My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Peace be with you. I couldn’t help but notice a connecting freeze between the first reading and the Gospel. In the first reading, when the prophet Nathan is asked by King David if he should build a house for God, the prophet responds “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.” In the Gospel, when the Archangel Gabriel goes to Mary, he says, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” We should not be surprised to hear this phrase. As Catholics it is one of those phrases that is at the heart of our prayer. Several times in mass I will say The Lord be with you and you all respond and with your spirit. Or, at least, most of the time we respond and with your spirit sometimes we forget and do that phrase that we stop using four years ago “and also with you” especially if we’re around someone that doesn't make it to church very often. The good thing is though we are very patient with those people because we're going to see them in the next couple of days for Christmas and they may not remember that some of the words have changed so it’d be good to be patient and help them. But I digress, the phrase “the Lord be with you” is so pervasive in Catholic culture that I heard a rumor about the first Star Wars movie, which was released in 1978. When one of the characters turned to Luke and said “The force is with you.” Catholics instinctively responded “and also with you.”
But, the question is, do we really think about what we are saying when we say “the Lord be with you”? We are saying that all the time throughout our lives the Lord is with us. In my mind there are three ways that we can look at this two of which are unhelpful and one which is probably the best. The one way to look at it is the way that King David does in the first reading today. David has just finally found a place of his own in his relatively newly created city of Jerusalem. He has a nice house and has the Ark of the Covenant safely secured outside. So David believes that it's his responsibility to make as nice of a house for the Ark of the Covenant as he is living in. When he asked for advice from the prophet Nathan, initially he says basically go for it because the Lord is with you. But soon after the Lord, through the prophet Nathan, tells King David that he does not want him to build the temple because he's perfectly fine living in a tent. He says to King David who are you to build a house if I didn't ask you first? David assumes that he knows the will of God when he really didn’t. This is a very dangerous thing to do because none of us can know the mind of God. We all rely upon two things to know God's will; divine revelation in sacred Scripture and sacred tradition and the church led by the pope and bishops. So yes The Lord is with us but that does not guarantee that we will always guarantee that we will know what God wants.
On the other hand, I'm reminded of something that happened to me that you may have experienced something similar to. When I was in middle school, we had a strange study hall that happened every three weeks or so. It was an odd configuration and I honestly don't remember why it was this way. But one week the teacher who is supposed to supervise the study hall who clearly hated having to do this, forgot to show up. At first we were kind of reserved and didn't say or do anything different but the longer that it was clear that the teacher was not going to show up the more that we got rowdy and loud. Some even Left the classroom and wandered the halls of the school. When the teacher found out he claimed that he was testing us and that we all failed but it was clear that he knew he was the one who had failed because, from then on, he not only didn't miss any more classes but he was suddenly early. I use that an example of the way we sometimes think of our relationship to God. Sometimes we think of God as somebody who catches us doing wrong thing, as the teacher who is there to tell us to sit down and shut up. In this case, we may feel like we want to keep God distant and removed because he is only going to punish us if he actually shows up.
Clearly we need a better understanding of what it means for God to be with us. We can't think of God as somebody for whom we occasionally do something nice to make sure that he does nice things for us and we can't think of God as a mean judgmental teacher constantly trying to catch us doing the wrong thing. In my opinion, a better way to think of God being with us is the way Mary does. When the angel approaches Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of God, at first she struggles to understand how this could happen given the unusual circumstances surrounding her pregnancy. But when it is made clear that it is through the divine action of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responds by saying may it to be done unto me according to your word.
This should be our attitude as well. We are invited to respond like Mary in that we want to do God's will whatever it is. When we follow God's will, God is with us to give us his grace. When we do our best but don't ask God first what he wants, God still loves us like he did King David but he invites us to ask him first what his will is. When we do not do God's will, we distance ourselves from God and are in need of a powerful sacrament to be forgiven. Just as a reminder, we will be having communal reconciliation this afternoon at 4 o'clock at St. Patrick's in Britt. You are all welcome to come be a part of God's forgiveness.
Ultimately when we say the Lord be with you and with your spirit we are reminding each other of God's presence among us and our desire to be close to God by doing his will. We remind our selves of our true nature, that in the end we all want to be able to echo the sentiments of Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word.”