Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mary's "Yes": The Shot Heard Throughout Eternity

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James Christensen - The Annunciation

Today is an important solemnity in the Catholic Church. Today is the story of true greatness unrecognized by a world dazzled only by outward pomp and glamour. It is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord in which the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary.  Mary had no standing in the world. She lived in a despised little town, part of a slave people ruled over by the mighty Roman empire. She was a young woman in a world governed by men who saw women not as individuals but as mere property to use and dispose of as they desired.  In the eyes of the world, Mary was destined to live a life of insignificance and die unheralded and unnoticed.

But outside of Jesus Christ, Mary was the most powerful person in history.  The Roman Army, Alexander the Great, Napoleon - no great military leader could match the power of this young girl to defeat the enemies of God.  The devil - who had mankind firmly in his grip through his deceptions - was powerless before her.  It was through this lowly young girl that salvation was brought to a world condemned to die.

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What weapon did Mary possess that made her more powerful than any military the world has known? How did Mary conquer Satan, the one who controlled the most powerful men and women in history? Mary's weapon could not be seen, heard, felt, tasted or touched by the casual observer. In fact, to the average person, this most powerful of all weapons in history would be interpreted not as strength but just the opposite - as weakness and impotence.

And what is this weapon? It is humble, submissive obedience to the Creator of the Universe. Mary, the Mother of God and our Blessed Mother is the personification of Isaiah 66:2
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.
Through Mary we learn that the world has it upside down.  The world thinks that we gain power and influence by "bettering" ourselves.  We must learn to be smarter, stronger, more cunning.  We have to always be one step ahead of the other guy.  The world teaches us to never be anyone's fool.  Stand up for yourself.  Assert yourself.  You have rights.  And don't let anyone tell you differently.

That is not the lesson we learn from this most powerful of all human beings to ever live.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced, "Hail, favored one (full of grace)! The Lord is with you", her first reaction was fear. So the angel spoke calming words to Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God."

However, Gabriel followed this up with a truly troubling message:
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Understand this from Mary's point of view. She was a young virgin living in a society which stoned women for having sex outside of marriage. Further, Mary was a very devout Jew who had dedicated her life in obedience to God. Yet, here was some creature from heaven telling her, an engaged but unmarried young woman, that she was to conceive a son. Of course, there is only one way to get pregnant, and to do so outside of marriage was an act worthy of death, both spiritual and physical. 

Mary was very much in the same predicament as her forefather, Abraham, many centuries before when he was told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. God was telling Mary to do something that appeared to go against the Divine Law.

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But, like Abraham, Mary did not protest or fight God in any way. She did, however, ask how she could conceive while still a virgin.
How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?
When we are confronted with seemingly impossible situations, it is not wrong to ask God for answers.  He may or may not give them to us.  But just asking is not wrong.  In Mary's case, she was answered by Gabriel.

Mary's question was perfectly logical and understandable. There is only one way to conceive a child. Or so Mary thought. The angel told her that in her case, there was another way:
The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 
I am sure that Mary didn't really understand this answer.  I know I would not have understood.  But this is where her "weapon" kicked in.  She knew this message was from God, just as her forefather, Abraham, recognized God's command hundreds of centuries before her.  Mary knew that it was not necessary for her to intellectually understand everything God asked of her.  She knew only that it was necessary for her to submit in humble obedience.  She, like Abraham, completely trusted God no matter what He asked of her.

Mary then spoke the most important words ever uttered by a human being, and the most important words any of us can ever say.  These are words that brought salvation to the world:
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.
These words are important on many different levels. First and foremost, as I stated, these words enabled Our Creator to become man and save us from certain death. God could not become man without Mary's consent. If she had given into her fears, if she had "logically" thought out the situation, reasoning it from a natural viewpoint, she most likely would have said no, just as Abraham would have said no when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Mary was engaged to Joseph, but she knew that when he found out she was pregnant, he would have every right to reject her and have her stoned. She knew no one would believe her story that she had miraculously conceived. The angel was putting her in what seemed to be an impossible situation.

How often do we find ourselves in situations which make no sense?  We have our own ideas about how things should be done, and when things don't go the way we think it should be, we get very upset and angry with God.  We try to impose our will upon God.  

But Mary, and Abraham before her, completely submitted to God.  Because Abraham obeyed, the nation of Israel was born from which Our Lord descended.  And because Mary obeyed, Our Lord became man and saved not only Israel, but the entire world.  

Mary's answer is one that we need to incorporate into every area of our life.  Every time we come up against what seems to be a brick wall, we need to step back and say "I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done according to your word."  Mary's Son, Jesus, told us that we must lose our life in order to gain it.  Mary was the very personification of losing one's life.  To "lose your life" means to submit your will to God, even when and especially when it makes no sense.

Saying yes to Gabriel was only the beginning for Mary. She said "Yes" to God throughout her life: giving birth in a manger, being told that a sword would pierce her heart, fleeing to Egypt, all leading up to her final "Yes" when she watched the crucifixion and death of her most perfect Son.

