Squandered Gifts?

4th Sunday of Advent
By Deacon Matthew Bowe

This past week was finals week at the seminary. Many of my seminary brothers were busily writing papers and completing oral and written exams. Hours were spent with noses in the books and eyes staring at the screen. Stress and frantic work were abundant. I suffered.

Before you have any pity for me, I should confess the whole truth. After my one class Friday morning, which was only fifty minutes, I was mostly done. I only had a ten-minute oral exam to complete for the Eucharist class. I was on break mode since Friday at ten A.M., yet we were not allowed to depart from the seminary until after our final class on Tuesday. Some of my brothers went to class on Monday and Tuesday. I did not. I have not stressed about schoolwork for over a week, and I had plenty of time to work on my thesis and play fun activities with my friends. How, then, did I suffer?

Well, two of my closest friends, with whom I wanted to spend time, had a ton of work yet to do. They are procrastinators, poor planners, and undisciplined and unmotivated toward academic matters. Having an abundance of work left at the end of the semester is a common occurrence for them. Anyway, I suffered because they did not have time for me. I wanted to give them some of my time to be with them and to partake in shared activities. I understood that they had work to do. However, they mentioned that they were going to work on things sooner, yet they never did. They said that we could not watch a television show together because of the work that they had to do, yet I saw them sleep in, take naps, play video games, and watch television at other times. I was hurt because I felt left out. The message from this story is that our actions and our inactions can affect others in profound ways unbeknownst to us. We can be oblivious and passive to the passing moments in our lives. We can hurt others and not know it.

Please do not be hard on my friends, for I forgive them. Please do not have pity on me, for it was good spiritual growth. I tell this story to set up the message of my homily. In our humanness, we let many gifts and graces pass by in our lives. In our relationship with God, we are like my friends. I am like my friends to others and to God. How often do we squander the gifts that God gives us by casting them aside like pearls before swine? We look at God’s gifts and say, “Thanks, but no.” Then, we do our own thing not realizing that God had just given us the very thing that was necessary. It could have been an invitation to prayer, the grace that we needed to endure a hardship, a kind word to speak to another, or other good things. Why do we forsake heavenly things for the passing things of this world?

Yet, squandering gifts is not even my message, but it serves as a foil, as a contrast, for my main message. I want to talk about someone who never squandered one of God’s gifts. Glory to God that Mary, our Blessed Virgin Mother, never squandered a gift from God. In her immaculate and virginal heart, which magnifies the glory of the Lord, Mary perfectly received the angel Gabriel’s message. Her response and disposition were receptive – “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done according to thy word.” Then, she received the Word Himself in her spotless womb. This gift of the Son was not for Mary alone, but the Savior came to redeem all nations back to God. Thanks be to God for Mary’s fiat, her “yes,” for the world gained the Savior of all Mankind.

Besides Mary’s disposition to receiving God and her freedom and openness to say yes to God’s will, Mary also exemplifies the love owed to a neighbor. She went into the hill country, around a ninety-mile journey from Nazareth, to rejoice with her cousin Elizabeth, who was once barren. Mary recognized that she had a duty to care for her cousin as her cousin progressed through her pregnancy. From this humble act of charity, another divine purpose would be served. Mary went to Elizabeth, and Jesus went to John. Jesus went to anoint John so that John would be ready to be the forerunner-prophet for the Christ. Whereas Mary and Elizabeth exchange greetings in a human way, Jesus and John exchange greetings in a spiritual way. Elizabeth heard the greeting first, but John experienced the grace from within Mary’s womb, leapt in Elizabeth’s womb, and filled Elizabeth with the Spirit. This prompts Elizabeth to praise Mary, who is “blessed among women” and is the “mother of my Lord.” Mary is first praised by an angel, and now she is praised by a woman. Even today, Mary is praised by the hosts of angels and by all the faithful in heaven and on earth.

Now, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we must continue to wait to hear more of the story. We must wait a little long to hear how the prophecy of Micah is fulfilled, when the “one who is to be ruler in Israel” comes forth. Mary will give birth to the One who shall stand firm and shepherd his flock, who will shepherd us. The King of Peace will come. Until that time, let us heed the words from the Letter to the Hebrews. The Lord wants us, and He wants the offering of our hearts. Jesus obeyed the Father’s will and offered His body once for all. Christmas does not stand apart from the Passion and Resurrection. Christmas points to Easter. The Son of God came to die for our sins. The old saying goes “from the wood of the manger to the wood of the Cross.” We hear in the opening prayer that we may “by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection.” But the Death is still awhile away, so let us prepare for His Birth.

There is one week left until Christmas. Let us intensify our spiritual sacrifices and penances to clear room in our hearts to receive the newborn King. Let us renew our vigilant waiting for the birth of our blessed Lord. Mary is very pregnant now; she is about to pop, as they say. We have seen mothers who are in their final days of pregnancy before the delivery. There is excitement in the eager and anxious anticipation of the newborn babe. St. John the Baptist announced the presence of Jesus by leaping in the womb of Elizabeth. Let us prepare our hearts to leap with joy with the presence of the newborn King on Christmas Day.

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