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Only God builds to last

We see the house that the Lord promises to establish in the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel greets the Virgin Mary and proclaims the fulfillment of the prophecy to David.

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. (Image: Koen van Engelen/Unsplash.com)

We have all heard the expression: “Nothing lasts forever.” The expression is not entirely true, but it is true about many of the things we humans try to build ourselves and think are lasting.

We see this truth at work in the world all the time. We build houses and other buildings—even out of the best materials—and over the years decay, weather, and wear reduces them to rubble.  We drive cars that run well for a while but then need repairs, and eventually they deteriorate to the point that they are beyond repair.

Even the companies that build those cars—companies that once seemed mighty and unchanging—can grow weaker with the passage of time and in the face of various challenges are forced to change dramatically. Here in Detroit, where I live, we have seen a great deal of this with regard to what we used to call the Big Three automakers.

To look at the bigger picture of history, we can see that merely every human society has fallen, eventually. Empires, kingdoms, and governments once thought invincible are now present only in memory and in their influence on later societies. Even here in the United States, a country that seems to be so powerful and so stable, we have already known one Civil War. And today our country is torn by so many divisions that it often seems strained to the breaking point.

To take this back down to the personal level, think about how many projects we have started, how many dreams have we had and how many plans have we made for ourselves and for others, only to see them fall away because of the various misfortunes we face in this life.

We often experience failure in what we have considered to be important, so what are we to make of our apparent defeats?

For that matter, consider how we deal with our apparent successes. Do we tend to think we have done it all on our own? Do we slip into thinking that our successes will last forever? How do we understand all of this in the right way?

The answer, to put it simply, is that we need to turn to God. We shouldn’t be too impressed with our successes, but we also shouldn’t be depressed at our failures. What we need to do is to look to God in all things and at all times, good and bad, and to focus on His action rather than our own.

Indeed, it should be clear to us that only God has the power to build or establish something that can last forever. Because we lack this power, we need to respect God’s power and His plan for us and for the world.

We need to know our place—to know where we stand with God and what kind of relationship we have with Him—and to cooperate in His work.

Many of us understand this easily, but some people do not quite get it. King David, as we see him in 2 Samuel 7, is somebody who did not seem to get it. You might say that David didn’t know his place. He wanted to do something good for God—or so he thought.  It seems that he had good intentions. He was experiencing a time of peace and rest from his enemies, at a time when Israel seemed to be establishing itself as a stable kingdom.

David wanted to do for God what God had done for him, to give God a worthy and stable place to live. “Here I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent,” David exclaimed. But it wasn’t his place to build God a house. So what answer does God give to David? That He will do the house building. And not only will the Lord build David a house, but He will establish such a house that it will last forever.

Of course, the house God had in mind was no house of cedar such as David lived in. The house was, rather, the place from which a new and eternal King would come forth, the King born of David’s line but Who, more importantly, would be the Son of God.

God’s words to David through Nathan the Prophet make this clear: “The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you…I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.  Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”

God goes far beyond the kind of house David had imagined, declaring that He would create not only a dwelling place, but the starting point from which the Kingdom of God would be established on the earth.

We see the house that the Lord promises to establish in the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel greets the Virgin Mary and proclaims the fulfillment of the prophecy to David. Gabriel greets Mary with the words, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28).

This greeting, astounding for many reasons, is especially important to us today because of Gabriel’s declaration that the Lord Himself is with Mary—and therefore with His people—in a new way. Saint Augustine, reflecting on the angel’s words to Mary at the Annunciation, “The Lord is with you,” places some additional words of his own on the lips of Gabriel:  “He is more with you than he is with me: he is in your heart, he takes shape within you, he fills your soul, he is in your womb.”

Here we see God building to last, sending His own Son into the womb of the Virgin Mary, and there—the quietness and hiddenness of the moment of conception—establishing His everlasting Kingdom on earth.

These two scriptural events raise the question:  “What did Mary do right that David did not?”

