(Vatican Radio) “Mary is filled with joy on learning that she is to be the mother of Jesus, God’s Son made man. True joy comes from union with God”, but she also teaches us that “everyone’s life of faith has times of light, but also times of darkness. If you want to walk in the light, let the word of God be your guide”. This, in a “tweeted” nutshell was the focus of Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis Wednesday, in his final General Audience before of Advent. In fact these two 140-character tweets were sent by the Pope to his over 2 million followers in a variety of languages, immediately after his weekly appointment with thousands of faithful in a festively decorated Paul VI hall.
Meanwhile, he told those physically present Wednesday that Mary’s example reminds us that “faith, while fully obedient to the Lord’s will, also must seek daily to discern, understand and accept that will”.
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s audience address:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
during the Advent journey, the Virgin Mary has a special place as she who waited for the fulfilment of God’s promises in a unique way, welcoming Jesus, the Son of God, in faith and in the flesh, in full obedience to the Divine will. Today I would like to briefly reflect on Mary’s faith beginning with the great mystery of the Annunciation.
“Chaîre kecharitomene, ho Kyrios meta sou”, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). These are the words – recounted by the Evangelist Luke – in which the archangel Gabriel greets Mary. At first glance the term Chaîre, “hail”, looks like a normal greeting in the usual Greek, but this word, when read against the background of the biblical tradition, takes on a much deeper meaning. This same term is present four times in the Greek version of the Old Testament and always as a proclamation of joy at the coming of the Messiah (cf. Zeph 3:14; Joel 2:21; Zech 9:9; Lam 4:21). The angel’s greeting to Mary is then an invitation to joy, a deep joy, announcing the end of the sadness that is in the world in front of the limits of life, suffering, death, wickedness, the darkness of evil which seems to obscure the light of the Divine goodness. It is a greeting that marks the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News.
But why is Mary invited to rejoice in this way? The answer is in the second part of the greeting: “The Lord is with you.” Here, too, in order to understand the meaning of the expression we must turn to the Old Testament. In the Book of Zephaniah we find this expression “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion, … the King of Israel, the Lord is in your midst… The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty savoir” (3:14-17). In these words there is a double promise made to Israel, to the daughter of Zion, God will come as a saviour and will dwell in the midst of his people, in the womb of the daughter of Zion. In the dialogue between the angel and Mary this very promise is realized: Mary is identified with the people married to God, she really is the daughter of Zion in person; in her the waiting for the definitive coming of God is accomplished, the living God comes to dwell in her.
In the angel’s greeting, Mary is called “full of grace”: in Greek the word “grace,” charis, has the same linguistic root of the word “joy.” Even in this expression we further clarify the source of Mary’s rejoicing: the joy comes from the grace that comes from communion with God, by having so vital a connection with him, from being the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, totally shaped by God’s action. Mary is the creature of God who, in a unique way, that has opened the door to her Creator, has placed herself in His hands, without limits. She lives entirely in and of her relationship with the Lord; it is an attitude of listening, careful to recognize the signs of God in the journey of His people; she is inserted into a story of faith and hope in the promises of God, which constitutes the fabric of her existence. And freely submits herself to the received word, to the will of God in the obedience of faith.
The Evangelist Luke tells the story of Mary through a subtle parallel with the story of Abraham. As the great patriarch was the father of believers, who responded to God’s call to leave the land in which he lived, to leave his certainties, to begin the journey to an unknown land, and possessed only in the divine promise, so Mary fully entrusts herself to the word that announces God’s messenger and becomes a model and mother of all believers.
I would like to emphasize another important point: the opening of the soul to God and His action in faith also includes the element of darkness. The relationship between human beings and God does not erase the distance between the Creator and creature, does not eliminate what the Apostle Paul said in front of the depth of the wisdom of God, “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” (Rom 11 , 33). But he who – like Mary – is completely open to God, comes to accept the will of God, even if it is mysterious, although it often does not correspond to his own will and can be a sword that pierces the soul, as Simeon prophetically tells Mary, when Jesus is presented in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:35). The journey of faith of Abraham includes the moment of joy for the gift of his son Isaac, but also a time of darkness, when he has to climb Mount Moriah to carry out a paradoxical gesture: God asks him to sacrifice his son, who has he only just gifted him. On the mountain, the angel tells him: ” Do not lay your hand on the boy. Do not do the least thing to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you did not withhold from me your son, your only one”(Gen 22:12); Abraham’s complete trust in God,faithful to his promise is not lacking even when his word is mysterious and difficult to understand. So it is with Mary, her faith lives the joy of the Annunciation, but also passes through the darkness of the Crucifixion of her Son, in order to reach the light of the Resurrection.
