“Let it be done unto me”

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (A)

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, we hear a story of profound faith—the Annunciation—which sets in motion the divine purpose of her birth, her Immaculate Conception.

As much as we want to soften the Christmas story and disguise it as a children’s pageant, it is important to reflect on the courage it took for this teen-aged peasant girl to give her fiat—to give up normalcy and risk her and her fiance’s and their families’ reputations, and agree to participate in the impossible event for which she was born.

She was free to choose. And she chose to say, “Let it be done unto me.”

So often it seems we have no control over the events of our lives, but in truth the historical world has never been driven by fate or by accident, but by the free-will of fully-conscious, spiritually attuned human beings whose faith in God’s faithfulness leads them to live in accord with God’s purposes [Eph 1:11], for which they were born and which they, with hearts opened to God’s reign of justice and peace, participate.

…Human beings who give of themselves freely and without fear in service of the greater good, who are good stewards of earthly matters, who marvel and ponder those things that cannot be explained, who are motivated by not by fear or self-preservation, but by trust, and who who accept they may never see the fruit of their life’s work

…Human beings like Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose Immaculate Conception and fiat to participate in God’s divine plan continues to send ripples of hope throughout the universe.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 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.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

And the angel said to her in reply, “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. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Then the angel departed from her.

Video courtesy of Danielle Rose via YouTube. [Uploaded on Sep 24, 2014. Provided to YouTube by The Orchard Enterprises]

Today’s full readings can be accessed by clicking this link.

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Art: Women Singing Earth, by Mary Southard, CSJ

Mary’s Part

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Who does not love the story of Jesus’ changing the water into wine? [Jn 2:1-11] Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana is exciting, mysterious, and intriguing. It sets the stage for the ongoing revelation of Jesus’ glory to his disciples. It is a richly symbolic multiplication story foretelling the kind of restorative mission Jesus is about to begin. It compares an abundance of the finest wine at a wedding banquet to God’s overflowing love in the Kingdom of God.

The metaphor of marriage is woven throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to describe God’s covenant relationship with human beings, and it’s no secret that it has not always been a happy union.  But here, in the telling of Jesus’ miraculous production of a copious supply of the finest wine in the midst of a wedding banquet where there was none, the gospel writer invites us to lift our glasses in celebration of a renewed union between God and humanity.

Abundance overcomes emptiness. Change cures lethargy. The permanent shift from the old to the new has been brought about by the life and passion of Jesus. This wine will not run out. The celebration will never end.

Clearly, this story is about Jesus. But, can we talk about Mary’s role?

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. ² Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. ³ When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” [Jn 2:1-3]

Let’s give Mary some props. She’s the one who recognized the need, and she’s the one who brought it to Jesus.

In those days, wedding feasts went on for several days. The gospel doesn’t say how many days of celebrating had passed when the wine ran out—it didn’t matter— Mary knew, as any good host knows, that when the wine runs out, the party is over.

So, Mary brought her concern to the one she trusted would take care of it. She turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.”  Now, Jesus might have said, “Oh, I’ll let the bridegroom know”, or “It’s getting late, we should probably head out soon anyways,” but Jesus knew his mother’s statement was more than a simple appeal for his help. He said “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” [Jn 2:4]

Let’s sidestep Jesus’ astonishingly fresh retort to his mother and note that Mary wisely ignored it. In doing so, she turned the entire matter over to him, telling the servers to do whatever he said.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to a few lifeless banquets, events and liturgies during which I might have said, “They have no wine.” I probably have been the host or facilitator of some of them.  To be fair, on occasion, it was my own lack of spirit that was the issue. Mary noticed a lack of wine, but her words can also be heard as an observation of the banquet’s spiritual dryness.  Mary knew something had to be done to bring the party back to life, so she turned to Jesus.

With that, Mary’s job was complete—and in more ways than one.

First, her instruction to the servers to “Do whatever he tells you” [Jn 2:5] established her awareness of Jesus’ authority.

