At Advent and Lent and perhaps New Years, many people decide to do something for their own conversion. Planned conversion, or better, planned attempts at conversion, are signs of our openness, but it seems to me that true conversion is more often than not a result of God surprising us, interrupting our plans, sometimes very rudely. Advent reminds us that God and the divine plan is revealed through surprises and in the unexpected. It is the element of surprise that has the potential to change our lives if we have eyes to see.
We live in a world in which many people, including religious people, look askance at others or some others. What conclusions and judgments would you make if you saw a young pregnant unmarried girl with her boyfriend? Would it ever even occur to you that it might be part of God’s plan for the whole human race? And yet, our faith is solidly based on the fact that an unplanned pregnancy saved the world, and that this was done by God. The Jews looked at all the obvious individuals among themselves whom God could have used to work, but God chose to act through Cyrus the Persian. David was considered so unlikely a candidate to be chosen by God that he was left outside in the fields. In what normally was expected to be a male-based genealogy, Matthew included four women. He could have included the great matriarchs of Israel, but instead chose non-Jewish individuals, each connected with a sexual scandal. God has embraced all types of individuals and situations to advance the divine plan. Jesus feasted with public sinners; and he himself was condemned as a criminal.
In the Gospel Mt 1, 18-24, Joseph reminds us that faith is not something that boxes us into a narrow vision of the world or of God, but is for those who have the courage to dream and to follow their dreams. God is always bigger than the limits we impose of our own minds and hearts.
During this year marked by Covid, there have been many sudden twists and turns in the lives of all people throughout the world. Like St. Joseph, we are called to recognize the vagaries of life as opportunities. And opportunities, as they say, are like sunrises: if you wait too long to see them, you miss them.
Joseph reminds us also that circumstances are not what determines or produces happiness. My happiness is a choice that I make for myself. Even though you may make it easier or more difficult for me, I alone am responsible for it.
In an age of cynicism, skepticism and negativity, it would be easy to give in to hardness of heart and spiritual numbness. Yet we must put on the mind of Christ. Today will never come again. Let us decide to be a blessing, to encourage someone else, to show that we care about each other. Let our words heal rather than wound. When we open our minds and our hearts, God takes flesh in us and life becomes more.
Fra. Patrick McSherry, OFM Cap, Archivist, General Curia, Rome