Unlikely and unexpected

(Image courtesy of lovecatchmsile)

(Image courtesy of lovecatchmsile)

Here I am, with a simple post about today’s Gospel ready to go. It is Sunday morning, and I would like to get it ready for publishing tomorrow. No, I don’t usually think these things up at 4am and hit publish! There is typically some planning involved. Until the Holy Spirit shows up, reminding me who the boss is.

The first hint came along as I prayed early on Sunday morning, with one Advent candle illuminated before me. My December copy of Give Us This Day was open to the “Within the Word” feature that begins every week. The author of this one was Anthony Ruff, OSB, a monk of St. John’s Abbey, and an authority on liturgy and music. Fr. Ruff moderates the blog, Pray Tell.

centurion-and-jesusIn this reflection Fr. Ruff spoke of how the Centurion in our Gospel today, had great faith – and that he was a complete outsider. It is not like I didn’t know this, but the way he put it caused me to reread the Gospel, and rethink what I was going to write about. The reminder of what is unlikely, and unexpected remains an integral element of our faith, like oxygen in our daily living, we can’t be without it. Which is a big pain, if you ask me. Seriously, isn’t it? We love God, but we’d love God to fit in our box – talk about unlikely.

Poking around Pray Tell, led me to a post about the recent installation of Archbishop Blase Cupich in Chicago. On her blog, author and speaker Beth Knobbe writes about her experience of being asked to serve at the installation mass. Talk about surprises, Archbishop Cupich specifically asked for women to be on the altar that day, which is a pretty unlikely. You can go read Beth’s post, and I recommend that you do, simply because it is written so generously and beautifully; it is a lovely journey into the unexpected made real.

Let me stop her and reorient us by stating that we all know in our hearts that Advent is a lovely journey into the unexpected made real, Christ the Lord born into the flesh of the child Jesus. Talk about unexpected and unlikely! Yet, that is exactly what we are preparing for, the mostly absurd thing ever – and not only do we prepare for it, we celebrate this event. Yet, how we forget who we are, allowing ourselves to take our “insider” status for granted.

Also, we have the news of Pope Francis, that master of unexpected and unlikely, throwing off tradition as he journeys in Turkey. First of all, he went to a mosque and prayed. That ought to get some heads exploding, but unlikely as it may seem to some, it is the very humility of Christ, the One we wait for, isn’t it? I don’t want to get ahead of things, but Jesus did come so that “all might be one.” Didn’t he?

Pope Francis also went to pray with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholemew, where in further unlikely and unexpected acts, he spontaneously bowed his head and asked the patriarch to “bless me and the Church of Rome.” (Futher exploding head material for some!)

The Centurion, women on the altar with Archbishop Cupich, the pope praying in mosques and bowing his head before the Orthodox patriarch all have something in common – the outsider. And when it comes to identifying the outsider we reject, don’t we tempt fate by potentially rejecting Christ himself?

Think about the Centurion in the context of the words of Pope Francis when he was in Turkey… “The temptation is always within us to resist the Holy Spirit, because he takes us out of our comfort zone and unsettles us; he makes us get up and drives the church forward.

The message of the Gospel is to be led by the Spirit through Christ. May our Advent prayer be one that invites the unlikely and unexpected, as we keep watch this year.  When we feel the urge to reject, judge, correct, or fix another, maybe we can stop and be still – thus giving the Spirit the chance to reorient ourselves.