Advent is acknowledged as a time of preparation; however, in today’s commercialized Christmas environment we often fail to appreciate the intersection of God’s divine invitation and the reception of that invitation as an expression of free will. The most beautiful example of this intersection begins months before the first Christmas. It begins with a young woman’s decision to accept God’s will, transforming the course of history in the process. The story of Christmas begins with one word—“Fiat”.
While the path to Christmas began with Mary’s acceptance of God’s will, the Christmas story is not one relegated to a baby in a manger. The Christmas story is one of mission. It is goes beyond the faithful decision of one woman playing her part in salvation history. The Christmas mission is as much about the beginning joy of Christ’s birth as it is the agony of his Passion and His ultimate triumph in the Resurrection.
For many Catholics today, entrance into the Church does not begin with a conscious decision, but rather, through the faithful transmission of the Faith from one generation to the next, starting with baptism. While adult converts have a greater understanding of the Faith during their admittance into the Church, both infant baptism and adult conversion are exercises of free will—whether an individual choice or a choice made by parents. This exercise of free will (which becomes independent of parents as children grow into maturity) continues from entrance through death. Each day we act (or fail to act) in a manner which allows us to become more/less Christ-like.
We face challenges daily. Sometimes they occur in our homes, amongst our closest friends and family, or even in our spiritual journeys. The challenges we experience are not meant for us to “tough through” alone. They are opportunities which allow us to rely on God, building a stronger dependence upon him in the process. Of all the challenging opportunities we are given, perhaps the most important is that of vocation. Our vocations provide us a framework in which to become the best versions of ourselves. More importantly, they offer a path in which we have the opportunity to conform our will to our Heavenly Father’s will.
A key struggle which holds many individuals back from pursuing their true vocation is a failure to completely depend on God. This lack of dependence grows out of a subtle, yet perilous form of pride, which allows us to place greater faith in our own fallible plans than in God’s plan formed in infinite wisdom. Another common side track is the path which leads to the secular race of life. Chasing the next possession, promotion, or relationship is easy to do when we are constantly concerned with speed, efficiency, and productivity in our materialistic world. A third less mentioned path results when we fall into complacency. If our faith life becomes a matter of mere habit or ritual, we stop forward progress in our spiritual journey.
Whether we are diverted by a lack of faith, the ways of the world, or our own complacency, the season of Advent provides us with an opportunity to prepare our hearts through prayer, service, and celebration. It reminds us of the need to depend on our Maker, asking Him what His plan is for us. As the Christmas mission begins with Mary’s “Fiat”, progresses through Christ’s acceptance of the Cross, and results in the Easter promise of eternal life, let us all take a moment this Advent season to pause and appreciate God’s personal invitation to each one of us. Whether we are called to marriage or the priesthood, religious life or generous single life, God calls each of us by name. Are we ready, willing, and courageous enough to follow that invitation wherever it may lead us?