Let us start from the beginning. God created everything out of nothing. He is all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere at the same time. God is loving, caring, compassionate, and merciful, but He is also a just and jealous God. God is fully complete in the Holy Trinity. They are three persons in one God, but all are omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. The Son is begotten from the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is the manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son.
The Trinity is perfectly complete, yet God out of His goodness created others to be a part of this happiness. God created angelic beings, all of which He loved very much. However, some wanted to be like God and the first no to God’s perfect plan was made. Satan and his followers were cast into hell since they were disobedient to God’s will. Satan is the source of evil and is our enemy. His mission is to make everyone say no to God’s perfect plan. He wants to spread evil so each of us will be separated from God not only in this life on Earth, but in our eternal life as well.
After the angelic beings God created day, night, land, water, and animals. God was content and happy with all He created, but out of His goodness and love God created man in His image and likeness. In Genesis 2 we read how God created man out of dust and breathed life into him. God, with His compassion and love for man knew that he would be unhappy alone so he created woman out of the rib of the man. It was God’s will that the “two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). The first man and woman were Adam and Eve. God loved Adam and Eve very much and gave them the beautiful Garden of Eden. He invited them to live in this paradise as part of His perfect plan. They were to do as they pleased in the garden, except eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden. God did this because He knew what was best for them and by not eating from the tree they would be happiest.
However, Adam and Eve were not perfect like God so they were subject to temptation and sin. The enemy took the form of a snake and tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He persuaded Eve to think that if she ate from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden she would not die as God told her she would. He convinced her that God was tricking her and if they ate of the tree they would become gain wisdom and become like God. Eve ate the apple and gave some to Adam and he ate it as well. They were not forced to do any of this. It was their own free choice to eat from the tree and thus man’s first no to God was made. They committed sins of lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride. Their desire to have power and wisdom like God only revealed their nakedness and showed man’s weakness and vulnerability.
This sin led to more sin as Adam and Eve tried to play the blame game to make it seem like it wasn’t really their fault. Because of their sin, God was a just God and punished them. Eve would have more pain during child birth, He banished them from the Garden of Eden, and sin would continue to multiply through the rest of humanity.
Luckily, God is a God of love and promised Adam and Eve that their descendants would undo their sin. God made covenants with His chosen people to reestablish His relationship with man. A covenant is an agreement between two people. Two important covenants in the Old Testament are the Abramic and Mosaic covenants. The covenants pave the way for the New Covenant of Christ to His Church. These covenants are between God and humans and are initiated and stipulated by God. In the Abramic covenant God reveals that He wants Him alone to be worshiped. God promises to Abraham that through his descendants many nations will be blessed. The sign of this covenant is circumcision as a baby. This foreshadows baptism where we are cleansed or we “cut” away our old selves. The Mosaic covenant is where God gives us the Ten Commandments. Jesus summarizes these commandments as “you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12: 30-31). In this covenant God institutes rituals such as Yam Kippur, a Day of Atonement, and Passover. These two rituals foreshadow the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist which Jesus instituted.
Covenants are so important in our understanding of Jesus. Old Testament covenants are ways that God foretells the coming of the Messiah (see Jer 31-32). Covenants also show that God’s presence is meant for all nations. They also reveal that God’s laws will lead to eternal life and show God’s goodness, mercy and love. It’s important to note that God establishes covenants in ceremonies. Marriage is a beautiful covenant celebrated in a formal ceremony. The covenant of Christ to His bride, the Church is the fulfillment of all the other covenants where we are able to share in His divine life.
God desires all of us to share in His divine life, but He made promises with certain people at specific points in time to reveal His perfect plan for humanity. The Lord gradually revealed Himself in His covenants and does the same for us today. In the words of the prophet Jeramiah, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11).
The purpose of God’s divine revelation, or unveiling of Himself, is to invite us into relationship and intimacy with Him. He uses people, words, and events in our lives to show us His presence in our lives and communicate His will for us. Sometimes we want to know all about our futures right now. Where will I get into grad school? What job will I get? Who will I marry? Imagine if God told you everything about your life right now. Would you feel overwhelmed or angry if it didn’t turn out the way you thought it would? Would you even continue to pursue a relationship with God if you had all the information you wanted? That’s why God reveals Himself slowly to us. He knows how much we need to know at that time and how much we can handle.
