As I prepare to write my column this week it is late Sunday afternoon, the Feast of Christ the King which begins the last week of Ordinary Time. It will soon be dark and it is only 4:30. Surely you too have noticed that the hours of daylight are decreasing. As darkness consumes more and more of our daylight hours, we began the season of Advent on Sunday, December 2, a four week period of preparation for the “coming” of the Redeemer. We await His second coming at the end of time, prepare to commemorate His birth as the Light of the World and celebrate His coming to us in grace during the time between His birth and second coming.
Advent is a beautiful season of the year! I have often thought it is too short to experience all it offers us.
During this Year of Faith I suggest that we give some time to reflection on our Blessed Mother, a woman of faith.
Advent has many references to Mary. We think of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception but references are also found during the 4th week of Advent and particularly on the Sunday before Christmas which recalls the prophecies concerning the Virgin Mother and the Messiah and includes readings from the Gospel about the births of Christ and John the Baptist. The liturgy of Advent invites us to take Mary as a model to prepare ourselves to meet the Savior. Although her whole life models her faith, I offer the Annunciation and Visitation for your consideration during Advent.
Gabriel’s announcement to Mary was astounding news to a young Jewish girl. “You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus” (Lk 1:31). Scripture tells us very little about Mary before the Annunciation but tradition and the custom of the time suggest that she was a young teenager, betrothed to Joseph. We know she lived in a culture that could be dangerous for unmarried girls who became pregnant.
Gabriel waits for Mary’s response. St. Bernard in one of his sermons pleads, “Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel . . . . Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word” (Liturgy of the Hours, December 20). Mary answers, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say” (Lk 1:38). It is worth noting that we know how the story ends but Mary did not know. Without knowing the details, without knowing how, without knowing all the consequences that would follow and perhaps recognizing the risk to her relationship with Joseph and her parents, Mary answers with the “yes” of faith.
The Word that took flesh in Mary’s womb comes into our lives. It comes to us in Scripture, in the quiet of prayer, in the liturgy and through the words and actions of others. Do we believe that God comes to us and asks for our “yes” of faith? Are we willing to live our faith in a culture that often ignores or rejects the presence of God in the world and the teachings of our faith? Can we believe things we cannot prove? Do we notice and embrace the moments in our daily life when we have the chance to bring Christ into the world? Do we live, like Mary, as a faithful disciple, “. . . blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk11:28).
Faith in God’s Word opened Mary’s heart and mind to another woman waiting for a child. “Mary set out, proceeding in haste into the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk1:39) Certainly after learning of her own motherhood, Mary would have a lot on her mind. But she is focused not on herself but on another. Carrying a tremendous secret of her own and faced with an uncertain future, she reaches out to Elizabeth. Mary shares her good news with Elizabeth and relishes in her good news.
Our faith enables us to see, to embrace the mystery of God’s love and mercy and to share what we have come to know and experience. We are called to share the good news as Mary did. Advent will hold many opportunities “to visit” another with God’s love. Like Mary our faith is a gift from a gracious God. Can we share it with others? Can we bring Jesus in our heart to wherever and whomever He directs us during this Advent season? Most likely He will direct us to very ordinary places and situations: perhaps to patience with interruptions during a time of busy preparations for Christmas; perhaps to the gift of our time for our children, aging parents, a sick friend; perhaps to reconciliation with an estranged family member or co-worker. Don’t miss the opportunities to bring Christ to others and recognize Him in others.
The Year of Faith invites us to rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. Mary responded to God’s Word first at the Annunciation and then throughout her life. She reached out to Elizabeth at the Visitation and to others to share the Good News of God’s love and mercy.
Advent, in a special way, is Mary’s time. During these weeks we will hear how she listened to God’s Word, see how she responded to it and learn how she reached out to others with the truth and beauty of the Word that she harbored in her mind and heart. Through her intercession may we listen to the Word, respond to it in faith and carry Christ to others.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.