The answer is that Mary cooperated with God’s action in her life. She did not try to act on her own, but rather waited for the Lord, remaining ready for Him to act in His good time. It is clear in the words of Gabriel that the conception of Jesus was indeed first and foremost God’s action: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

The promise of God the Father, the action and power of the Holy Spirit, and the mission of the Son all bring about, through Mary’s cooperation, the establishment of a new Kingdom that will last forever.

God establishes the Kingdom, not us. But thanks be to God, He invites us to a place in His Kingdom. But in order to fulfill God’s plan for us, we have to come to know our place in the Kingdom, and cooperate with Him.

How can we cooperate with God the way Mary did, and come to know our place in the Kingdom? There are three steps we need to follow:

  • The first step is to be ready, as Mary was ready to accept Gabriel’s message despite her initial fear.
  • Secondly, we need to listen to God when He speaks to us and to accept what we hear from Him. We should pray over Mary’s fiat. Mary said to the angel, “May it be done unto me according to your word.” We need to listen to God’s word and heed it in this way, to turn our whole lives over to the word and the will of God.
  • Thirdly, we need to respond when the Lord comes into our lives—at Christmas, and at all the other times the Lord comes to us, as He does in the Holy Eucharist. We need to respond by believing in Him, by rejoicing at His coming, and by following Him wherever He leads us. In my own life, God has acted by calling me to serve Him as a priest. I could have never become a priest on my own, and I cannot imagine going on without Him. God is acting in the lives of all of His people. Mothers and fathers, single people, people working at professions and people who work in the home, people who are young and active and people who are older and whose lives are more quiet and reflective—God wants to act in all of our lives. We all need to wait patiently—but also with a ready spirit—for the Lord to reveal His plan for us, to lead us step by step deeper into the mystery of His kingdom. God calls us to that “obedience of faith” to which St. Paul refers, that obedience which is the purpose of His revealing in Jesus Christ “the mystery kept secret for long ages” (Romans 16:25).

These are difficult days, in the Church and in the world, and often in our own lives or among our family members and friends. These are days in which we have seen many things we hold dear change or seem to fall away altogether. But God Who dwells in His Church, among His People, has established His kingdom forever in sending Jesus Christ.

We may be “greatly troubled” at first at the way in which God comes to us—as Mary was—but we need to trust in the Lord and believe that He has acted in an eternal and a definitive way to bring about our salvation.

For this last week of Advent, and during the Christmas season, we are all called to consider carefully the Blessed Virgin Mary, how she understood her relationship with God, and her need to allow God to work in, with, and through her.

This is the kind of cooperation God asks of all his sons and daughters, the humble and complete cooperation of the Virgin Mary, through whom the Source of our salvation came into the world and established His everlasting Kingdom. Finding our place in the Kingdom depends upon our imitation of Mary.


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About Fr. Charles Fox 81 Articles
Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He is also chaplain and a board member of Saint Paul Street Evangelization, headquartered in Warren, MI.

3 Comments

  1. Living in time much like ours, St. Augustine recalled the permanent things…

    From his vantage point in NORTH AFRICA in A.D. 410, and upon hearing about the sacking of Rome by Alaric, Augustine sermonized: “this is grievous news, but let us remember if it’s happened, then God willed it; that men build cities and men destroy cities, that there’s also the City of God and that’s where we belong.” He then spent thirteen years elaborating, in his “The City of God.”

    In a later era, the MEDIEVAL synthesis became more disrupted on the way to being replaced by some other (early renaissance) order of things. Jan van Eyck (1390-1441), one of the Flemish Masters, offered a more visual sermon. In the Ghent Altarpiece, through what is called visual metaphor, he shows us an expansive landscape also featuring all of the orders of society, in groups surrounding a grass-covered opening.

    In the center is a skewered lamb with its sacrificial blood draining into a barely detectable chalice. On the tiny chalice is engraved one word: “tueri.” Roughly translated as “uphold,” or “cling to this.”

    Likewise, and now in the turbulence of our MODERN AND POSTMODERN world, we also belong (!) to the REAL PRESENCE (CCC 1374), permanently and sacramentally given to us in the host and the chalice, by the hands of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Second Person of the Triune God. Permanence.

