Doing the Will of God (Part 1)
December 18, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Sunday of Advent
Reading I (2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16)
Reading II (Romans 16:25-27)
Gospel (St. Luke 1:26-38)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear the very famous story of our Blessed Lady receiving the angelic visitor, the angel Gabriel, who announces to her that she is to be the Mother of God. Now, needless to say, if something similar happened to any one of us, we would be quite shocked. And so when we hear Our Lady’s response–How can this be?–we are told that she was greatly troubled at his greeting and wondered what it might mean. What we see is Our Lady’s immense humility. The Blessed Mother is the most humble person to ever have walked the face of the earth. The only one more humble than she was her Son, but He is God; so, from a human perspective, Our Lady is the most humble human person ever. Here she is, the one person with no stain of sin on her soul, the one person who is so completely united with God that God could unite Himself with her and take form in her womb, and still when the angel comes to her, she is surprised and even troubled that the angel would call her full of grace. That is the humility of Our Lady.
If you think about our own experience, most of us, when we actually cooperate with grace enough to be able to overcome some area of sin in our lives, almost do something of a victory dance when we finally overcome one thing. We are so happy. And, tragically, we even become so proud of the fact that we actually cooperated with God’s grace and overcame an area of sin, that the pride is almost worse than the sin we were committing in the first place.
But we see just the opposite in Our Lady. Without any sin ever on her soul, conceived without Original Sin, and never having sinned once in her entire life, she, who at that point even loved more than the angels (by nature, she is lower than the angels; but by grace, she is higher than they), even then, as the angel appears to her who is higher than he, she recognizes that she is not worthy. We see this tremendous humility in Our Lady, a humility that each one of us needs to strive for. Obviously, we will never come anywhere close to the humility that Our Lady had. Remember that the two virtues of humility and charity are completely connected, such that the depth of humility and the height of charity are equal. Since Our Lady loved more than anyone ever, so too her humility was greater than anyone ever. And so, since all of us and every human being who has ever lived and ever will live and all of the angels that God created combined do not love as much as Our Lady does, therefore all of us combined do not even have the humility that Our Lady does. Nonetheless, she stands for us as the example of what it is that we are to strive for. Obviously, none of us is going to be able to be without sin. We are not going to be able to love perfectly, as she did. We are not going to have perfect humility, as she did. And we are not going to be the Mother of God, as she was. Nonetheless, each one of us, like Our Lady, is called to do the Will of God. Each one of us, like Our Lady, is called to strive through prayer to understand what it is that God wants for each of us, and to be obedient.
Saint Paul, in the second reading today from his Letter to the Romans, talks precisely about that point: the obedience of faith. He tells us that the Gospel, this message of God which was hidden from ages past but is now revealed to us through the prophetic writings and in the Gospel, is nothing more than to call all of the nations to the obedience of faith. Now what we just heard in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans is from the sixteenth chapter, and he uses the exact same term in the first chapter. The sixteenth chapter is right at the very end of his letter, so he begins and ends his Letter to the Romans in the exact same way: to call us to the obedience of faith. But look at what he says right before it; it is the same point that Our Lady would certainly have understood; he says, To Him who can strengthen you, according to the Gospel that I preach. Remember what the angel said to Our Lady: For God, all things are possible. Nothing, absolutely nothing is impossible for God. Well, there is one exception to that, and that would be something that would be a logical contradiction; God cannot contradict Himself. But beyond that, as far as doing anything on the natural order, nothing is impossible for God. That is the point of the humility and the obedience of faith.
Our Lady recognized the inherent problem with what the angel was asking of her, to be the Mother of God. She had vowed her virginity to God. Think about it for a moment. The angel comes down to a woman who is betrothed to a man named Joseph, and says, You are going to bear a son. And she says, How can this be, since I know not man? Well, any woman who is engaged to be married, it is pretty obvious how she is going to bear a son–she is going to get married! But Our Lady and Saint Joseph, out of love for God and with the immense love that they had for one another, were going to express their relationship only in a spiritual way. Therefore, they had made a vow of virginity, and they were going to live their marriage in a virginal manner. So Our Lady, first of all, recognizes that it is impossible to conceive a child without the cooperation of a man.
But then the child to be born of her will be called the Son of God. The child born of her will be God Himself; obviously, something which is impossible on the natural level. But for God, all things are possible, even to the point of coming down and taking on a human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and being born as a man. This is beyond our ability ever to be able to fully comprehend. In heaven, we will look at the humanity and the divinity of Christ for eternity and we will never fully understand. It is an infinite mystery. Yet, the utter humility of our Blessed Lady: rather than saying, “You know what, this doesn’t make sense. How can this be? This is ridiculous! God becoming man in my womb, of all places??? Give me a break!” no, instead of being arrogant like we would have been and trying to figure it out and trying to control it like we would have done, Our Lady just simply said, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
Therein lies the attitude that we have to have: to be the humble servants and handmaidens of the Lord. That is what each of us is called to be. And then from there, to do whatever it is that God wills for us to do. It does not matter what He wants from us, whether it is to be something that appears exalted, as He called King David to do. King David, who was a shepherd, the lowliest task in ancient society, was suddenly elevated to be the king. And he accepted. Out of his love for God, he wanted to build a house, a temple, for the Lord. And God, Who will never be outdone in generosity, says to him, Are you to build Me a house? I will build you a house, and then goes on to make the promise that one of his sons will sit upon his throne forever. Now we would naturally look at that and assume that there are going to be a succession of kings that will sit upon the throne for the duration of time. Clearly, that was not the promise God was making. It was far beyond anything that David could have understood: the promise that someone from his own lineage would be the Son of God and would be the Eternal King Who would sit upon the throne literally forever, and the One Who would be worshiped forever. That is the generosity of God.
