaching me years ago. I saw that when He told Joshua to “fear not” (see Joshua 8:1), He was actually warning him that fear would try to stop him from moving ahead with God’s plan for his life; instead of letting fear control him, he needed to be strong and full of courage and to keep going forward. He needed to fight and win the battle against fear so he could experience the victory of fulfilling God’s plan and enjoy everything God had for him.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
When we feel fear or begin to have fearful thoughts, the first thing we should do is pray. I often say, “Pray about everything and fear nothing.” We should set ourselves to seek God until we know we have overcome our fears mentally and emotionally. As we seek God, we are focusing on Him instead of our fears. We worship Him for Who He is and express our appreciation for the good He has done, is doing, and will continue to do.
God has new opportunities and great things in store for us. To receive them, we will need to take extra steps of faith. That often means doing things we don’t feel like doing or may not even think will work. Our trust and reverence for God must be greater than what we think, want, or feel.
The enemy brings all kinds of storms into our lives. He also tries to use fear in many different forms to keep us from experiencing everything God has for us. Even though we may feel fear, we need to focus our attention on God. He has a battle plan for us, and He will give us courage and faith to receive the peace, victories and blessings He has for us.
If our lives are filled with plenty of praise for God’s mighty acts and worship for Who God is, we will see Him fight our battles for us and we will experience joyful victories.