(CNS photo/Lisa A. Johnston)

Waiting for God

Let us respond to the Lord’s work with zeal and gratitude

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AckermanA few years ago, I was asked to lead a pilgrimage to England, Scotland and Wales. Our itinerary was very full, but our tour guide was determined to squeeze as much as she could into 10 days. At the last minute, she added Stonehenge to our list, much to the delight of several people. One woman, in particular, could not wait.

“I have always wanted to see this!” she exclaimed. “It will be a true feat for my bucket list.”

However, when we arrived, I do not believe she got what she expected.

“Is this all?” she asked. “We came all this way to see this tiny structure of stones! What a waste of time!”

Now, I would not consider a 5,000-year-old site a waste of time, but, obviously, she was not impressed and even pouted on the trip back to London. I was going to ask the bus driver to play the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” on our return, but I figured it was better not to pour salt into the wounds.

Perhaps at times our spiritual lives are much like the experience of that woman. Many of us, myself included, have romanticized events or overestimated what someone or something should be only to be set up for disappointment.

For Advent one year, our parish DRE planned an Advent Evening for Families. She ordered food for 100 people and created stations where families could make their own Advent wreaths and Nativity sets. It was a wonderful plan, but it went over like a lead balloon. Only two families showed up, and one of the families left early for basketball practice. It was a sad scene, and the DRE was beside herself.

“All this effort and time,” I remember her saying, “and no one cares!”

However, two weeks later she received a note from the lone family that stayed. They wrote that the evening was excellent and that their kids were excited about the wreath and Nativity, and even prayed around the wreath every night before bed. According to them, Advent had never seemed more tangible and real, and they now felt as though they could really prepare for Christmas spiritually as a family. Sometimes, tempering our expectations allows us to see what God is doing, instead of what we want to be done.

I used to help out at a high school under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas, and I remember a prayer of his that some faculty prayed to start class. “Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.”

The “perseverance in waiting for God” always struck me as most difficult, because we live in a culture that works for immediate gratification. Waiting conjures up a memory of a Heinz commercial from the 1970s featuring the Carly Simon song “Anticipation,” with people agonizing over ketchup not coming out of the bottle although they are ready to eat. The sentiment of the commercial is that the wait is worth it and the final result is truly wonderful if we can patiently endure to the end.

St. John the Baptist, whom we often focus on during the season of Advent, is a great model of perseverance and humility. He knew who he was, and he never tried to be what he was not. When asked about his identity, John proclaimed, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, / Make straight the way of the Lord” (Jn 1:23).

John’s only expectation was to fulfill God’s plan and get out of the way. John knew something that our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph also knew. We must wait on God with joyful hearts and respond to his call, his plan and his invitation of grace. If we expect our own plan, or even if we make ministry about us, then we are destined for a letdown, disillusionment or even despair. The best-laid plans are indeed the ones that leave room for the creativity of the Holy Spirit. He will never disappoint. May we respond to the Lord’s work with zeal and gratitude whether that work impresses us or not.

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the parochial vicar at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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