Advent 03, Year C

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked upon his lowly servant (Lk. 1:47-48)

In the letter to Eberhard Bethge that I quoted last week, Dietrich Bonhoeffer affirms that faith demands that the believer depend solely on God’s justice or grace, which is what it means to throw oneself into the arms of God and to watch with Christ in Gethsemane. This is, of course, no more than an admission that the Christian is not justified on the basis of his works; God credits to him righteousness apart from works (Rom. 4:1-6).

But this admission sounds to me more convincing, and the Pauline teaching certainly more credible, coming from someone who works and suffers and dies working—which was the case with Bonhoeffer—and not from a quietist who, stressing the exclusive efficacy of grace in a corrupt world and advocating total abandonment to God’s action, tries to flee from the world and remains passive (cf. Father Robert P. Maloney’s “Mental Prayer: Yesterday and Today. Some Reflections on the Vincentian Tradition” [1]). While the former highly values grace and sees it as “costly,” since it demands that the disciple deny himself and take up his cross, repent and radically change in order to live according to the gospel, the latter undervalues grace, making it “cheap,” that is, something that is suited simply to one’s likes and dislikes. One who works hard and yet acknowledges that everything depends on God, such a one, in my opinion, proves himself to be an authentic person in whom there is no deceit, given that he does not escape from such responsibilities as sharing one’s cloak or food with the person who has none—all of which, I think, supposes conversion and fundamental option for the good.

She impresses me also as an authentic person, the poor and the suffering who rejoices and encourages others to rejoice. But he shows, in my view, only false or superficial joy, the one who claims to be joyful and urges others to rejoice without knowing, however, either poverty or suffering or mourning. For out of poverty arises true joy. At least this is what I gather from the uplifting promise given to the down-and-out and unfaithful Jerusalem by the prophet Zephaniah and also from Paul’s advice, while himself a prisoner: “Rejoice in the Lord in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice!” I take it likewise from the beatitudes that true joy, genuine happiness, lies in poverty, suffering, the cross. For proclaimed blessed, happy, are the lowly poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful and those seeking mercy, those who zealously long for and foster peace, the persecuted and the insulted, or, in Vincentian terms, the simple, the humble, the meek, the self-sacrificing, the zealous.

And the paradox of the beatitudes certainly confirms that joy is grace or a gift from God, the fruit of the Spirit, which human works cannot realize, for in the first place, of what works can it be capable of doing, this humble and lowly people, the remnant of Israel, whose only refuge is the Lord? This people would not know true joy if it were not for the saving presence of the Lord, its God, if the Lord did not rejoice over it with gladness and renew it in his love, and sing joyfully because of it, as one would sing at festivals. That those who suffer and mourn can rejoice (impossible for human beings but nothing is impossible for God), here is proof positive that God creates out of nothing, raises from the dead, makes the barren and the virgin conceive.

The story is told that one day, upon receiving from the community treasurer the bad news that the resources were all but gone and there was no money left for the relief of countless folks fleeing from war and displaced by it, St. Vincent replied: “That’s good news. Now we can show we trust God.” And money arrived within the week.

Indeed, the saint depended on God’s providence, he threw himself into the arms of God, he watched with Christ in Gethsemane. Surely, he knew great peace and his spirit deeply rejoiced in the Lord. It’s now our turn to do and be as did and was St. Vincent, even as we come upon “hard times” beyond our control (cf. Father Thomas F. McKenna’s November 2006 communication at [2]).