“For He has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
Behold, from now on will all ages call me Blessed.
The Almighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
His mercy is from age to age on those who fear him.”
“The Almighty has done great things for me”…Has He? Can you list a few ways in which He has blessed you? Do you ever acknowledge his blessings – acknowledge them to yourself? To others? To God in prayer?
Let’s look at the singular most important reason why God chose Mary as his mother to begin with.
I suppose it would be all too easy to say that God chose Mary because of her holiness…but that’s putting the cart before the horse, really.
Rather, the young virgin maiden – Mary – was chosen because of her openness to all that God wished to bestow upon her. Unlike Mary, when the vast majority of us are offered goodness from God, our response is more like that of Peter in Luke’s gospel (5:8): “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”. We greatly emphasize our weakness and then determine that we are not worthy enough to receive from God’s bounty.
Eve had the same problem way back in the beginning. In truth, when the cunning serpent Satan tempted Eve with the words, “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5), her answer should have been, “But we are like God – for we have been created in his own image and likeness” (1:26). The original sin, therefore, was in not believing in our own inherent goodness – or, rather, God’s goodness in us.
Not so with Mary. She knew of her own lowliness – not in terms of sinfulness of course, but in her status: a poor, young, uneducated woman living in a patristic society. Yet she accepted her role in society with great dignity and humility – and she constantly offered her all to God out of love of Him. She knew of God’s goodness – and of her own goodness.
Further, she allowed the movement of the Holy Spirit within her. The angel Gabriel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would “come upon her” (1:35). Those of us here who are baptized and have received the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation – regardless of how many years ago – we, too, have access to that. While it is true that we cannot ever be re-confirmed, we can at any time renew the commitment that we made back on that day. We, too, can allow the Holy Spirit to come upon us and work mighty deeds within and through us.
In his book entitled Jesus: A Historical Portrait, Jesuit Father Daniel J. Harrington says that in the various episodes of Mary in the life of Jesus, she is described as “one who accepts the word of God and believes that it is being fulfilled in her…” (p. 54).
It was Mary’s openness to God’s word and her willingness to receive it that led to her holiness and allowed her to grow in Grace. She was able to recognize that, because of God’s choice of her in her lowliness to bear His Son, she was able to proclaim, “from this day all generations will call me Blessed” (Lk 1:48) – but again…not because of any accomplishment on her part but because of God’s great mercy toward her.
Mary’s yes, however, was not for her alone. Mary had a great love of her people and she knew that they needed a Savior…thus her yes was primarily for them and not just for herself. Abraham, too, undertook all that he did for love of his people – and Moses did likewise. Although Mary did not have the stain of original sin, she still rejoiced in “God her Savior”. Here the Greek for Savior is Swthr…Soter — which means both “deliverer” (as in to deliver from after the fact) and “preserver” (as in one who preserves from before the fact).
Unfortunately, too many people get caught up in Jesus’ statement in Mt. 5:48: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The Greek translation of this reads, “You must be brought to perfection” – which essentially means that all is of God’s initiative – not our own. Indeed the original Greek uses the word Teleios which does indicate “being brought to its end” We cannot do anything outside of God. In the imagery used in John 15 in his teaching about the vine and branches, Jesus makes clear that, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (v. 4). It is God who will lead us if we but make an act of surrender to him and give him our permission like Mary did: “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). It must become an act of filial surrender out of love – not an act of resignation. But “how can this be”, we ask? It will come about not just by spending time in prayer and in meditating on God’s word in our heart but also in frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist at Mass and of the Sacrament of Reconciliation; in time spent in Adoration, in following the teachings of the Church, in doing “little things with great love” as St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught; in loving God and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (cf. Mk 12:31) and in being open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The great Dominican Saint, Catherine of Siena says** that
“The experience of our weakness becomes God’s own gift to us, since in realizing our poverty we come to know God’s infinite goodness to us. Rather than unfolding to us a self-knowledge filled with despair, the inner cell (of our heart) in this way opens us to the truth of our strength and beauty in God. Those who find this treasure are able to cry out with Mary and with all of God’s poor ones – ‘from this day forward, all generations will call me blessed’.”
Let us with courage, then, always seek to “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).
** (Fatula, Mary Ann O.P; Catherine of Siena’s Way; p. 80-81).