Second, because she brought the need to Jesus, the wedding celebration was spared party paralysis (indeed, the festivities continue to this day).

Third, theologically speaking, Mary’s understanding of God’s will for her life, which led from her fiat to the foot of the cross, included putting her trust in Jesus.

Fourth, Mary’s words and actions provide us with a model for prayer: in times of spiritual dryness—our own, that of our family, community, church or even our country—we should bring our concern to Jesus, and do whatever he tells us.

Fifth, although a mother’s job never ends, Mary’s part in the miracle included both her recognition of Jesus’ hour—his readiness to fly, so to speak—and her time to let him go.

Change happens when the old ways no longer achieve their originally intended purpose. Jesus’ miracle did exactly this. The results of ritual practices, such as those for which the six water jars were designed, were temporary. The miracle at Cana produced a permanent change. Jesus himself was the miracle at Cana. And Mary played a part in it.

Now, how about some wine?

Today’s readings can be found here.

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Tune In

4th Sunday of Advent (C)

I have a friend who likes to say “There are no coincidences.” She believes that the events people commonly ascribe to chance are part of God’s plan. Things like randomly finding a picture of a childhood friend with whom one has lost touch and then running into her the very next day, or meeting the love of your life at a party you almost didn’t attend. I’m sure we all have similar stories.

I want to agree with her, I know many people do, but there is something fatalistic about the “no coincidences” theory that bothers me. For one, it brings into question the idea of God’s gift of free will. We are not puppets; we guide our own movement. On the other hand, the “no coincidences” theory brings forth the idea that if we are attuned to it, we can recognize and accept God’s active involvement in our lives as well as in the lives of others.

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, the gospel of Luke draws us into an intimate exchange between Elizabeth and Mary. Both women are pregnant, although it is clear neither expected to be. And it is safe to presume that even in their wildest dreams, neither woman anticipated being with child at this stage in life. But Elizabeth is a married woman; Mary is not.

What would life have been like for a young, unmarried, pregnant, Jewish peasant girl living in a patriarchal society in first century, Roman-occupied Palestine?

The correct answer is: dangerous.

Traditionally, Mary is portrayed as a demure, quiet, pious and obedient young woman, and like most women of her era, powerless and dependent on men. But don’t be misled, Mary was no shrinking violet. Her great faith, piety and self-awareness as beloved to God attuned her to God’s movement in her life.  Mary’s fiat to what she clearly knew would be difficult to explain was an expression of her profound trust that God keeps God’s promises. She said Yes to being the Christ-bearer. And, therein lies the source of Mary’s strength: as a young woman with little or no worldly rights, her Yes had the power to transform the world.

We envision young Mary, traveling in haste to Elizabeth’s house immediately after the angel left her. It is doubtful she traveled alone and without supervision. She took a great risk going public, yet the urgency of her actions express a fearlessness and confidence that her life and the life within her is now part of something much greater than any scandal surrounding her circumstances could be.

As the two women greet one another, Elizabeth, along with the infant leaping in her womb, immediately recognizes the extent of Mary’s blessedness. She applauds Mary’s acceptance of her future role for all of humankind with her words Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” [Lk 1:45] I am touched by Elizabeth’s spirit-filled and passionate response to Mary, although perhaps I shouldn’t be. Elizabeth saw clearly because, as we know, she also recognized God’s movement in her life.

Can we make ourselves to be more like Mary, whose self-awareness as beloved to God, and whose recognition of God’s movement in her life guided her decision to participate in the event that forever changed human history?

Can we, in the same way that Elizabeth did, encourage those who come to us filled with grace and enthusiasm for doing God’s will and join ourselves to the work being borne by the holy ones among us?

If we are attuned to it, we may recognize ourselves as Christ-bearers, too.

The readings for today can be found here.

Art: The Annunciation, Megan Marlatt 1987, St. Michael’s Chapel, Rutgers University