“If you want to make God laugh,” said St. Teresa of Avila, “just tell him your plans!” What God laughs at
is when we put our cart before our horse. We make our plans, we do whatever it is we want to do, and then
we expect God to accept our decisions, bless them, and help them to be successful. As Christians, what we
should do first is ask what God’s plan is, and then pray for the grace to carry it out.
This was a lesson king David had to learn in today’s first reading. He had decided that he would build for God a great and beautiful Temple in Jerusalem. This seemed to everyone, including the prophet Nathan, like a good and worthwhile and noble thing to do. The problem was that this was not God’s plan for David. God did have plans for David- very great plans that included a covenant with David’s family that would culminate in the birth of Jesus. Nevertheless, God wanted David’s son Solomon, and not David, to be the one to build a Temple. So David had to surrender his plans to the plans of God.
This is what God calls us to do as well. He asks us to surrender our plans and take on his. Consider Mary. I wonder what plans she had as a young girl. Did she want to have lots of children? Did she imagine growing old in the company of a husband and a big family? We’ll never know, but it’s possible. However, whatever plans she may have had all came to an end when the Archangel Gabriel appeared and announced that she would conceive and bear a son named Jesus.
Mary might have said no. She was a free person who could make her own decisions. Some of the earliest Christian writers spoke of all heaven and earth holding their breath, sitting on pins and needles as they awaited Mary’s decision. But of course Mary did say yes. “I am the handmaid of the Lord,” she proclaimed. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Mary had surrendered her plans for God’s. As the Opening Prayer for today’s Mass said, “…the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of (God’s) plan.”
In a word, Mary was obedient. Her obedience is an example to us of how we should be obedient to the plan of God. In fact, in a certain way Mary’s obedience made it possible for us to be obedient. In today’s second reading, from his letter to the Romans, St. Paul told us that the Jesus’ revelation of God was made “to bring about the obedience of faith.” Yet that would not have been possible without the obedience of Mary.
Mary willingness to surrender her own plans for the plans of God presents a challenge to us. Mary challenges us to think about whatever plans we’ve made and dreams for the future we have. Consider, for instance, the plans you have for the new year about to begin. Plans about your job, your family, your relationships, your education, your home. Think about the purchases you plan to make, the vacations you hope to take, the volunteer commitments you expect to accept, any medical or health procedures you intend to undergo. Then ask yourself: Is it really God’s will that I do these things? Have I placed these decisions before the Lord? Did I ask if they will help build up God’s kingdom and help me and or my family grow in holiness? Were my plans prayerfully made? Did I ask for God’s help and direction when I made them?
We can’t automatically assume that whatever we’ve planned is consistent with God’s plan, even if our plans were made with the best of intentions. That’s the way King David thought, and he wound up being surprised. We need to have the openness, and the humility, to accept that some of our plans may not necessarily be the same as God’s. As has often been said, our God is a God of surprises and he acts in mysterious ways. Just ask a guy who wound up being a married Catholic priest. Or better yet, ask my wife!
Another question we should ask ourselves is: Am I willing to surrender the plans I have to God? Am I
willing to give them up if he wants me to? For instance, what if our health changed and prevented us from
carrying out my plans? What if we had to suddenly care for a sick relative? What if God blessed us with a
new child? What if our circumstances changed or the money just wasn’t there? What if a long-time plan
and our conscience came into conflict? Would we be willing to give up our plans with peaceful
resignation? Or would we resist, run away, make bad compromises, or sink into anger and bitterness? If
that’s the case, then we don’t just have a plan. We have an idol.
It can be hard to surrender. Surrender involves sacrifice; saying “Yes” to God often means saying “No” to something else. Sometimes our pride gets in the way. We want to call the shots in our life. We believe we know what’s best for us better than everybody else, even God. At other times, our fears hold us back. We’re afraid of the unknown and we don’t like moving out of our comfort zones. Surrender can require a lot of courage and trust and love. Even Mary had questions. And Gabriel had to tell her not to be afraid.
Thankfully, God always gives us the strength we need; his grace is always sufficient to the task. As we heard St. Paul say: “To him who can strengthen you…be glory for ever and ever!” Gabriel assured Mary, “nothing will be impossible for God.” And nothing will be impossible with God. God may indeed laugh at our plans. But he smiles when we embrace his.
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