Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Advent
My Protestant friends often ask about the place of Mary in Catholic theology. Most of them are confused by the obvious affection that Catholics have for the Mother of God.
Where does Marian devotion arise? What fuels it? What sustains it? The intellectual answer might well be articulated from the works of the early Church or the writings of the Church Councils. To take that approach would be somewhat like saying Marian devotion begins in the muscles in our heads. I believe that it is more than an intellectual devotion. Like a smile, I think it begins in the heart – in the core of what makes us the persons we are.
The story of Mary is the tale of a person sensitive to the needs of another person of faith. She gives Elizabeth the joy of being recognized as someone who is worth the trip, worth the effort. In visiting Elizabeth, Mary is offering herself to her cousin. This gift of self is much more than simply giving a thing. It is a sign of virtue and discipleship. It is a commitment to living with.
For the most part, we tend to acknowledge that Jesus is “for” us and forget that he is “with” us. By his Incarnation, Jesus chose to become one with us. By choosing to call Jesus “Emmanuel” God chose to announce that he is “God with us.”
Being with the other is, perhaps, the most difficult part of discipleship. Mary, the mother of Jesus, shows us how to reach out to others. Accepting Mary as a model means living in a new way. Looking at the commandments, for instance, as guidelines not just between good and evil (most of us have already done that) is not enough. Now we see them as guiding us toward making choices like Mary did, having the opportunity to choose good instead of neutral, what is better instead of what is good, what is best instead of better.
Marian devotion ought never be an escape into fantasy. It is a call to follow Christ. Our reflections on Mary lead us to her Son and cause us to walk with him, to celebrate the Eucharist with the conviction and commitment of his Mother, to know what we are – each of us – challenged to do as she did: to pledge ourselves to be poured out for one another as Christ has been poured out for us.
On this occasion, Mary beckons us with the words of the Magnificat and we are urged to let our own souls rejoice in the Lord. Each of us will still carry our particular concerns and worries. We set them aside to rejoice in the Lord with the knowledge that he will continue to guide us as we address: “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of this age especially of those who are poor or in any way afflicted.”