Right here, right now

The immediacy of the Annunciation

When I imagine the Annunciation in my mind’s eye, I see Gabriel appearing to Mary. He’s no cuddly cherub, but is kind of scary looking. (After all, he regularly stands before God and just struck dumb the priest Zechariah.) The outcome of this conversation is much more positive, though, with Mary proclaiming her Fiat: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”Annunciation

Then what? I had always imagined some period of time passing between Gabriel’s visit and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe two weeks.

However, as I examined artwork depicting the Annunciation, such as this one from Jan Van Eyck, I realized that some of them show a dove hovering nearby. To me, this means that, as soon as Mary said, “May it be done to me according to your word,” the Holy Spirit was ready to swoop in and overshadow her, impregnating Mary with the life of our Savior.

Boom! No delay, no hesitation, no time for second thoughts.

This is sobering and exciting at the same time.

Sobering, because when we say “Yes” to God, we’d better say it with certainty, since God takes us at our word. The results may happen faster than we imagine, perhaps instantaneously, so we’d better be ready.

Does this mean that we should say “No” to God? Absolutely not.

And that’s the exciting part. If we say “No,” what will we miss? Suffering, trials, tribulation? Probably. But those are far outweighed by incredible spiritual experiences and blessings beyond measure.

Your best bet? Say “Yes.” Immediately. And get ready for a great ride.

Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’

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Chips and Salsa

What are we looking for?

A young priest recently told part of his vocation story at an event I attended. It got me thinking about how we encounter Christ in our normal, everyday activities. Many times, though, we fail to recognize him in these encounters.

In relating his vocation story, the priest recalled a time when he was a young adult, headed to a party. He realized that he needed to bring some food to the party, so he ducked into a store for chips and salsa.tortilla-chips-salsa

An older African-American man was stocking shelves at the store. He asked the young man, “What are you looking for?”

“Chips and salsa,” the young man replied.

“No, what are you looking for?” the older man asked again.

The young man had been working at a well-paying job that he liked, he was driving a nice car, he had friends he enjoyed spending time with (hence, the chips and salsa). In short, he was a young professional with his share of what the world had to offer. Nevertheless, he felt there was something missing in his life.

In that moment at the store, he realized that it wasn’t just a grocery store clerk asking him about snacks. Rather, it was the Holy Spirit asking about his life. The young man began reflecting on his life in a deeper way, pondering what it was in his life that was missing. That encounter was the start of a friendship with the older man and a process that culminated in the young man becoming a priest.

Recognizing God in our lives requires sharpened senses to detect his presence. And, yes, that takes some practice. On a physical level, it means paying less attention to the noise and distractions of the world. On a spiritual level, it means frequent prayer and reception of the sacraments to sharpen our senses.

At a recent novena, the preacher summed up the way we encounter God in six words: “God comes disguised as our lives.” Essentially, God is with us in the everyday routine of our lives, not just the spectacular life events. It’s our job to see beyond the disguise.

Prevented by the Holy Spirit

Where’s your Macedonia?

[Paul and his companions] traveled through the Phrygian and Galatian territory because they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message in the province of Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go on into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them… During the night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Acts 16:6-9 Call_to_Macedonia

This curious passage from the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates a little-discussed aspect of the spiritual life: before showing us what to do, sometimes God shows us what not to do.

First, a little context. On this second missionary journey (Acts 15:36–18:22), Paul builds on the success of his first journey, visiting the Christian communities that he had established earlier in central Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and seeking to start new communities. In the passage above, Paul, along with companions that included Timothy and Silas, attempts to go further north into Asia Minor. Instead, they are redirected to Macedonia, which would be the first place the seed of Christianity is planted on European soil.

We’re not told exactly how the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching in the province of Asia or going into Bithynia. Was it natural (a landslide, a flood, a missed connection)? Was it supernatural (a dream, a revelation, a physical presence that kept them from proceeding)? We don’t know. What we do know is that, whatever form the prompting of the Spirit took, these disciples got the message and heeded it. Sometime later, Paul received a vision inviting them to Macedonia to evangelize in Europe.

This episode has some lessons for us, as well.

First, are we doing what God has called us to do? Have we been faithful to God’s call? Have we prayerfully discerned the path that we are on? Certainly, we’ll stumble and fall along the way, but, in general, we living a life that’s pleasing to God and that models God’s love for us?

Second, are we in a position to recognize, hear, and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? There’s a lot of noise in the world today, and that noise keeps us from hearing the Spirit. Daily prayer, time set aside each day for silence, and frequent reception of the sacraments position us to perceive and understand the call of the Spirit.

Finally, when we hear the call of the Spirit, do we obey? Hearing the call of the Spirit is one thing; obeying is another. Procrastination, willful resistance, unwillingness to change can all keep us from doing what God is calling us to do. We need to ask for the grace to act on our call. Alternatively, we need to ask for the grace to be patient when our call involves waiting or flexibility when our call moves us in a different direction.

This is a much different approach from what the world teaches. Conventional business wisdom, for example, would suggest that when a boulder is in our path, we should climb over, squeeze around, dig under, or blow up the boulder so that we can continue on the path. Instead, this passage from Acts suggests that sometimes a boulder in our path is God’s way of saying we’re on the wrong path. In those instances, we should turn around and let God lead us to another path.

None of this is easy. We have to be quiet and prayerful enough to hear the call of the Holy Spirit. We have to be selfless enough to recognize that God’s in charge. No matter how much we were counting on going down this path, God has a different, and presumably better, path for us. We have to trust that God will lead us on the right path. And we need to pray for the courage and strength to take that path.

If Paul and his companions hadn’t heard and obeyed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, they never would have brought the Good News to Europe. As we contemplate the words of Paul’s vision, “Come to Macedonia and help us,” we need to ask ourselves, “Where’s my Macedonia?”