The snow was coming down fast and furiously; the temperature had gone above freezing just long enough for the snow to turn to rain and then began to turn to ice as the temperature fell again. Our plane sat on the runway, with flights attendants trying to get everyone into the very full flight so we could beat the storm and get airborne. When we finally did get off the ground, it was indeed a miracle because ours was the only plane in or out on time, and was probably one of the only planes to get out at all that day. On board with my husband and I was my very fragile elderly father, whom we had just gotten out of a rehab facility and who does not really enjoy airports or travel. The very long and tiring trip went off without a hitch. The entire move was nothing short of miraculous.
The fourth week of Advent is something like what I just described. Joseph had to take his wife to Bethlehem rather suddenly in order to register for the census commanded by the regional Roman procurator, Quirinius. Joseph had no choice but to pack up Mary, who was 9 months pregnant with the Son of God, leave Nazareth in Galilee and negotiate the desert through Samaria (which is a land unfriendly to Jews) to go to Bethlehem in Judea. They had no idea what they would face, but they trusted God.
The journey of Joseph and Mary was the inspiration that kept me going during the transfer of my father from across the country to his new home. Given that we are so deep into Advent, it was not only reality, but also my meditation to realize that the trust they had in the Father was the same trust which we needed to draw upon. God has made many promises to His people throughout salvation history, and He has made those same promises to us: He will never leave us and He will be with us. Throughout our situation He continued to be present and active. He helped us to leave our “Nazareth," the town where my father lived with his family -(my childhood home)- and journey to our “Bethlehem” in a hurry, through adverse conditions. God never left our sides.
The night before we left my father's (now former) house I lay awake all night praying for the intercession of the angels and the saints: I invoked all of my heavenly friends by name. I first called upon Mary, the Mother of Jesus who is not only spiritually my mother, too, but the one who intercedes for us when we are in need. I called upon St. Joseph, who is not only the earthly father of Jesus, but my father's patron. I called upon the Archangels, St. Michael for whom I am named, St. Gabriel to whom Dad has a devotion (the one who helped Mary and Joseph) and St. Raphael, the healer who in the Old Testament helped Tobit to travel. Then I called upon the guardian angels of all involved to help us to get Dad to his new home safely. I invoked St. Padre Pio, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Joan of Arc, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola, Blessed Basile Moreau, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and Blessed John Henry Newman, to name but a few. Then I asked all the countless others, including my beloved dead friends and relatives, for their intercession as well. Finally I returned to directly praying to the Father asking for His mercy and protection, but also for the personal strength to do what I did not think I could do.
During that night of prayer, it became clearer to me that this is really what Advent is all about. It is about recognizing how our humanity and His divinity became one. We who are human need him; we are dependent upon Him, just like children. There is nothing we can do without God. Simultaneously, God wants to be one with us. He is Emmanuel, God with us. The reading for the Sunday of the Fourth week of Advent from Isaiah says this: "The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!' Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel." (Isaiah 7:10-14)
God wants us to ask for what we need. He wants us to ask for miracles when we need them because He wants to be present and active in our lives. He bent low and came down from Heaven to enter our humanity. He does not want us to think of Him as merely an observer. He wants us to involve Him in our lives. The Son of God came to be with us actively. And as Isaiah had to tell Ahaz who had a bout of false humility thinking he should not ask God for something He was freely offering, we need to hear the response with all our heart and soul: “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” That is, the Son of God is here. God has already become one of us.
Late Advent invites us into the realization that the Incarnation was the most miraculous thing that has ever occurred: God left Heaven to become a human so that He could help us become more like Him. He came into our weakness and brokenness so that He could fulfill the promises made by His Father long ago. He came to bring us healing, wholeness, and salvation. He came to bring us new life forever with God eternally. But to do so, He had to enter into our human condition. Divinity mingled with humanity so that forever it would be so. There is not one single thing in all of that which is left untouched by the miraculous. That God would even think of coming into our world is nothing short of mind-boggling.
The Incarnation was not a once-and-done incident. God has been part of our world since the beginning of time, but once He entered it as a little baby everything changed. He is now present in a new way such as in the miracle of getting a house sold, packed up, legal issues accomplished, phone calls made, a reservation made for assisted living in no time flat, and getting a very weak, elderly man moved, all in a two week period. Everything is gift and all is miraculous. God is present in the smiles and kindly faces of nurses and doctors, aides, kitchen workers, and employees who are in service professions. He is present in the planes that get off the ground on time in blizzards and friends who come to help unpack and put together furniture. He is present in the supportive friends and family who call to offer words of support. God is present in all those ways and countless more when we open our eyes and look. Then we learn, as did Ahaz, that we should never shy away from asking God for His presence and activity in our lives. He is ever faithful to His promises.
God came into our world, as the Father promises, in order to meet us face to face. The preface prayer at Mass during late Advent tells us that Mary bore Him in her womb with love beyond all telling. The One whom she bore, was and is, Love beyond all telling. This child-to-come (who in reality is already come) is peace and mercy incarnate. All the pieces came together in a choreography that could only be designed by the King of Love, God the Father. Would He have done this, gone to all that effort (so to speak), just for a one-time gesture? Would He have done all this just to give us a quaint Nativity scene for our churches and tabletops? If that is what we think, then we are truly missing the miracle of it all. He came so that we might realize that the desire of Divinity is to always and forever mingle with and be part of our humanity. Everywhere we are, He is. He wants to give us miracles such as the ones I have described; therefore we need to continually ask. And when we do not readily see these miracles, we need to remember that not everything we ask for is meant to be. When those times occur, we need to remember that there are still miracles occurring, but they are not visible, or maybe they are not the ones we asked for, but they are miracles nonetheless. He is ever with us. There is not a moment of our lives in which He is absent or unaware. He is Emmanuel.
May we have the grace to recognize the miraculous which abounds all around us this Advent and always! May we continually call upon His name, Jesus who is Emmanuel, for all that we need! May we trust in His grace and in His presence in our lives! May we enter into the darkest part of Advent which begins to be illuminated by the Star which heralds His coming with joyful expectation! And may we be filled with a deep felt-sense of His love and care for each of us personally, no matter what our circumstances! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord of Love! Marana tha! Peace!
The photo is mine, taken on Long Island many years ago at the Cenacle Retreat House.
The two icons are the work of Rev. William Hart McNichols.
The first is called Mother of God She Who Hears the Cries of the World which can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/220-mother-of-god-she-who-hears-the-cries-of-the-world?Itemid=103.
The second is called Mother of the Incarnate Word and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/226-mother-of-the-incarnate-word
©Michele L. Catanese
Heart Speaks to Heart