For man to better know the love of God and to more perfectly share in His divine love, God sent His only Son into the world to become the new Adam and reverse the sins committed in the Garden of Eden. Our Lady, the mother of God, is the new Eve who brought the Incarnate Son into the world. Her fiat, which means yes, is the first yes to Jesus Christ. She is His first disciple. In the Gospel of Luke we recount the first joyful mystery of the Rosary: The Annunciation. The angel Gabriel appeared to her when she was betrothed to Joseph saying, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). He revealed God’s plan for her to have a son named Jesus and He will “be great and will be called Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). Let us put ourselves in Mary’s shoes for a moment. She was a virgin so how could she be with child? Would this child grow up normal? Would she be able to mother him properly? How would you be feeling at this point? Would you be scared? Would you understand what was happening? I feel overwhelmed sometimes when God asks me to talk to a new person, let alone if He was asking me to give birth to His Son! Instead of asking questions or looking to see if this plan would benefit her she quickly responds saying “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Like 1:37). Let us look carefully at these words. Handmaid means servant. Mary humbles herself by fully submitting herself to God’s will. No matter the cost of this yes, she knew it was God’s will and she willingly accepted this cross.
With Mary’s fiat, God became man in the form of Jesus Christ. God became man to save us from sin by reuniting us to God. He wanted us to better know God’s love, to have a human model of holiness, and so that we can share God’s divine nature. Jesus has two natures in one being. Jesus is truly, completely, and fully human and divine. We participate in God’s divine nature through the sacraments. We become adopted sons and daughters of God through baptism and receive many graces and gifts from the Holy Spirit in all the sacraments we participate in. We unite ourselves in a special way to Christ’s divinity and humanity by participating in the Mass and receiving the Eucharist.
Jesus said yes to God each day in his ministry. He grew up with His parents guiding Him and teaching Him just as our parents did for us. One day Mary, Jesus and His disciples went to a wedding together. As the guests danced and celebrated Mary noticed the wine was running out and mentioned it to her son. Jesus said in reply “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2: 4). Despite this response, Mary still pushed the servers to do what Jesus told them to do. Per Jesus’ request, the servers filled 6 stone jars with water and when they took it to the headwaiter it had turned into wine (Jn 6-10). Jesus performed the first sign of His ministry by saying yes to God’s call through the prompting of Our Lady.
Christ said yes at the most crucial moment in his life. The agony in the garden was the start of His Passion. At the Mount of Olives Jesus prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22: 42). Jesus was in such pain that He was sweating drops of blood, but an angel appeared to him and gave him the strength He would need to say yes. Like Our Lady, Christ said yes to God’s will for the good of the Kingdom of God even though it cost them both very much.
Christ’s Passion is the first step in the Paschal Mystery. The Paschal mystery is Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. This is where Christ accomplished the work of our salvation so the Church holds it very dearly as we unite ourselves to this mystery every time we participate in the Mass. Christ’s passion can be found by meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary: the agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar and the carrying of the cross. Through His passion he suffered to save us from sin. Through His death, Christ showed us that there is “no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). He conquered “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor 15: 26). Through Christ’s resurrection we are all able to rise to new life in Christ even though our punishment for saying no to God’s plan should be death. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it very well: “dying He destroyed our death, rising He restored our life” (CCC 1067). Through Christ’s ascension He was prepared a place for us in heaven (Jn 14:2) and show us how He “will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” when it is time for the final judgement.
After Christ ascended into heaven that wasn’t the end of His mission. He told Peter “upon this rock I will build my Church” and He gave St. Peter the keys to the kingdom. Peter became our first pope, and the head of the Church that Christ established (Mk 16:18-19). The Church is how the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ is visible in the world. The Church is not a business, but the family of God, intentionally created by Christ for us. Christ is with us always in the Church and is present in our families, the community, but most importantly we encounter Him in the sacraments. We are able to embrace the incarnation so intimately as we experience “the Word become flesh” in the Holy Eucharist (Jn 1:14).
