By Fr. Jake Greiner
For The Catholic Messenger
The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent have the church reflecting on the sign promised by God through the prophet Isaiah. The prophet explains in the first reading from the weekend, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14). This sign, this great event, is what we celebrate at Christmas as we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. The Gospel reading from St. Matthew explains how this sign was going to be manifested through Mary and Joseph. Therefore, the stage is set, so in this final week of the Advent season the church continues to prepare and wait for the celebration of this great sign.
In our lives of faith, do we ask God for signs as means to discern where his will is guiding us? Maybe we have not asked for such a great sign as the birth of the Son of God, but I know that I have asked at certain times in my life for an event to happen to confirm that I am heading in the right direction. Here is example from around 12 years ago: “Lord, I will go to seminary if you give me a sign.” In retrospect, I wanted an event to happen in my life that would provide some reassurance that this was the path that I was supposed to go in my life. However, there was no sign. After a few weeks of repeating this request in my prayer, I was frustrated because I wanted something to happen, anything to happen. I decided to go to my spiritual director to complain about a lack of a sign.
At the meeting with my spiritual director, I told him about my frustration and that I was convinced that the lack of a sign meant that I was not called to the priesthood. My spiritual director smiled and said something that I will never forget: “There are signs of God’s will all around us, but we usually do not see them because we are focused on how we want God’s will to be manifested.” I moaned and said in response, “Well, I simply want a voice telling me to go to seminary.” My spiritual director then said in response, “You should go to seminary.”
As we prepare for the great celebration of the great sign of Christ’s birth, I challenge all of us to use this final week of the Advent season to truly focus on all of the signs that are pointing out how we should prepare for the celebration of Christmas. From communal penance services to service opportunities in parishes, God presents us with tremendous opportunities to use these remaining days of the Advent season well.
I also challenge all of us to let go of the expectations that many of us place on ourselves during this season. Maybe we need to simply focus on what the Lord wants us to do today and not worry about what needs to be done next week? The latter will probably not help in getting all of the gifts bought, events planned and tasks done, but this action could help us to not miss out on blessings that the Lord wants to bestow on us during this Advent Season. There are signs all around us that definitely point to this reality. Be patient enough to recognize them.
(Father Jake Greiner is pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport.)