by Deacon Michael Bickerstaff | December 24, 2017 12:04 am
I think most of us can remember an occasion when we had something all planned out. It might have been something relatively minor or it might have concerned something of greater significance to our lives. And then, everything changed and the plans we had made had to be set aside for a while or even abandoned entirely.
Not all that many years ago, I thought I had my life all planned out. Business was literally booming and our thoughts turned to looking for a second home. I first met my wife, Cathy, in Philadelphia. Most of her family lives in the Philadelphia area and two of her sisters have vacation homes on the Jersey Shore—one directly on the beach and the other on the bay across from the Atlantic City Coast Guard station. The South Jersey Shore is a really beautiful and fun place, so naturally we imagined having a shore home of our own. I don’t know just how serious we were, but we were heading in that direction.
Becoming a deacon and cutting back on the high-pressured life of a corporate executive was not on my radar. I could not have then imagined the change in course my life was about to take.
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B), the Church gives us readings for Mass that tell the stories of two of our faith’s great figures and how their lives were changed when God made known to them His plan for their lives.
In the first reading from the Second Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16), we have a glimpse of King David who seems to be awfully satisfied with himself to the point that maybe he is feeling sorry for God. His intentions were certainly good, but that is the point in one sense—they were his intentions. He had accomplished so much since being chosen by God to lead Israel. At last, he had defeated the Philistines and all of Israel’s other enemies. Resting in the comfort of his cedar palace, he decided that it was not right for God to rest in the ark under a tent, outside. He told Nathan the prophet that he, King David, would build the House of God for the Lord. Again, there does not seem to be anything wrong about David’s desire to build the Lord a house fitting for God. Indeed there isn’t. But God had other plans. God desired to build the House of David which would be the House of God in covenant history.
So God instructed Nathan the prophet to remind David of a few salient facts:
“It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Samuel 7: 8b-12, 14a, 16).
David may have been experiencing just a touch of human pride, only God knows. But in any event, God reminded David that all that had been accomplished through the shepherd boy King had been accomplished by the hand of God. God had a plan for David, it wasn’t completed and King David needed to learn it.
The Gospel passage for the day (Luke 1:26-38), recounts the event of the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel presented to Mary news of God’s plans for her life and the whole human race. Becoming a mother was not in Mary’s plans for herself. But her divine maternity was a part of God’s plan, a plan that was first proclaimed in the Book of Genesis (cf. Genesis 3:15) and very much in mind as the Lord instructed Nathan to speak to David. What would Mary’s answer be? So very much depended upon her answer.
Mary is the greatest example for us as we seek God’s particular will for ourselves. Her plan was to dedicate her life to God in consecrated virginity. She prayed fervently always. She loved the Lord God with everything she had to give. And she always, in humility, placed God before herself. All creation owes her deep gratitude for her fiat. In spite of the obvious difficulties that God’s request introduced into her life, she humbly answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
I think that we can say that King David had a good plan. We certainly know that Mary did. But what neither of them knew beforehand was that God had something even greater planned for them.
Through David, God expanded His covenant with Israel, establishing the Davidic National Kingdom.
Because of Mary’s yes, Jesus Christ mediated the New Covenant, redeemed mankind and established the Catholic Church as the Family of God; a family that includes all the Nations.
The plans of David and Mary were good; God’s plan was greater. Advent is a season all about watchfulness and waiting—preparing for the coming of the Lord: in history, in our lives and at the end of time. It is a time when the people of God are to be especially vigilant in deepening their spiritual life, growing in holiness and discerning the particular will of God for them. We need to be watchful for when God has a different, better plan than we do.
Let’s face it—not all of us have a prophet like Nathan living in our home and we are not likely to be visited by an Archangel. So how are we to discover God’s plan for us? I think too many of us look for a great sign and fail to hear the quiet voice of God when He speaks to us in our hearts and through others. So here are what I believe are five essentials for discovering and living God’s Will:
So what about that plan I had for my life?
God used my wife to encourage my prayer life. I am certain that the prayers of my mom played a part. And thanks to the example and encouragement of many people in my parish, my plan would change. So, in my prayers, I surrendered and asked Jesus to reveal what He wanted of me.
God used three people to plant the seed of my vocation to the diaconate in my heart. One of them was Deacon Martin Lampe whose words of wisdom and encouragement and, especially, his prayers set my life on a different course.
We did not end up with that vacation home but we ended up with a far greater “vocation” home at St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church. I don’t say this with pride. I believe the same is true for most of us who sincerely try, however inadequately at times, to live in Christ Jesus.
Reflect this week on how the Lord has guided your life. Submit to His Will totally. Pray for the grace to know and understand His will and the faith and courage to live it.
We cannot see very far down the road. We can only see the present moment. If we learn anything from the examples of King David and the Blessed Virgin Mary, learn to humbly seek the Lord, to trust in Him, to be watchful for the varied ways He might answer and say yes to Him always.
Into the deep…
Editor’s Note: The Mass readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B) are: Second Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Psalms 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38.
Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more. Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.
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