4th Sunday of Advent. December 20th 2015.
Mi 5:1-4; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-45
The grace of authentic Marian devotion
“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
A High school friend of mine was very vocal about his disdain for the Blessed Virgin Mary. He saw her as just some lucky woman whom God randomly chose to be the mother of Jesus and all she did was to conceive the Savior and give birth to Him and nothing more. Hence, as far as he was concerned, Mary is completely irrelevant to us Christians today and we should neither ask her to intercede for us nor seek to imitate her in any way. And most importantly, we have no need to have any affection for her.
One day while on a field trip with the entire class, our school bus in which we were traveling in almost collided head on with an oncoming vehicle. There were several screams as the vehicles missed colliding with each other by inches. My dear friend, the one who had nothing but disgust for the Blessed Mother, screamed out loud, “Blood of Jesus, Save us.” I could not help but ask him, after we all calmed down, “You say that Mary is irrelevant to us today as Christians yet in moment of panic you invoke the Blood of Jesus our Savior. From whom did Jesus receive this saving blood from? Who gave him the body and blood that saves us from sin and gives us life?” I never got a reasonable reply from him.
The Second Reading shows us the source of Jesus’ deepest joy – the humanity that He got from Mary. He rejoices in the Father who is the ultimate source of that body, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me.” He rejoices that He will exercise His loving obedience to the Father in and through this body, “As it is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.” He rejoices in those who will be reconciled and consecrated to the Father in all ages through this body, “By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
If Jesus rejoices in this human body and to all who are connected to this body in any way, if He rejoices in the Father as the source of this body and we the redeemed children of God as the prize won by His self-sacrifice on the Cross in this same body, how can He rejoice less in the woman who humbly consented by faith to give Him this body at the moment of the Annunciation?
The Incarnation, that union of divine and human in the person of the God-Man Jesus Christ, is an ongoing reality. In the Father’s eternal plan, a plan hidden in ages past that will never cease till the end of time, God willed to give us life through our union with the body of Christ through faith and the sacraments, beginning with baptism. We are saved because, by faith and baptism, we are connected to the now glorified body of Christ, the very same sinless body that He willed to receive from His Immaculate Mother Mary. As long as our salvation depends on our union with the body of Christ by faith and the sacraments, the Blessed Virgin Mary will always have a motherly role to play in our lives whether we are Catholics or not. Mary remains the spiritual mother of everyone redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ without exception whether we recognize it or not.
How can we speak of being united to the body of Christ and washed by His blood and still deny any form of relationship to the woman who lovingly offered this same living body and blood to God for our salvation by her fiat, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.” In the eternal saving plan, God has united Mary inseparably from the mystery and mission of Christ. Regarding Mary’s relationship with Jesus, we too can rightly say, “What God has put together, let no man separate.”
I have heard many reasons why some Christians (and some Catholics) fail to recognize Mary as their spiritual mother and to be devoted to her in any way. For example, a seminarian could not get himself to be devoted to Mary because his own mother had been unfaithful to his dad and abandoned the entire family. He thus could not identify with Mary as a mother who loves him unconditionally and would never abandon him. In another example, a mother abandoned her devotion to Mary because she could not see any difference between the lifestyle of those who claimed to be devoted to Mary and those who were not. A case of Marian devotion lost to bad example from Mary’s children. A priest abandoned his devotion to Mary because he saw it as useless piety for weak children and for women. This is a case of being too proud and too self-secured to depend on someone else in the spiritual life. The bottom-line is that there are a myriad of reasons why people are not open to be truly devoted to Mary.
But today’s Gospel shows us that it is indeed a grace of the Holy Spirit to be devoted to Mary and to recognize that we cannot separate her from the mystery and mission of Jesus Christ. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit by simply hearing the greetings of Mary and she was interiorly illumined by the Spirit to realize both the blessedness of Mary and the Lordship of Jesus in her womb and that both cannot be separated.
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greetings, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?”
To be devoted to Mary, to realize that she is intimately united with Jesus Christ in His person and mission, is ultimately an amazing grace of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit alone can illumine our hearts and minds to know Mary and her place in God’s saving plan and to love her and depend upon her as an infallible guide and ever ready help in our spiritual journey. It is the Holy Spirit alone that can move us to love Mary and to hold on to her in loving devotion no matter our experiences in this life.
Elizabeth words also remind of a very important fact. On her own, Mary is absolutely nothing. But in the one eternal divine plan to unite all of us to God in and through communion with the body of Christ, God chose her from all eternity and prepared her with privileges and graces needed to be the worthy Mother of God. On her part, Mary never refused God what He wanted of her but she willed exactly all that God willed for her and for us her children. She is blessed not because of what she is in herself but because of her faith and complete openness to be possessed and used by God, “Blessed are you who believe that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” She forever remains our mother because, in giving birth to Christ the Head, she also gave us birth into new life by being the channel through which Jesus, the God-Man and the sole Author of divine life, came into the world.
I have come to realize more deeply the amazing grace of having a devotion to Mary as I embrace my apostolate because it is so easy for us to lose our contact with the living body of Christ in our midst. In our priestly ministry, it can be challenging to keep in mind that all sacramental actions are encounters with the humanity of Christ and encounters with His blood. There is always a temptation to take it as just one more sacrament, one more Confession to be heard, or one more Mass to be offered. It is also sometimes hard to see Christ Jesus in the humanity of our brothers and sisters in their need. Even prayer can feel like God is miles away sometimes. At such moments, consolation and hope has always come from whispering a prayer like this to Mother Mary, “Mary, please let me see with your eyes, love with your heart and serve with your hands.” She opens our eyes to recognize Jesus in the sacred host, in the ones we serve, in the scriptures that we read, and in the events of our daily lives. What a grace to be devoted to Mary who forever remains inseparable from Jesus Christ, the God-Man.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Eucharistic celebration, we come into contact with the thing that gives Jesus Christ the greatest joy – His sacred humanity prepared for Him by the Father and freely offered to Him by Mother Mary. In this Mass too, we receive an outpouring of the Spirit that reveals to us who Mary is and how inseparable she is from Jesus Christ.
With the Holy Spirit within us, we will find ourselves moved to draw closer to Mother Mary, we will feel a slight tugging of the heart to humble ourselves and to open our hearts to Mary, and we will be moved to go deeper into our relationship with her as our loving Mother until we become like her in our relationship to Jesus and to others. Let us never neglect those inspirations for whatever reason because it is an amazing gift of the Holy Spirit moving us to make life-giving contact with the humanity of Christ through a more authentic devotion to Mary.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!