It’s no different in our own journey of faith: we encounters moments of light, but also passages where God seems absent, His silence weighs on our hearts and His will does not correspond to our own, to what we would like to . But the more we open ourselves to God, the more we receive the gift of faith, the more we place all our trust in Him – like Abraham and like Mary – the more He empowers us with his presence, to live every situation of life in peace and assurance of His faithfulness and His love. But this means going outside of ourselves and beyond our own projects, so that the Word of God can be a lamp to guide our thoughts and our actions.
I want to focus again on one aspect that emerges in the stories on the Infancy of Jesus narrated by St. Luke. Mary and Joseph bring their son to Jerusalem, to the Temple to present him to the Lord and consecrate him as required by the law of Moses, “Every firstborn male shall be consecrated to the Lord” (Lk 2:22-24). This gesture of the Holy Family of Nazareth takes on an even deeper significance when read in the light of the Gospel knowledge of the twelve year old Jesus who, after three days of searching, is found in the Temple questioning the teachers. Responding to Mary and Joseph’s words full of concern: “Son , why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety “is the mystery of Jesus’ answer:” Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? “(Lk 2.48 to 49). Mary must renew the deep faith with which she said “yes” at the Annunciation; she must accept that the true Father of Jesus has precedence, she must learn to let go of the Son she gave birth to so he may follow his mission. And the “yes” of Mary to the will of God, the obedience of faith, is repeated throughout her life, until the most difficult moment, that of the Cross.
Faced with all this, we can ask ourselves: how could Mary live this journey next to her Son with so strong a faith, even in darkness, without losing full confidence in God? There is an underlying attitude that Mary assumes in the face of what is happening in her life. At the Annunciation she is disturbed at hearing the words of the angel – it is the fear that man feels when touched by the closeness of God – but it is not the attitude of those who are afraid in front of what God may ask. Mary reflects, ponders the meaning of this greeting (cf. Lk 1:29). The Greek word used in the Gospel to define this “reflection”, “dielogizeto” refers to the root of the word “dialogue.” This means that Mary comes into an intimate dialogue with the Word of God that has been announced, she does not consider it superficially, but dwells on it, allows it to penetrate her, her mind and heart, to understand what the Lord wants from her, the meaning of the announcement. Another reference to the interior attitude of Mary before the action of God we find, again in the Gospel of St. Luke, at the time of the birth of Jesus, after the adoration of the shepherds. It is said that Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19), we could say that she “held them together”, “placed” all the events that were happening in her heart; placed each element , every word, every fact together as a whole and pondered it, held it, recognizing that everything comes from the will of God. Mary does not stop at a first superficial understanding of what is happening in her life, but knows how to look deeper, she allows herself to be challenged by events, she processes them, discerns them, and gains the understanding that only faith can provide. This is the profound humility of Mary’s obedient faith that welcomes even what it does not understand of God’s action, allowing God to open her mind and heart. “Blessed is she who believed in the word of the Lord” (Lk 1:45), says her relative Elizabeth. It is for her faith that all generations will call her blessed.
Dear friends, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord which we will soon celebrate, invites us to live this same humility and obedience of faith. The glory of God is manifested in the triumph and the power of a king, which does not shine in a famous city, in a sumptuous palace, but dwells in the womb of a virgin and is revealed in the poverty of a child. The omnipotence of God, even in our own lives, acts with the often silent strength of truth and love. Faith tells us, then, that the defenceless power of the Child, in the end, defeats the noise of the powers of the world.
As part of our catechesis for this Year of Faith, it is fitting, during these last days of Advent, to consider the faith of Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel greets Mary with an invitation to rejoice because the Lord is with her. This joy is that of the messianic hope of God’s people, the daughter of Zion, now being fulfilled in her. It is also the fruit of the grace which fills Mary’s heart and shapes her obedience to God’s word. Mary’s faith, like that of Abraham, combines complete trust in the Lord’s promises with a certain “unknowing”. In her life Mary knew, as we do, that God’s will can seem at times obscure and far from our expectations; it involves embracing the mystery of the Cross. It is significant that at the Annunciation Mary ponders in her heart the meaning of the Angel’s message. Her example reminds us that faith, while fully obedient to the Lord’s will, also must seek daily to discern, understand and accept that will. In this holy season, may Our Lady’s prayers help us to grow in a humble, trusting faith which will open the door to God’s grace in our hearts and in our world.