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Potter and clay

First Sunday of Advent

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

 

This Sunday marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. As we know, it will last until the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe towards the end of next calendar year. Also, Advent begins on this Sunday. It is a time set aside to prepare ourselves for Christmas and for the second coming of Christ.

The readings the Church presents for our meditation at the beginning of Advent focus on judgment, the coming of Christ in glory and majesty. Therefore, the passage from the Gospel according to St. Mark proclaimed this Sunday has strong apocalyptic overtones. In it, the Lord exhorts us to be ready for we do not know the day or the hour of our final and definitive encounter with Him.

As the four weeks of Advent go by, there will be greater emphasis on the Christmas event. Beginning December 17, we will focus exclusively on the birth of Christ. We will take a close look at different moments in the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God and will especially contemplate those who had a prominent role in the events that took place in Bethlehem.

The first reading for this Sunday, taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, ends with a very popular expression, a metaphor used by the prophet that describes God as a potter who works the clay that we are, the work of his hands.

It is a very graphic image that helps us grow in gratitude and, therefore, in humility. Our entire lives are grace, pure gift, liberality from the Lord. To acknowledge that fact necessarily moves us to thanksgiving and makes us humble.

Many have pointed out, and it is well known the relation existing between the words humility and humus, the fertile topsoil in arable land.

To be humble, does not mean that we deny the many gifts we have received, much less to state that one is worthless. Attitudes such as those, far from being virtuous are mistaken. They devalue the many gifts we all have received from God which are given to us for our edification, that of our sisters and brothers and for the glory of the Creator. To deny the good we have received would make us very ungrateful people. Thus, whoever dismisses or downplays them, far from honoring the Lord, would be offending Him.

To be humble is to walk in the truth, which means to acknowledge that we have received many gifts and to continuously give thanks for them. The first gift we received is, of course, the gift of life, without which nothing else is possible. We are clay that is available for the potter to work because we exist. Continuing with the metaphor of the prophet, if there was no clay, the potter could not work with it. Now, it is a fact that none of us is a being necessary for the existence of the universe. Naturally, the potter could work with other materials, but it would not be us. It could also be that there was clay, but this particular batch that I am would not be available. My existence is not indispensable for the potter to work with clay. Yet, these particular batches of clay that each and every one is, is available for the potter to model. We exist, we are alive, we are clay that is available for the artisan to shape.

We are not the product of a random combination of organic matter. Each and every one of us has been willed and called into existence by God Himself. It is not that God lacks something and needs us. Rather he simply and plainly loves us. Because he loves us, he calls us into being. He created us. He made us clay in His hands. He will model us throughout our entire lives to make us into a piece of art that is unique, irreplaceable, destined to last for all eternity.

We must always remember this and be grateful. Precisely this past Thursday we celebrated together with all of society a communal day of Thanksgiving. We stopped during our hectic days to give thanks to God for all the graces we have received on account of His love.  It is infinite love that called us into existence and progressively shapes us to lead us to ever deeper communion with Him. That communion is at once anticipated and realized by the Eucharist.

Our lives are truly eucharistic when we draw near to Christ, truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament, when we pour ourselves out in the service of others, just like He does, giving up His body and blood; and when we give thanks to God. The word “Eucharist” comes from a Greek verb meaning “to give thanks.”

This communion that is offered to us demands docility on our part, but not passivity. The Lord relies on our cooperation with grace to lead us to the fullness of life. Our grateful self-giving and our works in general are important, not because they may merit salvation or earn the love of God, rather because they cooperate with the grace that is offered to us. They prepare the clay as it were so that the potter may work on it easily and fashion a work that is fuller, more beautiful, more perfect, more in His image, more in keeping with the genius of the artist Himself.

Our final and definitive encounter with Christ is shaped in time. That is why there is no time to waste. We must prepare ourselves. Just as we prepare ourselves for the daily encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, who comes to heal our wounded human nature, take us to the fullness of life by making our lives truly and fully eucharistic, so we must also prepare for the final and definitive encounter once the potter finishes His work in us.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid