This is a reflection on the Mass readings of Sunday, December 20, 2020.
Today’s readings present us with two stories. The first is the story of David, the second King of Israel. Through his extraordinary efforts, David had finally brought stability to the kingdom of Israel. The kingdom was secure enough for David to build himself a new palace. The Ark of the Covenant, however, was in a mere tent. This troubled David. How could the Ark be in a tent while he lived in a palace? David therefore decides to build a temple for God.
Certainly, we can admire David’s sincerity and thoughtfulness. But if we really think about it, does it not seem incredible that a mere human being could attempt to build a dwelling place for the God who created the universe and everything in it? As if the most magnificent structure we build could hold the power and majesty of God! I do not want to be unfair to David because his intentions were sincere, good, and holy. But God wanted David to learn that he must live in accord with God’s will and not by his own plans. The prophet Nathan told David that God’s plan was to build up David’s Kingdom as a dwelling place for the people of Israel, not for David to build a home for God. The temple was for someone else to build.
The second story in today’s readings is that of Mary. Unlike David, she was not from a royal family and did not live in a free nation. She was poor and the last thing she had the power to do was build a temple for God. However, she did something far greater than that! Mary became God’s temple. In her womb, she carried the Son of God. She did so as she exclaimed, “May it be done to me according to your word [will]” (Lk 1:38). In ways David never could, Mary surrendered her will to God totally for eternity.
One the greatest challenges we face in life is discerning God’s will. Like David and Mary, we are presented with decisions and responsibilities throughout our lives. As Christians, we are called to follow the will of the Lord and to build up the kingdom of God. But how do we determine whether a certain choice or course of action is in accordance with God’s will?
God’s Will and Our Will
God has given us two great gifts: intellect and free-will. We navigate through life using these two gifts. We use our intellect and free will to take responsibility, make crucial decisions, and give meaning—not only in our lives but those entrusted to our care. In Christian living, though, there is yet another factor to consider—God’s will. As Christians we also try to make sure that our lives and God’s will are in accord with each other.
Sometimes, God’s will is different from our own. For example, David willed to build a Temple for God, but God’s will was very different. In my own life, when I was ordained, I never imagined that I would actually serve the Church in a foreign land. And as you look at your life, I am sure you know that sometimes life has led you in directions you never intended to go.
This is the challenge of Christian spirituality—to ensure that God’s will and our own are in accord. The challenge for us can be very difficult. Very rarely will an angel appear to us—like the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary—and reveal God’s will. Moreover, God does not force God’s will on us. Using our intellect, and in faith, we can only hope that we discern God’s will and follow it to the best our ability. How can we be sure that we are accomplishing God’s will? How can we ensure that our will is not contrary to that of God? What are the dynamics of our discernment?
God’s Will as We Know It
Unfortunately, God’s will for us does not appear on our television screens. I did not become a priest because I heard the sound of trumpets, had a vision, or heard it in a dream. In fact, even though, as the angel says to Mary, “nothing will be impossible for God” (Lk 1:37), it is unreasonable to expect an angel at every juncture of our lives. But God does give us the ability and the tools necessary to live meaningful lives—lives that correspond to God’s will for us.
The first and most important tool God gives us is Scripture. Scripture tells us about the gifts of intellect and free will that God has given to us. We know from Scripture that God created us to be happy and to live in union with God and with fellow human beings. But scripture also reveals all that is contrary to God’s original intention. Adam and Eve, for example, have much to teach us about this.
The second gift that God has given us is the life of Jesus. Jesus’ example clearly shows us the way to not only live meaningful lives, but also to live in accord with God’s will. In fact, at Gethsemane, he surrendered his will to God. On the other hand, the events of Jesus’ life also reveal how human beings can thwart God’s will and even become obstacles for God.
Third, we have the lives of our predecessors, who are either models or are bad examples of discerning God’s will. Abraham, David, the prophets, John the Baptist, Mary, and Joseph, the magi and the saints are our role models. On the other side of the coin, Cain, the unfaithful kings of Israel, Herod, and Judas are among those we must refrain from imitating.
Fourth, we have the teachings of the Church. We believe that the same Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary (Lk 1:35) continues to overshadow the God’s Church. The teachings of the Church too help us to discern the decisions we must make in life. God also speaks to us through one another.
Fifth, God can make known God’s will for us through our beloved ones, our friends and mentors, and even people we may not like. In fact, to the discerning heart, every experience in life—positive and negative—can be God’s way of communicating with us.
These are the tools and gifts God has given us to discern God’s will in our lives.
At the end of our lives, the most meaningful thing we can do is to offer our lives back to God, confident that we have lived it for the purpose that God created us. It is only partly true that we do not know God’s will. As I mentioned, God has given us the broad principles we can use to discern the decisions we must make in our lives.
Discerning God’s will and attempting to live meaningful lives is, broadly speaking, simply about modeling our lives around the person of Jesus. For example, if we do not love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and we do not love each other as Christ has commanded us, we know that our lives are not in accord with God’s will. When we accept a culture of death, of greed, of inequality, of lust, of hate and violence, we know that our lives are not in accord with God’s will. The life of Jesus reveals to us that God’s will is that we live a life characterized by poverty of spirit, mercy, meekness, compassion, faithfulness, gentleness, peace, patience, generosity, and goodness.
Discerning God’s will is also important in the decisions we make about our vocation, our state of life, our family, children, employment, managing our finances, our time, and our talents, or deciding how we vote are guided by God’s will made know in the Scriptures, in Jesus, and in every other way. But when we make these important nitty-gritty decisions, all we can do is to ensure that we are working within the broad principles that God has revealed to us. Then using our intellect and our free will, we must make the best decision in faith and the belief that we are accomplishing God’s will. If we are indeed on the right track, we will notice that a deep sense of peace will accompany us. This is the surest sign that our decision is in accord with God’s will.
When we realize that the choices we make in our day-to-day lives violate the broad principles God has placed before us, then we will know that our will and God’s will are not in accord. As I say, discernment is to learn to think like Jesus, talk like Jesus, and act like Jesus.
Whenever we receive Christ in the Eucharist, let us pray for the mind and the heart of Christ. As often as we are confronted with life and its complexities, may we be guided by God’s will. Like Mary, may we often say, “May it be done according to your will!” Amen.
Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay
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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.