”The whole ecclesial movement of women can and should reflect the light of Gospel revelation, according to which a woman, as the representative of the human race, was called to give her consent to the Incarnation of the Word.” ~ Saint John Paul II
In today’s Gospel Passage (Luke 1:26-38) wherein the Annunciation of our Lord unfolds, it would appear at first as though Mary displays mixed emotions over this encounter with the Angel Gabriel. Scripture tells us that she was greatly troubled at Gabriel’s greeting ~ “Hail, full of grace!” ~ while responding to his revelation with questions as to its plausibility. How could she, a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph with whom she had yet to have sexual relations, conceive and give birth to a son? And not merely any baby boy, but the boy who would go on to become the Word made flesh, he who would re-open the gates of Heaven?
Coincidentally enough, today’s 1st Reading (Isaiah 7:10-14) tells of a somewhat similar situation, with Ahaz declining God’s offer to “Ask for a sign from the Lord,” an offer that came with no strings attached and no limitations. “Let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” God says. “I will not ask!” Ahaz rather inexplicably replies. Wouldn’t he at least ask for a hot stock tip or next season’s World Series winner?
Placing limitations on God, questioning him, “not wanting to bother Him.” These are but a handful of the more common mistakes we are all prone to make from time to time in our relationship with God. During Advent, we are invited to delve deeper, to ponder greater things, those that have transpired and those that are to come. To grasp the ungraspable, or at least try to. To fathom the unfathomable. To reflect upon the God who allows virgins and women far beyond child hearing years to give birth to children, the God who raises the dead, the God who brings atheists to the priesthood as was the case with the visiting priest who celebrated Mass at my parish this morning.
In the end, it was Mary’s obedience to God that ruled the day in today’s Gospel and throughout her entire life. There was a popular meme making its way around Facebook not long ago which proclaimed“Obedient women never made history.” This of course couldn’t be further from the truth. Without Mary’s obedience, without her “yes” to God, we as a people wouldn’t even have a history. We wouldn’t have a future either, and certainly no hope for eternal life. Mary could have said no; Eve did. As the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen observed, “When the angel appeared to Mary, God was announcing this love for the new humanity. It was the beginning of a new earth, and Mary became ‘a flesh-girt Paradise to be gardened by the new Adam.’ As in the first garden Eve brought destruction, so in the garden of her womb, Mary would now bring Redemption.”
Obedience always plays a role in redemption. Without obedience, without regard for God’s teachings, we inevitably regress, falling back into the endless cycle of desiring the things that will never fulfill us. Sin and dysfunction become our daily norm. In Mary’s case, Jesus was redemption personified, a redemption he would purchase for us on the cross, brought about by the obedience of His Mother.
Full of grace, Mary is wholly given over to Him who has come to dwell in her. She would in turn give Jesus to the world.“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” This was Elizabeth’s joy-filled, Holy Spirit-inspired greeting to her younger cousin, a greeting that we have made our own by way of the ever-popular Hail Mary prayer.
Mary is blessed because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord’s words. She believed. And because she believed, she is the Mother of all believers. God’s message to Mary was the very same message he has for each of us. It is never important that we understand him. It is always important that we trust him.
Over the years, many of the Saints have assigned titles of salutation to our Blessed Mother. Saint John Eudes comes to mind as I recall just a few of my favorite divine salutations that he assigned to Mary:
“Hail Mary, fair Lily of the resplendent and ever serene Trinity.”
“Hail Mary, bright Rose of Heavenly beauty.”
“Hail Mary, Queen of my Heart, my Mother, my life, my sweetness and my dearest hope.”
“Hail Mary, Mother most amiable.”
“Hail Mary, Mother of mercy.”
Today I invite you to add one more salutation to her ethereal resume… ”Hail Mary, Mother of all believers.”
Because she believed, we too can do the same.
“Let the soul of Mary be in each of us to magnify the Lord, and the spirit of Mary be in each of us to rejoice in God.” ~ Saint Anselm