As we continue through the season of Advent, almost everyone anticipates the joy of opening presents on Christmas morning. For most people, it is annoying to open their new gadget or toy, only to find a “some assembly required” label on the box. This is especially true for young children who have a difficult time putting all the pieces together. Such a predicament can lead a child to ask profound philosophical questions, such as: “Why didn’t Santa’s elves just put the toy together to begin with?” As agonizing as this may be, the child begins to better understand his human frailty, specifically that he depends on something greater than himself to obtain what he longs for. The problem a child like this faces is fundamentally one which the human race has had to face since the fall of man. Our lives are not fully put together. Some assembly is required. Since this task is not easy, it is tempting to cry out to God, asking Him “Why didn’t you just put me in a world where everything fits together?”
In the Summa Theologica (III, Q. 3, A. 5), St. Thomas Aquinas provides us with an insight into this difficulty. He asks whether it would have been better for Christ to become incarnate immediately after the fall of man. This way Christ could have preached directly to Adam and Eve, providing them and their offspring with the remedy for their fallen nature. St. Thomas addresses the question by arguing that it was good for God to leave the children of Adam to their own devices after the fall. Through its faults, the human race would be justly humbled in its pride. As we become aware of our inability to find complete happiness on our own, we realize how frail we truly are. We realize we must turn to something greater than ourselves to obtain this happiness. This allows us to see ourselves like children who cannot assemble their Christmas presents. In this way God prepares us for the coming of Christ and the gift of His grace.
We meditate on one of the most beautiful examples of this in the Bible when we pray the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary: the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Mary, having heard the news that her cousin Elizabeth is with child, rushes to help her. Elizabeth, representing all of sinful humanity, reaches out to the Child who is greater than herself, and to the mother who carries Him, with the words: “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:44). In her greeting, she has simultaneously acknowledged the greatness of the Lord who has come to help her, and her lowliness as one who needs the help. Rather than forcing Himself upon us, God waits for this humility and openness. The immediate result we see in this story is that even John the Baptist, in his mother’s womb, leaps for joy at this encounter with the Savior.
This Advent, let us learn to imitate Elizabeth by realizing how much we need God in our lives, and invite Him in through frequent reception of the sacraments – particularly the Eucharist and Confession – and by the daily recitation of the Rosary. Let us ask God to draw us ever closer to Himself, that we may one day share the life of perfect joy to which He calls us.
-Br. Matthew Heynen, O.P.
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