Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday in the 2nd Week of Advent
For Our Own Good

Readings: Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6; Matthew 11:16-19

I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you…

Together with Jesus’ mention of children in the gospel, this line from the first reading evokes memories of childhood tantrums. This is for your own good, exclaim the helpless parents, even as they struggle with a stubborn and rebellious toddler.

It’s an image that brings out what might well be an important aspect of our preparation for Christmas. As much as we are looking forward to the Lord’s coming there may also be a part of us that resists it. For when the Lord comes, doesn’t he often also invite us to do things that are for our own good? We may, for example, find ourselves being asked to forgive someone who has hurt us deeply, or to surrender to the Lord a particular issue that has been causing us anxiety, or to continue being committed to honesty and integrity at work even though it may hurt our prospects for career advancement…

It’s important for us to acknowledge such instances of resistance when we find them in ourselves, because they are invaluable opportunities for growth. Although difficult to negotiate, they constitute the cutting-edge of our relationship with the Lord. They are growing-pains. And in order to endure them productively we need to pray in a particular way. We need first to listen to and to respect our own doubts and anxieties, the reasons for our resistance. Then we need to present these to God in prayer. Prayer such as this is not easy. It often feels like a struggle – as though we were wrestling with God and with ourselves. But it is good and authentic prayer. Our Blessed Mother probably did it at the Annunciation. As did Jesus himself at Gethsemane. It is through this kind of prayerful struggle that we can truly begin to hear the truth of God’s word to us: it is for your own good.

Here’s an excerpt from the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. that illustrates our point well. It is taken from the book Prayer Is… by Rex Pai, SJ:

One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep, and just as I was about to doze off, the telephone rang. An angry voice said: ‘Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.’ I hung up but couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point. I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. With my pot of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory: ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’ At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before.

Today, how might we better welcome the One who comes for our own good?

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