When I was ten, I played hide-and-seek with my sister and hid as far back as I could scoot on the bottom shelf of the canning cellar. Shivering in the blackness and sticky spider webs, the muffled crackling next to my feet made me sure I had invaded a monster’s lair until I groped behind me and realized I was bumping against an enormous shopping bag.
Hearing no footsteps on the stairs to discover me, I closed the little door and hazarded the light, and discovered a cache of stuff I knew immediately must be Christmas presents. I said nothing, hoping I was wrong, but from that year forward Christmas morning lacked its magic for me.
I’ve had that Christmas on my mind a lot this Advent, because I have one Santa-believing child left, and he’s at the age where any year now the doubt will set in. Maudlin about how to preserve the “magic” for him after he has finally discerned we are Santa, I realized that the answer is in this Gospel of the last Sunday in Advent, a Gospel that nestles us fully in the Joyful Mysteries.
Mary, Mother of Listening
In an address in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis once compared our ability to hear the voice of God with that of the Blessed Mother and her kinswoman Elizabeth.
What gave rise to Mary’s act of going to visit her relative Elizabeth? A word of God’s angel. “Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son . . .” (Lk 1:36). Mary knew how to listen to God. Be careful: it was not merely “hearing” a superficial word, but it was “listening,” that consists of attention, acceptance and availability to God. It was not in the distracted way with which we sometimes face the Lord or others: we hear their words, but we do not really listen. Mary is attentive to God. She listens to God.
However Mary also listens to the events, that is, she interprets the events of her life, she is attentive to reality itself and does not stop on the surface but goes to the depths to grasp its meaning. Her kinswoman Elizabeth, who is already elderly, is expecting a child: this is the event. But Mary is attentive to the meaning. She can understand it: “with God nothing will be impossible” (Lk 1:37).
This is also true in our life: listening to God who speaks to us, and listening also to daily reality, paying attention to people, to events, because the Lord is at the door of our life and knocks in many ways, he puts signs on our path; he gives us the ability to see them. Mary is the mother of listening, of attentive listening to God and of equally attentive listening to the events of life.
The mysteries of Advent challenge our cynicism and pessimism.
What am I waiting for? When will my life take on that breathless anticipation with which I barely slept three winks on Christmas Eve, and awakened before dawn to see what gift upon gift is under the tree?
I asked the Lord, one day, why adulthood is solemnly bereft of such excitement, if we’re supposed to be such a joyful people. I asked if, just one more time, He might give me that experience, the I-can’t-sleep-I’m-so-excited giddiness. What followed was a breathless discovery of him through the Scriptures, faith to faith (Rom 1:17), gift upon gift, hidden under the tree of the Cross, that culminated in the full-blown desire of my heart and the process of opening that gift every day for the foreseeable future.
It’s the Word that Brings the Joy
Can you imagine how deliriously happy Mary must have been at the miraculous word of that angel as it took root in her? How do I let the sap of the Holy Spirit animate my religious practice to truly appreciate the joy of the Joyful Mysteries? As in all things, Mary is our strongest example. Mary hears and listens to the word of God.
I wonder how many motherhood scenarios she imagined in her heart in the months before he arrived. What would he smell like, what would he look like, what would he be like? Did she fight heartburn and sew tiny clothes and embroider swaddling cloths? How do you prepare for the Word?
So many Catholics listen to the readings every week, or even every day, at Mass but never stop to wonder that God is, literally, speaking directly to them in his word, and that he might desperately desire to thrill them there.
No doubt you have heard the Word of God proclaimed at Mass or read snippets online or in books or magazines. But have you ever taken it up to read, allowing each word to penetrate your heart until you could hear the very voice of God speaking to you as clearly as I am speaking to you now?
Part of the “one table” of the Lord (CCC 103-104), the word of God offers the clear self-knowledge and understanding that are absolutely necessary to becoming truly joyful Christians. Diving deep into Scripture is the only way to become truly joyful in our understanding of who God is and what he wants for us and from us.
Let Us Pray
Lord, where do I go through the motions without ever attending to your voice in your word? Please help me find the excitement of childhood in you there. In the name of the one for whom we wait, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This blog post was adapted from chapter seven of Unleashed, in which the whole story appears. Available everywhere books are sold.
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