Saying yes

POST BY PGallagher

Part of our saying ‘yes’ to God, our doing his will, is our penitent acknowledgement that we have often said and done the opposite. We first said ‘no’. Only later did we begin to do and say ‘yes’. Deeds are more important than words.  All the better, however, to achieve coherence between what we say and what we do.  We desire to do what God wants and do so wholeheartedly, even joyfully.  Our seeking God’s will extends to endeavouring not only to obeying his commands but also to our being the kind of loving people who respond to his requests with alacrity.  The essential is to do his will. However, we would like also to say ‘yes’ to that will, promptly, consistently and faithfully.

He answered, “I will not go”, but afterwards thought better of it and went [1].  Our ‘afterwards thinking better of it’ is perhaps a long story.  The “I will not go”, emerged, not petulantly, but as an expression of the person we once were.  Deplorably, God’s commands formerly elicited from us a refusal.  Our saying ‘no’ to the Lord may have been accompanied by neither logic nor eloquence.  The ‘no’ was to be seen in our deeds and in our life.  Christ is a pattern of true righteousness but we did not believe in him [2].  The ‘afterwards thinking better of it’ was a conversion of heart.   The Lord shows the path to those who stray [3].  We have been fickle and whimsical but this change was profound.  To do what is asked, after an earlier ‘no’ is to prepare to say a very wholehearted ‘yes’.  This is an assent given with knowledge and full intent, to what was once unsuccessfully asked of us.  It is also to act consistently with our ‘yes’.  After any later ‘no’, we hasten to recover the integrity of the first, true ‘yes’.

Conversion of life precedes the saying of a ‘yes’ which expresses who we are.  When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest , he deserves to live [4].  Words can spur on good deeds but at other times the words appear only after the action to describe or assess it.  A ‘yes’ to God, properly expressed, is helped by the experience of doing the deeds commanded.  We have entered into a covenant with our creator, founded on love.  We obey him without always knowing his full intentions or, even,  the immediate outcome of what he and we have undertaken.  However we quickly acquire experience of what it is like to want the good and to find that it is opposed, even within ourselves.  Saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ inconsistently we can find ourselves part of the opposition to God: those who say “Certainly, sir”, but do not go. [5]   Our longing to do and say ‘yes’ acquires focus and conviction in our doing what is right and in our contrition for the times when we have done the very opposite.

Doing right includes some saying ‘no’, especially to self.  The great ‘yes’, which we are called to express to God, includes a ‘no’ to all that he has forbidden.  Our creator’s ‘yes’ to us includes his benevolent prohibitions. He steers us clear of what can harm us.  His grace allows the ‘yes’ of our good deeds to be mapped onto his own loving, divine  ‘yes’. He, in making us and in holding us in being, wants the best for us.   There is some naysaying in the life of the disciple who, following Christ, lives in loving obedience to the Father.  Renouncing lies, we say ‘yes’ to the truth.  Avoiding covetousness, we say ‘yes’ to generosity and solidarity.  Saying ‘no’ to killing we affirm life and live it to the full.  Giving up rudeness and selfishness, we embrace love and kindness. Assenting to the will of God includes self-denial and spiritual combat.  The deeds consequent on our ‘yes’ to God are often concerned with the service of our neighbour.   Love of our brothers and sisters can be a tough refusal to go along with what is wrong.   The Lord confers peace and harmony on our relations with others. However, that serenity is built up out of the rejection of evil as well as being constructed from the steady, persevering assertion of the good by words and deeds. 

Jesus shows us how to say ‘yes’ to the Father’. Life in the Holy Spirit is an imitation of Christ, who is all the time assenting to the divine will.   Perhaps we think first of the sufferings of the Lord as the evidence of his obedience.  Certainly, the ‘yes’ to God and the ‘no’ to his enemy that are in our own difficulties and sorrows can place us very close to Jesus. In hard times, he helps us and we imitate him in deeds, and, no doubt, in some words also.  In your minds, you must be the same as Christ Jesus [6].  Our expressions and acts echo some of what was said and reproduce something of what was done in the garden of Gethsemane and on the hill of Calvary.  He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross [7].   God’s ‘yes’ to us includes allowing the resurrection of his Son to impress itself on our life also.  Our good actions move us and our neighbour away from sin and death towards new life.

We are helped to act and speak like Jesus by his holy mother. Mary always says:  ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ [8]   In the annunciation we are offered a pattern for saying ‘yes’ to what God asks. I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me [9].  A complete assent can require a preliminary question: but how can this come about? [10].  This is neither a refusal not an insistence upon understanding everything.  However integrity and commitment to truth may prompt an inquiry addressed fearlessly to God or to his messenger. Meanwhile standing near the cross of Jesus was his mother [11].  The ‘yes’ which fidelity requires may be accompanied not only by questions but also by solidarity with terrible suffering.  The mother witnessing the death of her son assents without flinching to God’s will.

In recent times many have been unable to be in physical communion with the sacrifice of Christ which takes place in the Mass.  We unite ourselves to Jesus in his self-offering with a ‘yes’ which is expressed alongside the ‘no’ uttered, carefully and cautiously, in well-ordered communities seeking to keep the vulnerable safe.  We ask that the good that the Lord has done us by his death may come to us,  despite the separation imposed.  In spiritual communion, we humbly seek all the help we need for our ‘yes’ in word and deed: grant us, O merciful God, that this our offering may find acceptance with you, and that through it the wellspring of all blessing ay be laid open before us [12].

The morning offering, we offer you, O God, our prayers, works, joys and suffering of this day, is a spiritual ‘yes’ as we begin again.  This is how we intend, with God’s grace, to live in the hours about to unfold: we will pray: we will act.  Some things will just happen, good and bad, but we  offer all that occurs, all that is done, to God with a ‘yes’ and with a ‘thy will be done’.   The morning offering is an announcement that we will try to understand enough of God’s holy and providential will to go along with it, to support it and even to anticipate its demand.  This ‘yes’ is obedient, enterprising and prescient.  There is a divine plan and it is our earnest desire to live in accordance with it.

Jesus asks us to assent to him by our words and deeds.  He teaches his way and invites us to walk with him.  He shows mercy for our failures and we, in turn, are to be merciful and forgiving.  The Son coaxes us through the prompting of the Spirit towards the goodness which is the eternal presence of the Father   Gradually we are learning to say ‘yes’ to God, not in spite of our tendency to say ‘no’, but because written in our heart and in all our deeds is the ‘yes’ of the incarnation of Christ.  God, present in the world, affirms us.  ‘Yes’ he says to us, unconditionally.   Our response, enabled by him, is, without reservation, ‘yes’.

[1]              Matthew 21.28

[2]              Matthew 21.31

[3]              Psalm (25) 24.8

[4]              Ezekiel 18.27

[5]              Matthew 21.29

[6]              Philippians 2.5

[7]              Philippians 2.8

[8]              John 2.5

[9]              Luke 1.37

[10]            Luke 1.34

[11]            John 19.25

[12]            Roman Missal, Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Prayer over the Offerings