Joel 4:12-21; Luke 11:27-28
In the reading from the prophet Joel, God vanquishes the enemies of Judah and the land produces in overflowing abundance. As the earlier chapters of this book make clear, a famine brought on by a plague of locusts had ravaged the land, both city and countryside. The images offered by Joel of a conquering, provident God were a hope-filled reflection of this suffering people’s desire to know that God was dwelling among them; in other words, this is how they wanted their prayers answered, in security and abundance.
We are not so different from them. In our own prayers we ask God to do things like conquer our foes, provide abundant harvests, heal us or those we love. We speak of our prayers being answered and we give thanks to God when the enemy is gone, the harvest is good, and we or someone for whom we have prayed does in fact recover.
On one level, there is nothing wrong with that. God does keep us secure; does provide for us; does heal. For this, we can and must give thanks.
There is a deeper level though, and Jesus points us toward it in today’s gospel. When a woman blessed the womb that bore him and the breasts that nursed him, Jesus replied that Mary was blessed because, as his first disciple, she heard the word of God and did it. As St. Augustine said, Mary conceived in her heart before she conceived in her womb.
This is the deeper level on which Jesus focuses our attention. Although we can pray that things go the way we want them to, the most fruitful prayer is that our will be aligned to the will of God. This was Mary’s prayer when she said, May it be done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38); it was Christ’s prayer when he said not my will but yours be done (Luke 22:42b). This doesn’t mean that we are happy if and when catastrophe strikes, but it does mean that we hear the word of God and do it, keeping in mind that he has also said, I know well the plans I have in mind for you … plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
As the Catechism teaches, hope is “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength” (CCC 1817). Joel pointed toward Christ our hope when he spoke of the spring that will rise from the house of the LORD (Joel 4:18b). This is the hope of life that springs eternal; the happiness to which Mary was united at the end of her earthly life; the hope of happiness that we desire. May we unite our wills to the will of God as she did, and may it be done to us according to his Word.