Thursday of the Third Week of Advent
The readings for the day can be found here.
What a wonderful convergence of oddities in the readings for the day! Both Manoah and his (unnamed) wife and Zechariah and Elizabeth are barren couples bearing children who will be great, being told by angels to consecrate their children from birth. We certainly know other infertile women in the Bible who will go on to bear important children: Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, Hannah. Something in us (or at least in the Bible) seems to like the idea that great heroes are born, not just made: they were chosen from before their birth, they were destined to be great, they demonstrated even as children the seeds of greatness that made them memorable as adults. Little George Washington's honesty about cutting down a cherry tree says something about how we see the leader: someone who was destined to be trustworthy, upright, even at a cost to himself. I wonder if there is a wish to keep oneself from having to be "great," as if to say that prophets and genuises and change agents have extraordinary callings, whereas I was just an ordinary kid, and I'm pretty ordinary as an adult.
I don't much like the idea of God having some specific plan for my life that I somehow have to guess; that makes it seem like there is one way to get it right and a million ways to get it wrong, and if I miss, I've screwed up my life. Most of our lives look like a pile of spaghetti, like "Plan B" (or C or D or W or BB...), not like some special calling I got before I was born and I always knew that this was what my life would be about. Except...we are all called before our births to greatness, even if that is ordinary greatness. We might fumble around to figure out where we are headed, but wherever we are, that is where we can be great. Last year for the month of November, when we were remembering saints and holy people and deceased loved ones, we put up pictures of "non-canonized" holy people, saints with a small s, in one of the chapels on campus: Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King and Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, among others, as well as more local saints like our own SLU grad and prophet Mev Puleo. All of those people went through dramatic shifts in their lives - none of them seemed to follow some steady line from birth to fame, but somehow even as adults, even without being given a specific job right from the womb, they were capable of ordinary and extraordinary greatness. Their job was, in their own diverse settings, to manifest the will of God for the healing of the world. They did that by all kinds of means - teaching, washing the bodies of dying people, writing books, taking photographs, speaking against injustice. All of these are forms of greatness, even when it took them decades of their adult lives before they figured out how they were to live out that common call. Ignatius hardly followed a direct route to sainthood, and neither did any of these people on my chapel walls. Neither do I. Neither do any of us.