It started with one. One young woman. One angel. One God. One simple yet awe-inspiring and grace-filled “yes” to God’s will. So, too, it is with our faith — it starts with one. As Pope Benedict reminds us in his exhortation “Porta Fidei” (“The Door of Faith”), the new evangelization begins with the individual accepting the salvation promised to us in Christ. It all starts with me.
For me to enter into this Year of Faith, I must remember that it is my own “yes” to God that allows the faith to enter into my heart. For as we are continually reminded, we cannot share what we do not first possess. It is a call to personal conversion, to personal sanctification. Perhaps the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta capture this sense of the unique call of the individual: “The love that I have to offer to the world may be but a small drop in the great ocean that is God’s love for the world, but without my small drop of love, that ocean would be one drop less.”
After the individual response to the call of Christ and to the gift of faith that is planted within our heart, the next step is to carry that message out and to share it. Many have reflected upon this movement in Mary’s own gift. Her first inclination, her greatest desire after the Annunciation of the Lord, is to carry that gift and to share it with her family (Elizabeth) and undoubtedly with the world. When one is given such a great pearl, how can one not desire to share this great gift with others, leading them in turn to conversion of heart and soul? The visitation reminds us of the call to “go out and make disciples of all nations.”
Mary’s “yes” brought Christ into the world. God’s plan was brought to fulfillment and as the birth of Christ brought mankind face-to-face with the very word made flesh, so too our response leads to our own inner, personal conversion — being made not Christ himself, but an alter Christus, another Christ. We grow in our Christ-likeness. In the reception of the holy Eucharist, we too become what we receive. The gift of faith leads to a greater awareness of Christ’s presence in the sacraments, which in turn leads us to become more conformed to the will and the need to offer ourselves daily in sacrifice to God and to one another. As I follow the will of Christ and become more Christ-like, others come to see and to know Christ in me — and so too I come to see the face of Christ in others as well.
Presentation in the Temple Area
As we become more Christ-like, we have a continual desire to present ourselves more worthily before our Lord in our celebration of the Mass. So too, at the end of our pilgrim journey, we pray that our soul, through continual conversion, may be seen as worthy to be presented to our Lord and to be accepted into the gift of eternal life. This step is so intimately connected with the Nativity as well.
Finding Jesus in the Temple Area
The gift of faith, just as Mary and Joseph at the searching for our Lord, stirs up within our hearts that great longing for more of the word that leads to our eternal salvation. The words of St. Augustine are perhaps a good thing for us to recall here: “My soul is restless until it rests in thee, O Lord.” As we begin the work of conversion in our lives, we cannot but sense our inadequacy and, once again, the need for continual conversion. (Again, I turn to St. Augustine — “Lord, grant me chastity, but not yet” — only we desire that gift now!)
The more we find that we know Christ, the greater our faith becomes, the more the soul thirsts and longs for more. (And again, Augustine — “Only lately have I known thee, O Lord!”) Yet our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, reminds us that the door of faith is merely a beginning, a first step into the entrance of our continual pilgrim life journey. The first step in the entire conversion process begins with our ability to recognize the hunger that lies within our soul — and then secondly leads us to realize the only means by which that hunger and that thirst may be satiated — the further love of Christ.
Perhaps the scene of the great call to conversion given in the words of our Lord to the Samaritan woman at the well remind us of this great thirst: “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” And in turn, our response along with the Samaritan woman would be, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may be thirsty no more!” (Jn 4:4-15).
Again in our hunger, would that we could hear the words of our Lord during the discourse on the Bread of Life. “Amen, Amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” And with those gathered there, we too may again respond, “Sir, give us this bread always!” (Jn 6:22-59).
Fr. Brandt is administrator of Holy Family Parish in Brillion.