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Responding to God’s Great Promise
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 23, 2012
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The Advent season is meant to be a quiet, reflective time, a time to hear the words of the prophets in the Scriptures, to think about how the presence of God coming into the world can change things. The image of light coming into darkness is perhaps the most vivid example of this. As we move closer to the celebration of Christmas, the Scriptures speak to us more and more of the way the great event of the Incarnation happens on a smaller, more intimate, more human scale.

Today’s Gospel gives us the story of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Mary was given a promise by God, the promise that she would give birth to the Messiah. Mary was open to the vision, to the promise of fulfillment. Her yes was the beginning of all that would happen to her. And this promise began to grow within her. But in her case, it was more than a great metaphor. It was a living, breathing human being.

We have been given as great a promise as Mary and Elizabeth received: the promise of love, of salvation, of eternity. We receive this promise at our baptism, and the impact of it grows within us as we come to understand what faith can be and do in our lives.

How we respond to that promise says much about us. It also determines how much it spreads beyond our own lives to change the people we meet and even the world around us. What do we do with the promise of Advent, the promise of Christmas, the promise of Christ? We can begin by reaching out to others and affirming the presence of God in their lives.

We must respond not only with words but with action. Rather than withdrawing and concentrating only on the effect God’s Word would have on her own life, Mary moved outside herself, outside her small town, and went to her cousin Elizabeth. While she awaits the fulfillment of the promise, she reaches out to others who also are living the Spirit’s promise.

Elizabeth recognizes that Mary is following God’s call and says, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” Trust in God’s promise is something we struggle with throughout our lives. Even the greatest saints had times of darkness when they struggled to believe.

The Word breaks into our lives with the startling and dazzling revelation that through Jesus of Nazareth, God loves us in visible, tangible ways the angels could never understand. Because we believe this, we’re called to love one another with the same incarnate love. Such love is a challenge to be gentle, to give of oneself, to enter deeply into reconciliation, to grow and to change—above all to trust.

We know all too well that even our most loving gestures will not always be well-received. Human relationships are fragile and fraught with all the weakness and misunderstanding of imperfect earthly existence.

Love is a commitment of trust and faith—of promises made, kept, broken, reconciled. No real love can be born without risks, without vulnerability.

As Christians we’ve staked our lives on the belief that only through death is there life. When despair overwhelms us, when promises suddenly seem empty, when it seems we’re surrounded by dashed dreams and disappointment, by love betrayed and friendships faltering, prophets break into our lives with the word that God still cares, that love is still possible. To believe this promise demands that we risk once again, that we reach out in love, that we trust the hand reaching out to us.

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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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