Be Not Afraid.

The Fourth Day of the Greater Antiphons.*

Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:

• Isaiah 7: 10-14.
• Psalm 24: 1-6.
• Luke 1: 26-38.

Lessons from the dominica,** according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:

• I Corinthians 4: 1-5.
• Psalm 144: 18, 21.
• Luke 3: 1-6.

The Thirty-First Tuesday after Pentecost, the Sixth of Philip's Fast; a Prefestive Day of the Nativity; and, the Feast of the Holy Martyr Ignatius the God-Bearer.***

Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:

• James 3: 1-10.
• Mark 10: 2-12.

9:15 AM 12/20/2016 — Yesterday, we read of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah; today he visits our Blessed Mother, as this fifth day before the Nativity draws our attention to the Annunciation, the announcement to the Mother of God that she would be the Mother of the Savior. Her docility to the will of God, delivered to her by an angel, harkens back to a similar attitude taken by the man who would soon after this become her husband, from whom we drew the same lesson two days ago. Make no mistake: the Blessed Virgin did not ask to be the Mother of God; she didn't apply for the job, in spite of the fact that God prepared her for it by her Immaculate Conception. I fear sometimes that we so mystify and embellish the saints so as to think that their will was somehow less free than ours, and that tasks which, in the Lives of the Saints, so fancifully and histrionically written, they appear to embrace without anxiety, came easily to them because of their holiness. Even the Mother of God, conceived without sin, was not immune to human doubt and human fear—otherwise she wouldn't have been human.
     That's why Mary's life is the perfect example for all of us. Just as it was for her, the circumstances of our lives are often not choices we make for ourselves, and we may very well doubt our ability to be faithful in the difficulties they present. But as our Lord said in Saint John, “It was not you that chose me, it was I that chose you” (John 15: 16 Knox); and, because he has chosen us, he will not abandon us. We can pretend that he has, because we don't want to admit to our failures. But that's only because we forget that the gift of Sufficient Grace, about which we've been thinking so much during this season, is not a guarantee that our lives will be problem free. Our Lord said that himself: “If any man has a mind to come my way, let him renounce self, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9: 23 Knox).
     Now, those words may not sound particularly pleasant to us, but what the angel said to Mary at her Annunciation, he has also said to each one of us: he said it to me on the day I was ordained, he said it to many of you on the day you were married, he said it to each one of us on the day of our baptism: “Be not afraid.” That one simple sentence, spoken by God through all eternity, sums up the entire Gospel on the subject of grace. But so often we are afraid. We’re afraid of obligation. We’re afraid of sacrifice. And to overcome this fear we have to accept what we so often don't want to accept: that God has not abandoned us. We must respond as Mary did: “…let it be unto me according to thy word.” Saying that did not mean that Mary understood it all, and I think it is unreasonable to assume that she did, for she did not have clairvoyance. What she did have was faith. Faith enough to say, "I am not afraid." Just as we must say every single day: I am not afraid of following the Lord. I am not afraid of responsibility and obligation. I am not afraid of living with a sudden and unexpected loss. I am not afraid of marriage. I am not afraid of the priesthood. I am not afraid of the Gospel. I am not afraid of the cross. I am not afraid of things not going my way. I am not afraid of doing what is right, no matter what the consequences. I am not afraid of life.
     It’s not part of the pre-Christmas narrative this time of year, but there is another Gospel passage that could be instructive for us:

And Jesus checked him with a word, and the devil came out of him; and from that hour the boy was cured. Afterwards, when they were alone, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, Why was it that we could not cast it out? Jesus said to them, Because you had no faith. I promise you, if you have faith, though it be but like a grain of mustard seed, you have only to say to this mountain, Remove from this place to that, and it will remove; nothing will be impossible to you (Matt. 17: 17-19 Knox).

* Cf. the first footnote attached to the post here for an explanation of the Days of the Greater Antiphons.

** In the extraordinary form, the days of the Greater Antiphons do not have specific lessons assigned to them as they do in the ordinary form, with the lessons taken from the previous Sunday as usual, unless displaced by a feast or an Ember Day.

*** Cf. the first paragraph of the first footnote attached to the post here for an explanation of Philip's Fast. Today is the Sixth Tuesday because the season began on a Tuesday.
  In the Byzantine Tradition, major feast days are marked by prefestive and postfestive periods. While there is no corresponding tradition in the West regarding prefestive days, the postfestive period is concomitant with the concept of an octave in the Latin Church, though it's duration is not necessarily eight days depending on the importance of the feast. The last day of the postfestive period is called the "Leave-Taking," Otdanije in Slavonic, actually a verb meaning "to return." The liturgy on the day of Otdanije mirrors that of the feast with minor variations.
  The First of the Apostles, Peter, established the Church in Antioch before arriving in Rome. Ignatius was the second successor of Peter in Antioch after Evodius. While on his way to Rome, where he was arrested, he visited many churches and strengthened them in the faith, writing seven epistles to them. It is in his letter to the Romans that he refers to himself as "Theophore" (from the Greek meaning "God-Bearer"). He was torn to pieces by wild beasts in the Roman Amphitheater on this date in the year 107, during the reign of Trajan.