So you look at David in his littleness being the shepherd, and you look at Our Lady in her complete and total humility. And look at what God did with them, raised one up to be a king and raised the other to be His own Mother. Nothing higher can be thought, nothing. Yet look at what He did Himself. He took on the form of a slave, and yet made Himself even lower than a slave and was willing to go to the Cross to die for us. One, He humbles; another, He exalts.
What is God asking of you? That is the question each one of us needs to ask in our hearts: “What does God want of me?” Does He want something that is very humble? Does He want something that would appear exalted? It does not matter. Do not look at anybody else and say, “What did God ask of that person? Why didn’t He ask that of me? I would have rather done that!” That is just our pride looking at somebody else and making judgments. Look only at Jesus and ask the question: “What do You want of me?” And do not worry about what it is, because remember that God only wants what is best and God will never be outdone in generosity. In fact, as we see in the first reading, as well as in the Gospel reading, His generosity is beyond anything that we can even begin to comprehend.
For some of us, the only way we are going to be saved is if we are humbled to the dust, because we need it, because our pride would throw us directly into eternity in hell. So God, in that case, is going to humble us. Of course, we will kick and scream and whine and complain and do everything we can to fight against Him, unless we are willing to continually go to prayer and say, “Thank You,” and continually seek to conform ourselves to His Will–which can only happen in prayer. If, on the other hand, God wants to raise you to some position that the worldly people would think is exalted, well, first of all, I pity you if that is what God wants; but if that is what He chooses then also you need to praise Him and you need to beg Him for humility so that your arrogance does not get you thrown into hell, if that is going to be the case. And the reason God would exalt you to a position like that is simply because what is necessary is growth in charity. There is going to be some reason why you need to be there, whether that is to be able to use the finances that may come with such a position in order to serve others, or whether that is to use the authority that might come with such a position to help others. We do not know what the reason is, but in prayer you will find out. Regardless of what God wants, we need simply to be obedient, to have the obedience of faith; the faith which, number one, says that God can do all things; the faith which, number two, says, “If God calls me, I need to be obedient. He will strengthen me to do whatever He is calling me to do; and whatever it is, is perfect for me, because God Who created me knows exactly what my strengths and weaknesses are and what I need.”
Remember that under normal circumstances, God will use your weaknesses, not your strengths. If you look at yourself and say, “These are the things that I do really well. Surely, God is going to call me to do something that will use all of these things.” Usually, it will be just the opposite. He will call you to do the things that you do not do so well, so that you cannot take credit for it yourself, so that you cannot sit back and say, “Look at me and look at what I did! Am I not just the most wonderful thing on two feet?” All you are going to be able to do is to say, “Look at what God has done in me.” That is what He wants for us. He wants us to be humble and He wants us to be charitable, but He wants us to be filled with faith that He can do all things, and that He can strengthen us to do whatever it is He is calling us to do. No matter how great or how humble it might seem, it matters not, because whatever it is that God is asking of us is the greatest and the best thing for us. That is what we need to understand.
Take the attitude of our Blessed Lady, not to be looking for anything, not to seek anything for herself. Here she is the highest creature that God ever made and she put herself as the lowliest of all, not in any kind of false humility, but in true humility. She literally and truly saw herself as being less than everyone else. That is what we have to do. We need to see ourselves in the light of Jesus Christ. If we see ourselves in the light of Christ then we will recognize that we are quite lowly, and then we can actually do His Will. That is what we need more than ever. The Church has always needed people who would do the Will of God–they are called saints. Whether they are the ordinary saints who are going to be the mothers and fathers and just the average person grunting out his daily work, or whether that is going to be the saints that we all know who do extraordinary and heroic things, it does not matter. All that matters is that we do God’s Will. That is all that matters. We are not going to be judged in the end by how much money we made, or by how many heroic things we did; we are going to be judged by how well we did the Will of God. That is all. And so God is going to ask each one of us to do something that will seem impossible for us to do, but we have the assurance that God will strengthen us according to the Gospel. We have the assurance of His grace. And we have the assurance of the angel that nothing is impossible for God, even to make us saints. Nothing is impossible for God. The only question is our disposition, and we learn from our Blessed Lady what it needs to be: Behold the humble handmaiden of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.