True confession time. For most of my life I did not pray to Mary. I wasn’t in the habit of saying the Rosary. And I did not have any statues of the Blessed Mother in my home or garden. Mary had always seemed a lofty ideal to me. A heavenly image of perfection that I could not live up to or relate to. I once heard a priest say that our Church hadn’t done Mary any favors by putting her up on a pedestal. The higher she was raised up, the more remote she became.
Years ago, a friend recommended that I read a book called Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes, a dramatic account of Mary’s story—a teenage girl chosen by God to bring Christ into our earthly world. The Mary depicted in this story was one I found infinitely compelling: young, scared, and facing an overwhelming responsibility. Discovering Mary through the prayer of imagination was the moment she became real to me. And now I pray to her all the time.
Who was Mary? What was her life like? What was the historical context in which she lived? Only by learning Mary’s personal story can we find our own story. And the Advent season is where Mary’s story begins.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “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, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
What a powerful story! God chooses Mary and comes to her with an invitation. Mary’s response to this invitation is life-changing and world-changing. What did it take for Mary to say “yes” to God? For “Pedestal Mary”—all divine perfection and poised serenity—it probably wouldn’t be that difficult. But the Mary we meet in Scripture wasn’t on a pedestal. She was fully human, a young woman “great troubled” by this encounter with God’s messenger. I have been blessed with a very rich imagination, but even I have trouble visualizing what this must have been like for Mary. We know that Mary had great faith and love for God, but how did she feel in that moment? Shocked? Afraid? Confused? Or a glimmer of something bigger?
Despite this probable whirlwind of emotions, Mary responds: “Let it be to me according to your word.” What characteristics did Mary possess that made God choose her and allowed her to say yes? She was open to God. She was willing to put her trust in him and to give up her own plans.
In Mary—in this moment—we see a complete surrender to God’s will.
During the Advent season we are encouraged to lay our story down next to Mary’s. Just like this young maid of Nazareth so many years ago, God chooses us and comes to us with an invitation. How will we respond? Are we open to the mystery of God’s plans for our lives? Complete surrender is not an easy thing. In battle, to surrender is bad. It implies a loss of control and a giving up or giving in. To surrender to an enemy is a failing act of last resort. But to surrender to God’s loving plans is something else altogether.
Can we follow Mary’s example and take a leap of faith?
On October 13, 2013, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St Peter’s square in honor of the Marian Day and had the following to say about Mary’s example to all of us:
“Today let us all ask ourselves whether we are afraid of what God might ask, or of what he does ask. Do I let myself be surprised by God, as Mary was, or do I remain caught up in my own safety zone: in forms of material, intellectual or ideological security, taking refuge in my own projects and plans? Do I truly let God into my life? How do I answer him?”
Mary was asked to bring Christ into the world. As Christians, we are asked to do that very same thing. Not in the same way that Mary was, but in the way we live our lives. In the way we interact with others. In the words we speak. In the deeds we do.
Do our lives diminish Christ or bring him forth?
Let me hear from you! I invite you to use the comments section to share your thoughts and prayers about Mary and her Advent story.