22nd December

Today I’m taking the bus home to Kerry. My sister Maureen will pick me up in Killarney.

In today’s gospel (Matt 1:18-24) the angel gives a divinely appointed name to Mary’s preborn baby: “… you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.” Thus the name ‘Jesus’ means simply ‘God saves’. How enthusiastic are we for being saved by God? What blocks are in the way? Do we think that we are “OK, thank you very much” and doing fine on our own? Today’s reflection from In Conversation with God addresses the issue. It is entitled Mary, teacher of hope. The origin of discouragement and dejection. Jesus Christ the supreme good.

The spirit of Advent largely consists in living close to Our Lady during this time when she isbutterfly carrying Jesus in her womb. We can think of the whole of our life as a somewhat longer advent, a time of waiting for that definitive moment when we will at last find ourselves with God forever. The Christian knows that he has to live this advent beside Our Lady every day of his life if he wants to be certain of attaining the only thing in the whole of his existence that is really important — finding Christ in this life, and afterwards being with him in eternity.

There is no better way of preparing for Christmas, which is now so close, than by keeping Mary company, getting to know her and deepening our love and trust in her.

Mary imparts a great joy to our souls, because when we turn to her she leads us to Christ. Mary teaches us to hope. ‘He looks on His servant in her nothingness’, she proc­laimed. Humanly speaking, how could she hope for such a thing? Who was she, in the eyes of her contemporaries? The great heroines of the Old Testament – Judith, Esther, Deborah – won a measure of human renown even here on earth … What a contrast between Our Lady’s hope and our own impatience! We call so often upon God to reward us at once for any little good we may have done. For us, no sooner does the very first difficulty appear than we begin to complain like the Israelites enroute to the Promised Land. Often we find ourselves incapable of sustaining our efforts, of keeping our hope alive.

The ones who become discouraged are not those who undergo difficulties and feel pain. It is those, rather, who do not aspire to sanctity and eternal life, those who despair of ever reaching them, who buckle and give up. Their attitude is shaped by a lack of faith, by comfort-seeking, lukewarmness and an excessive attach­ment to earthly goods, which they consider to be the only good things worth having. Discouragement, if it is not remedied, paralyses any effort to do good and overcome difficulties. Sometimes discouragement over one’s own failure to advance in sanctity comes about through lack of will-power, through fear of the effort the ascetical struggle entails, and of having to give up disordered attachments of the senses.

Not even apparent failures in our interior struggle, or in our concern to do apostolate should be cause for dismay. Whoever does things for love of God and for His Glory never fails. Convince yourself of this truth: your success – this time, in this matter – was [in God’s Providence] to fail. Give thanks to our Lord … and try again! You haven’t failed; you have gained experience. On you go!

In a few days’ time we shall see Jesus in the Crib. The sight will be a proof of God’s mercy and love. We will be able to say: On this Christmas night everything inside me stops. I am face to face with Him; there is nothing but this Child in the whole of that huge white expanse. He does not say anything, but He is there … He is God loving me. And if God becomes man and loves me, am I going to refuse to seek Him? Am I to give up hope of finding Him when He is searching for me? Let us rid ourselves of any suggestion of discouragement. Neither external difficulties nor our personal wretchedness can do anything to quell the joy of Christ’s coming which is approaching.