    And, perhaps it is today’s ersatz, upending and red-hatted court jesters of the moribund sexual revolution who will be permanently left behind by the onward march of real human history. Perhaps, especially while synodally “walking together,” we will first remember to also kneel together—as the ordained clergy permanently continue to “do THIS in remembrance of Me”?

  2. “The answer is that Mary cooperated with God’s action in her life. She did not try to act on her own, but rather waited for the Lord, remaining ready for Him to act in His good time.”

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 429
    I heard these words spoken distinctly and forcefully within my soul, You will prepare the world for My final coming.

    After stating these words to St. Faustina, St. Faustina started packing her bags. Jesus asked St. Faustina what she was doing. St. Faustina told Jesus that she was heading out to prepare the world for His Second Coming. Jesus told her, No, I want you to stay in the cloistered convent; So St. Faustina stayed in the cloistered convent. In other words, St. Faustina, like the Blessed Mother, cooperated with God.

    When I was a small child, I asked my Priest, “Where did all the unrepentant wicked go, when the meek, humble and pure of heart inherit the earth?” My priest did not give me a clear answer. Later in life I found out what God does with the unrepentant wicked, when the meek, humble and pure of heart inherit the earth.

    Matthew 5:5 The Beatitudes
    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

    Psalms 37:9
    Those who do evil will be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD will inherit the earth. Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more; look for them and they will not be there. But the poor will inherit the earth,…
    …The wicked perish, enemies of the LORD; They shall be consumed like fattened lambs; like smoke they disappear. The wicked one borrows but does not repay; the righteous one is generous and gives. For those blessed by the Lord will inherit the earth, but those accursed will be cut off….
    …When the unjust are destroyed, and the offspring of the wicked cut off, The righteous will inherit the earth and dwell in it forever….’
    …Wait eagerly for the LORD, and keep his way; He will raise you up to inherit the earth; you will see when the wicked are cut off….
    …Sinners will be destroyed together; the future of the wicked will be cut off. The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD, their refuge in a time of distress. The LORD helps and rescues them, rescues and saves them from the wicked, because they take refuge in him.

    Acts of the Apostles 26:17
    I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,

    God’s Divine Plan, in Building His Kingdom on earth, does so by using the Greatest Divine Intervention ever on earth. Divine Intervention which resonates from one end of the Bible to the other. This Great Divine Intervention is presently knocking quit loudly on our door and no one, except for St. Faustina and a few others, is cooperating with God’s Great Plan. “You!” (Meaning us), “Will Prepare the world for My Final Coming!”, by getting as many people as possible to receive Jesus’ Gifts of Divine Mercy Sunday! St. Faustina personifies the Catholic Church as a whole in Jesus’ conversations with her.

    Divine Mercy in my Soul, 587:
    I suddenly saw Jesus in great majesty, and He spoke these words to me: My daughter, if you wish, I will this instant create a new world, more beautiful than this one, and you will live there for the rest of your life…
    …a strange fire sprang up in my heart, and I entered into a kind of agony for Him. Then I heard these words: With no other soul do I unite Myself as closely and in such a way as I do with you, and this is because of the deep humility and ardent love which you have for Me.

    Revelation 21:1 The New Heaven and the New Earth
    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

    Divine Mercy in my Soul, 512:
    The day of the renewal of vows. The presence of God flooded my soul. During Holy Mass I saw Jesus, and He said to me, You are My great joy; your love and your humility make Me leave the heavenly throne and unite Myself with you. Love fills up the abyss that exists between My greatness and your nothingness.

    Divine Mercy in my Soul, 912:
    I want you to be My spouse.

    Divine Mercy in my Soul, 635, The Blessed Virgin Mary :
    you have to speak to the world about His great mercy and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Him who will come, not as a merciful Savior, but as a just Judge. Oh, how terrible is that day! Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still the time for [granting] mercy. If you keep silent now, you will be answering for a great number of souls on that terrible day

    http://www.apocalypseangel.com/married.html

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