Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Please Don't Throw Me in the Briar Patch!"

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.
For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness. In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his
shoulders and bring it home.
As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God's goodness came very close to us.
Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement and hope. She turns to us, saying: “Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness! Have the courage to risk with a pure heart! Commit yourselves to God, then you will see that it is precisely by doing so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!”

Homily, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2005

Reflection – Well, again Pope Benedict delivers the goods for us here. I think one of the things that truly holds people back from the path of the Gospel is fear of suffering. Wouldn’t you agree?
We read the lives of the saints, or we simply look at Christ Himself, and we cannot fail to notice how much suffering their lives contained. And so we hesitate… do we really want to do this thing? This Gospel thing? Is there some easier way, some half measure, some way to slide through life and sneak into heaven with a last minute act of contrition, maybe?
It is this whole business that the closer we get to God, the closer we get to people… and people might hurt us, you know! Or at least, their troubles and woes will become ours, as we come to truly care about them. The Good Shepherd does go among the briars and thornbushes of the world, and he’s looking for helpers… am I willing to get all cut up like that?
This is the dilemma all serious Christians face at some point. The Cross unveils itself in our lives, and it’s not necessarily such a pretty picture. We become very aware, sooner or later, of what the cost of discipleship really is, in concrete terms, for us. And rare indeed is the one who doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t flinch.
So we have this woman, this Mother, this Lady. The one who allowed God to enlarge her heart to the closest measure of His heart possible for a finite creature. The one who, when the Cross unveiled itself in her life, stood there. She didn’t seem to hesitate or flinch—she just stood.
And she communicates to us precisely what the Pope relays in this homily (it is so clear that he is a man, not only of erudition and brilliance, but of deep personal prayer and reflection). Namely, that life in and with Christ is not heavy or constricted or sad or grim. It is joyful, broad, exciting. A life spent plunged into the forests and thickets of the world with the Shepherd of souls is a life that is rich and varied, painful yes, but a pain that comes from love—and who wants to live without love, anyhow?
Mary has this gift of encouragement for us because she is one of us—a woman, a creature, a mere human being. She is one of us, and she did it, did this thing that we hesitate over, anguish over, aren’t too sure we can manage. She did it, perfectly, and communicates to us not only that it is doable with God’s help, but that it is a radiant life, a beautiful life, a glorious life.
Like Br'er Rabbit, it turns out that we were made to live in the briar patch - the very thing we shy away from is the life that will make us truly happy.
So as Advent wends it way along, let’s put one hand in Mary’s hand, the other in Jesus’, and let them lead us out into the hills and valleys, the briars and bushes, the hot deserts and freezing Northern plains, the tropical jungle heat and the urban noise and rush—so that our life can be spent in love and service of humanity wherever He wishes, so that our life too can become an ‘everlasting portrait of the Son’. So that we can become saints, in short.

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