First, Happy Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadelupe and Happy 3rd Week of Advent! I always thought it was so fitting that Our Lady’s feast day falls during Advent when we Christians await not just Christmas but the second coming of our Lord. Our Lady standing atop the moon, clothed in stars, shining in splendor, always reminds me of the glory we will see when Christ returns, finally to set the world straight. It reminds me of the Old Testament reading for Gaudete Sunday and fills me with hope.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels”. (Isaiah 61:10, NRSVCE)
I love how Christ so often sends Mary to give a message of hope and comfort. He is always happy to include her, and us, in His plans. Very often, the healing hand of the LORD is the outstretched hand of a friend. Lately, the first part of the above chapter is always on my mind:
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn”. (Isaiah 61:1-2, NRSVCE)
It has taken years of hearing these Advent readings to really soak up even a fraction of the beauty therein. The apparent meaning of Isaiah prophesy - good and comforting things to come, is there. But on a deeper level, we need to understand that the LORD’s anointed from this passage is not just Jesus Christ, but all of us, who have become one body in Christ.
Growing up Baptist, I inherited a very strong sense that my ‘relationship with God’ was strictly between him and me; other people, and my relationships with them, didn’t really figure into it. After becoming Catholic in 2016, journeying and praying with other Catholics has transformed some of those old, very foundational ways of thinking. It’s not just God and me. It’s all of us together--I don’t mean in some nebulous, touchy-feely way, but quite concretely. Our mission here on Earth is to help those we know to stay in friendship with God and get to Heaven!
Even now, having just typed that, I’m still a little shocked by it. Surely, it is someone else’s job, the Bishop, Priest or Deacon, someone with more knowledge and authority, not just me. And true, God has given us clergy, as well as the saints in Heaven, to be our help; but the fact remains, having supportive Christian friends is a solid path to Heaven. Consider what Sirach has to say:
“Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine, and those who fear the Lord will find them. Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright, for as they are, so are their neighbors also". (Sirach 6:14-17, NRSVCE)
Reflect on how Sirach speaks of having faithful friends, ‘those who fear the LORD will find them,’ seeking out Christian friends, not just hoping to bump into them. Somehow this year, I stumbled backward into actually doing this by maintaining a Bible study through the lockdown.
All of a sudden, I couldn’t take for granted that I would bump into my church friends and acquaintances after mass or at a FRAYAM event. There wasn’t anything; if we didn’t reach out, we didn’t have the relationship. Suddenly, I had to be deliberate, and I found out what happens if you approach friendships deliberately. I found out you could schedule text messages to check in on a friend. I found out people will pick up the phone just to chat, even if it’s 8:30pm on a weeknight. I found out most people will go to a Bible study if you invite them five or more times. I found out you can open up to friends, and they will want to help you. Most importantly, I found out that having regular contact with Christian friends was great for my spiritual life; having people to pray for, makes prayer a lot easier.
If you want to know God, a great place to start is by getting to know other Christian people, who are made in His image and likeness. It’s what we are supposed to do, as Paul teaches in Ephesians.
“We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love". (Eph 4:15-16, NRSVCE)
Only by growing and working together are we going to grow in Christ in EVERY way. As the new year approaches, do something different instead of making the same old resolutions. Join a Bible study, make some new Catholic friends. You won’t regret it. Faithful friends are beyond price.