So today, here we are, in the St. Philip Neri, Newman Catholic Center at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. We are here as the Church, people who are striving for holiness, people who are striving to be saints. This story isn’t just for the people of Jesus’ time, but it’s for all of us. In fact, St. Philip Neri, the patron saint of our Newman Center made an important yes to God as well. He grew up in a wealthy family chasing success and hoping for a large inheritance from his uncle’s business. However, he had a conversion experience and said yes to a life proclaiming God’s Word. He started simply ministering on the streets until he started the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity that was dedicated to ministering to the poor. He continued his mission of preaching as he made his yes to the priesthood. He is known for his dedication to ministering to the poor and his desire to transform a very corrupt Rome. Had St. Philip Neri not said yes to God many people wouldn’t know the love of God and all of us would not receive all of his intercessory prayers for our community.
Now you might be thinking this story still isn’t really about me it’s just for the people a long time ago and the canonized saints. This absolutely not true. This isn’t us vs. them. God didn’t just choose them to be His sons and daughters, he chose all of us. This is our story too! He wants your heart just as much as He wants mine or Abraham’s or Jacob or Peter or Paul or St. Philip Neri. We may not be called to the same mission as them, but that doesn’t make our mission any less important.
We’ve seen throughout this story that all of God’s chosen prophets, His beloved Israelites, they all sinned against God. Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden. The Israelites complained in the desert when they felt like God abandoned them. Moses struck the rock twice when God told him to hit it once and water would spring forth. Peter, our first pope, denied Christ three times after Christ had been arrested. Paul arrested and persecuted Christians, but eventually had a conversion experience and became a great leader and writer of many books in the Bible such as Galatians, Romans, and first and second Corinthians. Please remember though that even these people said no at different points in their life, but God was always faithful and merciful to them when they returned to Him with a resounding yes to His will.
In Second Corinthians St. Paul says “For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory” (2 Cor 1:20). Amen means yes. Each time we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord we say amen or yes, I believe. Let’s not wait any longer to say yes to God’s plan. Look to Our Lady as a model where she courageously and quickly said yes to God. Ask Jesus for the strength He had in His agony in the garden to say Father, thy will be done. College presents so many temptations. It’s so hard to say no when everyone says getting drunk and sleeping around is normal. It can be hard in the moment, but saying yes to society is far less satisfying and, speaking from experience, it leaves you feeling empty and guilty.
All of these people came before us so that we might be here now building up the Kingdom of God. Your yes now will effect so many people. You might not see it now, but the Lord will pour so many graces into your heart and those you touch by opening your heart up to His plan. Look how many Mary’s yes affected…everyone!!! I bet she wasn’t expecting that. Had Mary not said yes, we would not be free from sin since our Lord would not have become incarnate and saved us from sin and death.
Let me tell you a personal story really quickly. When I was in high school my friend told me she wanted to get more involved in her faith and asked me if I wanted to as well. By the grace of God I said yes and I led her to the 24 hour adoration chapel at my home parish. It was there that she really encountered the Lord and was able to hear His voice more clearly. By returning to the chapel frequently she discerned her call to religious life and is now in formation to become a sister with the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary down in Miami, Florida. Had I not said yes to the Holy Spirit’s prompting through Mackenzie she might have missed her vocation to religious life or it may have taken her a lot longer to find where God always wanted her to be.
So you might be thinking all of that sounds great and all, but saying yes requires a lot of work and well you’re really busy and don’t have time right now to read the Bible every day or to join a small group. You might be thinking, I’ll try that this summer when I have more time or when I’m out of college and don’t have homework, that’ll be a good time to start praying more. Let me tell you, I’ve tried that and life is always going to be hectic. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. Just because I work in the Church doesn’t mean my prayer life is thriving all the time. We can’t keep pushing our relationship with God off to the side. As much as many of us don’t like to think about it there will be a time when Jesus comes again and there will be a final judgement. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus tells us “but of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come: (Mark 13:32-33). We want to say yes to Jesus each and every day because our actions and the intentions of our heart will be judged.
Let me leave you with this: If we were put on trial would there be enough evidence to be convicted as a Christian? Let’s not leave anything to chance. Let’s invite Christ into our hearts and make our yes each day to try our best to follow His plan for us. Keep in mind that we will fall short, but each day is a new day and we have so many opportunities to say yes. We must also always remember to use the tools that Christ gave us. We have the Eucharist to strengthen us and the sacrament of Reconciliation to turn to, to receive God’s mercy and grace.