An Advent Faith That Cooperates with Grace

An Advent Faith That Cooperates with Grace

As we continue to await Christ during this season of Advent, we will do well to reflect and meditate on the readings from Sacred Scripture given to us daily by the Church during Holy Mass. The “busyness” (business) of the secular holiday season tends to take us away from that which is most important in our preparations: prayer – that intimate communion with the Lord that is so essential to the Christian life. The daily Mass readings provide a fertile soil for our prayer life.

The readings from Friday of the First Week of Advent provide us a great example.

Isaiah 29:18-24

The first reading is from Isaiah and speaks of Redemption and the Messianic Age to come.

But a very little while, and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard, and the orchard be regarded as a forest! On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. For the tyrant will be no more and the arrogant will have gone; All who are alert to do evil will be cut off, those whose mere word condemns a man, Who ensnare his defender at the gate, and leave the just man with an empty claim. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of the house of Jacob, who redeemed Abraham: Now Jacob shall have nothing to be ashamed of, nor shall his face grow pale. When his children see the work of my hands in his midst, They shall keep my name holy; they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob, and be in awe of the God of Israel. Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding, and those who find fault shall receive instruction.

Chapters 28-33 of Isaiah contain the “woes” by which God passes sentence over the nations. We hear of the failure of the rulers, the hard hearts of the people of Jerusalem that keep them blind and deaf to the transforming power of God’s Word, the belief by many that they can escape Divine Punishment and the reliance of people on the powers of this world instead of the power and faithfulness of God.

Does this sound familiar to you? Could it describe our own time? It surely does, but there exists one huge difference – the Incarnation whose birth we prepare to celebrate, whose Second Coming we await. It is in the midst of this judgment that a message and promise of Redemption is placed by Isaiah. But I suggest that the power of its meaning has been lost or forgotten by many Christians in our time.

Isaiah presents the promise and fact of Redemption in material terms of creation… Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard, and the orchard be regarded as a forest! On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

We who are Christians – that is, adopted sons and daughters of God – can live lives transformed by the grace merited by Our Lord on the Cross. We can be transformed and be members of the glorious family of God as Lebanon was transformed into a glorious forest of cedars. Do we understand the power of God that can change our lives so completely and make everything possible, if we but have faith in the One Who made the promise?

Psalms 27:1,4,13,14

(Of David) The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid? One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the LORD’S house all the days of my life, To gaze on the LORD’S beauty, to visit his temple. But I believe I shall enjoy the LORD’S goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!

What do we ask of the Lord? It has become commonplace to hear people say that “life is the journey, not the destination” and in some respects that makes sense.  But this sentiment can also mislead us from that which is most important: the supernatural end for which we were created – “to dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life” – not just here on earth, but for all eternity in heaven.  It is the Lord who gives light and brings salvation; who is our refuge. God is not just a judge to be feared, but a Father on whom we rely for all that is great and good. Communion with God is the end (purpose) for which we were made.  It is time we got on with it and place this as the priority of our lives.

To reflect on this simple truth is most reassuring. Do we find ourselves struggling with faith and too much like the people of Israel and Judah during the exile – relying upon ourselves and not on the Lord Who saves? If so, our struggles will continue and not lessen, unless we surrender and turn all our cares over to the Lord, placing our total trust in Him. Just maybe we ask for the wrong thing(s). Advent is also a time for learning to ask for the only One that truly matters.

Matthew 9:27-31

The passage from Matthew’s Gospel really does pull it all together.

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed (him), crying out, “Son of David, 2 have pity on us!” When he entered the house, the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I can do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they said to him. Then he touched their eyes and said, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” And their eyes were opened. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread word of him through all that land.

But to understand its message, we need to see its context in the structure of Matthew. In Chapters 5-7, Jesus presents the greatest instruction ever given. In these chapters are found the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. He teaches us that under the Old Covenant, the Law had its purpose, but something great had come. The “old” will not pass away, but has been fulfilled. 

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

Jesus does not lessen the requirements of the “old” Law, He raises the demands. But this is not bad news, it is good because the grace of the New Covenant makes it possible for the baptized Christian to keep the Law and grow in holiness by living the life of the beatitudes, standing in His grace.

What follows the Sermon on the Mount is a series of 10 miracles performed by the Lord to show us how He has come to repair the damage caused to creation by the Fall of Man through Original Sin. In the Gospel, he gives a concrete lesson by way of the cure of the two men who were blind.

There are several things to note first.  Immediately preceding this miracle are two other miracles. The first is the cure of the woman who had been hemorrhaging. It is instructive that she believed that if she could only touch His garment, she would be healed. The tassels that formed the trim of the garment were reminders of the Law. Her belief (faith in action) brought her the cure she sought.  This occurred while Jesus was on His way to the house of Jarius, the ruler of the local synagogue, to raise his daughter from death. The Church Fathers saw a symbolic meaning to this real event – Jarius symbolizes Moses and his daughter symbolizes the synagogue itself which had become diseased and lost.  He raised up his daughter. And so in these two miracles we see the redemption offered to both Israel and those, like the unclean woman who had been excluded from the synagogue.  The power to redeem and transform rests in the Lord and it can have its good effect on those who would seek it.

It is after Jesus had left the house of Jarius that the two blind men approached Jesus – they could not see Him, but they heard… and they approached with haste and pleaded with Him to restore their sight. And here is the lesson for us this Advent: 

  1. It was not until Jesus reached another house that the miracle took place that restored their sight. This symbolizes the Kingdom of God and the house of the New Covenant, the Church that the Lord established,
  2. The belief (faith) of the two men was active – that is, they actively sought out healing from the Lord. If the Lord did not respect our free will, He could impose belief upon us all, but then what would that belief be other than forced and contrary to our supernatural end which is to love God and be with him freely as He loves us and desires to freely be with us. St. Chrysostom said, concerning this healing, “… if mercy alone save, then all would be saved.” But the confession of faith is required of the Lord who desires that each of us ask for our miracle of faith.

Quo vadis? – To where do we go from here?

So we continue our time of waiting and preparation – not just for our coming Christmas celebration, but especially for the Coming of the Lord, either at the end of all time or, more likely, for our own personal end of time at our death which might come first. The following lessons can help us as we wait for the Lord:

  • To grow in the spiritual life means first of all that in grace and humility we grow in our life of prayer.
  • Our prayer life will most rapidly advance by our meditation, an expression of prayer that finds much fertile soil in the Sacred Scriptures
  • This life of prayer is to be approached in the humility that recognizes that God alone is our light and salvation, our rock and fortress, our refuge from this world of struggle and woe.
  • In Him, all things are possible, even our own holiness, if we but surrender to Him.
  • This Advent, call upon the Lord and give to Him all your cares and weakness; in Him alone, you will find strength, spiritual healing and, one day, the completion of your salvation.

Come, Lord Jesus!

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About the Author

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life.™ A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

He and his wife have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

NB: The views I express on this site are my own. I am not an official spokesman for either my parish or diocese.

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