Monday December 20, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 7:10-14) Gospel (St. Luke 1:26-38)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about the angel Gabriel coming to our Blessed Lady, and there are a couple of important things in this exchange with the angel. First of all, the greeting of the angel as he says to Our Lady, Hail, full of grace. We note that he does not call her “Mary” but rather he refers to her as though her name was simply Full of Grace. In other words, knowing that in ancient times a person’s name was thought to say something of the very essence of the person, who the person was and what it was that they were about, for the angel to greet Our Lady in this manner tells us the very essence of our Blessed Lady, that she is full of grace.
As she pondered what sort of greeting this might be, it is interesting that the angel then says to her, Do not be afraid. Not that she needed to be afraid because she was full of grace, and certainly not that she had to be afraid because there was an angel there (because the angel did not come for any sort of bad purpose), so the question would be why she would be afraid. It was merely a matter, once again, of that proper kind of filial fear. The filial fear, rather than the servile fear, is the one we have to have toward God. There are some people who are afraid of God, and so in servile fear they quake, if you will, when they think about coming close to God. Filial fear is the fear that we would offend God by one of our actions because we love Him so much we would never want to do anything that would be offensive to Him. That is the kind of fear our Blessed Lady would have had, the proper kind of fear, knowing that here was someone who was sent from God to ask her something that she does not yet know what it is going to be, and the proper kind of fear that by her decision she might offend God, that she might in some way fail to do His Will. Of course, the grace was there to be able to do the Will of God perfectly, but Our Lady, knowing human weakness, realized that by her own self she certainly could choose the wrong thing. Now we know that Our Lady, because of grace, could not choose the wrong thing; it was not even possible for her. But she did have free will and she knew that if it was left to herself that she could choose the wrong thing. So that is where the fear is.
But then there is the next point: You have found favor with God, the angel says to her. Well, when we look at what God has done for each one of us, He has forgiven our sins (assuming we have availed ourselves of the beautiful sacrament of Confession) and therefore we are now filled with grace. We have not the fullness of grace, of course, that Our Lady had because she never had Original Sin and never once sinned in her entire life; but with our sins forgiven, our souls are in the state of grace and we have found favor with God.
So we need not be afraid, but it is precisely the problem that many of us face. Unfortunately, for most of us, it is not a filial fear but a servile fear. We are afraid to let go of our attachments. We are afraid to change our lives. We are afraid to stop sinning. That sounds absolutely ludicrous, but if you just take it to prayer and think about it for a minute you will understand it. We are afraid to stop sinning. It is a tragic thing, but we are not afraid of the devil and we are terrified of God. The devil who hates us, we are not afraid of. God Who loves us, we are afraid of – in the wrong way. It makes no sense, and that is what we need to get turned around. We need to recognize that the evil one who hates our guts is the one who is lying to us and trying to get us to go away from God. He needs to be rejected. But instead it is all too often God Whom we reject because He calls us to greater holiness and we tell Him “no” because we like our things too much. “I don’t want to give up the TV. I don’t want to stop doing the things that I’m doing. I don’t want to give up all of my pleasures and all of my ease and all of my comfort. I don’t want to have to suffer at all.” Therefore, we tell God “no.” Yet when Satan comes along and says, “This will feel good! This will be pleasurable for you! This will make you happy!” tragically, we jump right into it and we do not fear him at all.
What we have to do is have Our Lady’s attitude: Be it done unto me according to Your word. The Word of God is Jesus Christ, and we need to allow God’s Word to be accomplished in us because we have been incorporated into that Word, that Word Who was obedient to God even unto death. All we have to do is be obedient, but we are afraid. So we need to listen once again to the angel’s words: Do not be afraid. There is nothing to fear because God does not want anything bad for us. We simply need to trust Him. We need to let go of our own self, and we need to put ourselves in His hands. There is nothing at all to fear from God because He loves us and we have found favor with Him. When we come to truly accept that and to believe it, then we can have Our Lady’s attitude; we can come before the Blessed Sacrament, and with no fear and no trepidation and no hesitation, we will actually be able to look right at the Lord and say, Be it done unto me according to Your word.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.