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GUIDING LIGHT - Fr. Benjamin SIM, SJ - The Freeman

St. Ignatius of Loyola was born in Spain in the year 1491. His parents died before he was 16. The years of Ignatius’ young adulthood, were consequently undisciplined and wayward.

Eventually, Ignatius encountered Jesus and turned from his life of sin.  He underwent a profound conversion.  Ignatius kept a journal of his experiences.  Later he published it as a kind of road map for others in their own search for Jesus. This is called The Spiritual Exercises.

One of the contemplation in the journal is a guide for meditating on today’s Gospel.  It has three steps.

The first step is to imagine what the world was like before Jesus was born – a world without Christ.  For example, the people were drifting away from God.  Evil was spreading like a wildfire.  The world was in a hopeless situation.

The second step is to picture the angel Gabriel descending from heaven to announce to Mary that she is to be the mother of the Promised Messiah.

Picture yourself descending from heaven with the angel.  We see the planet Earth far, far away.  It is just a tiny speck of light in a star-filled universe.  As you draw closer. You see the spot on Earth called the Holy Land.

As you move even closer, you see Mary inside the house.  She is absorbed in prayer or doing simple house chores.

The third step is to listen to the conversation between the angel and Mary.  Focus on two sentences especially.  The first sentence is the angel’s words to Mary, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God.”

The important word in that sentence is “overshadow.” This word is rarely used in the Bible.  One such instance is found in the Book of Exodus.  There it describes a mysterious cloud that “overshadowed” or “covered” the tent in which Israel kept the Ark of the Covenant.  Exodus 40:34 says that as soon as the cloud overshadowed the tent,  “the Lord’s presence fills it.”

Luke’s choice of the rare word “overshadow” is not accidental; it is symbolic.  Luke compares Mary’s body to the tent in which the ark was kept.  He compares Mary’s womb, in which Jesus will be housed, to the ark in which the tablets of the Ten Commandment were housed.  Thus when God’s power overshadows Mary, the “Lord’s presence” fills her.

But the “Lord’s presence” that fills Mary is infinitely richer than the “Lord’s presence that fills the tent. The “Lord’s presence” in Mary is the flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus.

God is present to us in different ways.  First, God is present to us in creation.  God put something of Himself in creation, just as a composer puts something of himself in the melody of his song.

Second, God is present to us in the words of Scripture. God’s thoughts are present to us in Scripture, just as a songwriter’s inspirations are present to us in the words and music of his song.

Finally, God is present to us in Jesus.  God became present to us in flesh and blood, just as a songwriter can be present to us in person, in his flesh and blood.

This brings us back to the first sentence that we should focus on in today’s Gospel.  The sentence follows immediately after the angel’s reference to God’s power overshadowing Mary.

In the very next sentence the angel says, “Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age.  She who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God.” The important words in this sentence are the words “nothing is impossible with God.”

How beautifully today’s Gospel illustrates that “nothing is impossible with God.” Before God’s power overshadowed Mary, the world had no hope. Sin and violence were everywhere.  Before God’s power overshadowed Elizabeth, she had no hope of giving birth to a son. She was old and sterile.

And, finally, before God’s power overshadowed Mary, the human race had no hope of salvation. It was held in slavery by Satan.  The power of God that overshadowed Mary changed all that.

What does this mean for us today?  It means this: Our world may be a mess. Our family may be a mess.  Our own lives may be a mess.  But there is hope, because God’s power in the person of Jesus, had entered our world.

This is what we prepare to celebrate in these final hours before Christmas. This is what gives us joy beyond imagining, hope beyond dreaming.

Furthermore, if Jesus in our midst is to bear fruit, like Mary carrying the Christ-Child spontaneously hurries to the hill country to help her cousin Elizabeth, so we having Christ with us, must be ready to spread the good news of his presence to people around us, especially to the people in need.

We have lots of opportunities during this Christmas season.  Aside from the regular feeding programs and gift giving to the poor, there are all kinds of people in need: those who lost their job, because of the economic crunch; those whose shelters have recently been destroyed or demolished.

We can donate to the orphanage and other charitable institutions.  We can give financial support to the missions, adopt a poor family this Christmas season, give assistance to the suffering people in areas struck by calamities.

Perhaps even closer to your own home, there may be people, who are lonely; people in your office, in your neighborhood, who are burdened with problems, the sick, the abandoned in the hospital ward or prison cell. Bring Christ to them. Give them hope.

Perhaps for every gift you give to your friends or yourself, set aside a counterpart for the needy.  You’ll be surprised that your own Advent and Christmas this year will be especially  meaningful and joyful.

Let’s close with a prayer.  Let’s pray the words Mary prayed later on when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. Please pray along with me in silence:

“My heart glorifies the Lord;

  my soul rejoices because of God my Savior…

  He has kept the promise he made to our ancestors…

  He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham

  And to all his descendants forever!”

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