Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing"

Today is the glorious Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A glorious day that, along with the Memorials of Sts. Nicholas and Lucy, bring some light to our observance of Advent, lights that lead us to the Light, the One who shines in the darkness "and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). They are like the moon and stars to Jesus the Sun (the Son).

Earlier this week I was reading a post on a blog that I go to regularly, written by a Reformed Evangelical pastor from whom I learn a lot and whose writings I very much appreciate, Tim Challies. The particular post that struck me, especially in light of today's glorious solemnity, was How the Incarnation Humbles Me. The starting point of his reflection is our Gospel reading for today's solemnity, taken from the first chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, the narrative of the Annunciation (verses 26-38).

He particularly focuses on what we Roman Catholics call, referring to the Vulgate (i.e., the Latin version of Sacred Scripture that was normative for us for centuries up until Vatican II, which called for translations of Scripture to be directly made from the original languages into modern languages), Mary's fiat. In English translations of Scripture the word translated into Latin as fiat is typically translated as some variation of "be it done" (Vulgate text: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum).

Challies wrote: "What stood out to me about Mary’s response to the news that she would give birth to this child is her humility through it all." All I can say to this is "Amen," which I suppose would be the response of any Roman Catholic. He went on to write something that will undo an assertion he makes a little further on, "You might think that being chosen to be the mother of the Messiah would generate pride, but this is not what we see in Mary. Though she immediately understood that people would forevermore regard her as specially blessed, she knew that she was in no way deserving of this honor. It was nothing that she had earned." Again, there is nothing here with which any believing Roman Catholic would take issue.

Immaculate Conception, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1650)

Then, in a move that surprised me, he wrote: "This is not the Mary of Roman Catholicism who was without sin and, in that way, the most suitable mother in all of human history. No, she is a sinful girl who stands in desperate need of the very Savior she is carrying. She is humbled at the honor that is hers because she has a realistic assessment of who she is." Say what?

Let's go back to his statement "You might think that being chosen to be the mother of the Messiah would generate pride." Leaving aside all of the historical issues, like Mary being a betrothed (likely) teenage girl who would suddenly turn-up pregnant, and focus instead on the great honor of being chosen as Mother of the Son of God, why was she not filled with pride? Was it because she was, to use Challies' word, "sinful," or because she was sinless, taking a big risk and trusting God, leaving aside all concerns about what this might entail for her? Mary's response was humble, one might say a perfect act of humility. Humility befits a sinless person, pride befits a sinful person. As far being in need of a Savior, like you and me, she surely needed one. By God's amazing choice, she would bear her own Savior in her womb and give birth to Him! While sinless, due to the fact she was immaculately conceived, Mary is still a creature, a human being, one in need of redemption. In other words, she was not the cause of her own sinlessness.

In a reflection written for today's solemnity for Magnificat's Advent Companion, Fr. Romanus Cessario, OP observed, "The Blessed Virgin Mary stands among those redeemed by the One whom she calls, according to the flesh, her Son." It is God's action, not Mary of Nazareth's that is operative here. Cessario rightly noted, "The Church speaks about this divine action as prevenient grace." All this means is that this is grace given by God prior to any human deliberation or decision. For someone who adheres to sola gratia, I would think this would be more evident.

As Bl. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta was known to say, when challenged by non-Catholics about our Blessed Mother, "No Mary, no Jesus." Since it has been snidely insinuated that I am a "hipster," I'll add the "groovy" spin- Know Mary, know Jesus.

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