When Mary said "Yes" to God, she said "Yes" to untold pain and suffering.  She said "Yes" to persecution and condemnation from society.  She said "Yes" to completely giving up control of her life. As Her Son said (John 15:18-20):
If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
To say yes to God is to join with the suffering of Jesus Christ. We must figuratively stand below the Cross of Christ and join our suffering with His. Our Blessed Mother had to literally stand at the Cross and watch her Son die. She suffered spiritual martyrdom every bit as real as the suffering of her Son. How was she capable of this? There is only one way - humble submission to the Will of God.

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God has given us many tools to help us on the path of salvation. We have the unerring teachings of the Church. We have the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit. We have Jesus Christ residing in every tabernacle of every Catholic Church in the world. We have the written Word of God, the Bible. We have the community of saints standing with us - the church militant on earth, the suffering church in purgatory and the victorious church in heaven. We have the army of heavenly angels guiding and protecting us. We have the grace-filled sacraments of the Church. We have great spiritual writings from 2000 years of Church history. And we have our Blessed Mother Mary constantly interceding on our behalf.

But none of these spiritual tools will be the least bit effective if we don't have that spiritual weapon which Mary possessed without limit: humble obedience to the Will of God. It is this humble submission that allows us to say "Yes" to God just as our Blessed Mother did throughout her life. When we are told that Mary was "full of grace", that meant her will was one with God. She did not possess self will. We, as sinful human beings, must constantly be denying ourselves. Mary was born without original sin. That meant her will was in completely conformity to God from the time of her conception.

However, that did not mean that Mary was unable to say no to God. She had free will as much as any of us do.  Adam and Eve were also created without original sin. However, unlike Mary, they said no to God. As the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, quotes St Irenaeus:
Just as the former—that is, Eve—was seduced by the words of an angel so that she turned away from God by disobeying his word, so the latter—Mary—received the good news from an angel's announcement in such a way as to give birth to God by obeying his word; and as the former was seduced so that she disobeyed God, the latter let herself be convinced to obey God, and so the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve. And as the human race was subjected to death by a virgin, it was liberated by a Virgin; a virgin's disobedience was thus counterbalanced by a Virgin's obedience..."
Many people look at the crisis in the Church in the West and say that the problem is lack of catechesis.  Others say that the Novus Ordo Mass does not promote reverence.  Many, such as I have been writing about lately, say our bishops and priests have lost the faith and this is affecting those in the pews.  But even if some or all of these things are true, none could affect us spiritually if we follow the example of Our Blessed Mother and say "Yes" to God whether we understand or not.  The true cause of the crisis in the Church is the lack of humble submission to the Will of God.

I think of saints like St Bernadette of Lourdes who was not even able to pass her Catechism Class. She, who did not even understand what the term "Immaculate Conception" meant, was chosen to bring that message to the world. I think of the children of Fatima, not even 10 years old, who were chosen by Our Lady to bring the message of repentance to the world.  St. Bernandette could barely read, and the children of Fatima were completely illiterate.  They could not argue great points of theology.  They couldn't explain the meaning of the Mass.  They certainly didn't speak Latin.  They didn't know enough to judge how "evil" our priests and bishops are.  Yet, they were the ones to whom Our Lady appeared and sent into the world as her messengers.

Without humility and submission to God's Will, Satan can use knowledge to destroy you.  That was the problem of the religious leaders in the time of Jesus Christ.  Submitting to God's Will means allowing Him to fill you with His Love.  Without that, as St. Paul told us in I Corinthians 13, we are no more than a clanging cymbal:
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Our Lord doesn't care about how much you know.  He cares about how much you love.  And you will only be able to love as He does if you lose yourself in His Will as Mary did.

Mary gave her Son to the world because she loved the world.  And she loved the world because the love of God filled her soul.  It was her complete surrender to Him that allowed God to make her one with Him.

Our Blessed Mother is not just our role model.  She is our teacher, our guide, our intercessor before her Son.  She walks with each one of us just as she walked with her Son.  In "The Secret of Mary", St. Louis de Montfort called Mary the great mould, and said that the secret of holiness is to be conformed to that mould:
Mary is the great mould of God, fashioned by the Holy Spirit to give human nature to a Man who is God by the hypostatic union, and to fashion through grace men who are like to God. No godly feature is missing from this mould. Everyone who casts himself into it and allows himself to be moulded will acquire every feature of Jesus Christ, true God, with little pain or effort, as befits his weak human condition. He will take on a faithful likeness to Jesus with no possibility of distortion, for the devil has never had and never will have any access to Mary, the holy and immaculate Virgin, in whom there is not the least suspicion of a stain of sin.
Allow Mary, Our Blessed Mother, to teach you how to crucify your will and make it one with her Son.  Allow Mary, our Blessed Mother, to teach you the way of true humility which she displayed in such abundance by saying "Yes" to God and bringing salvation to the world.

Allow Mary to teach you the meaning of these words that became the shot heard throughout eternity:
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.
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