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The Festive Bread, 25.03.20: The Gift who is Mary


The Festive Bread, 25th March, 2020, Feast or Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10; Psalm 39(40):7-11; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

You can ask someone to come closer to you, or you can let them do so because they ask. Like most devout Jews and Jewesses, Mary of Nazareth will have longed for the awaited Messiah (which means “Anointed One” or “Christ”) and prayed for him to come. She was part of that people whom God had chosen to pray to him on behalf of humanity, “Come and save us!”

To her astonishment, at first frightened but then delighted, the Messiah and desired of the ages was now at her door, knocking. Now it is He who is asking, “will you be the chosen instrument that allows me to come?”

When she gives her consent, her yes, her “fiat” (“let it be”), the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, the eternal One begins to exist in time, the One whom the heavens cannot contain is contained in Mary’s womb (Pope St. Leo the Great).

All of the readings today, taken together, make it clear that this plan for the Son to become man was the Father’s, that the Son himself accepted it in obedience and that the Holy Spirit was the One by whom it all actually happened. You could say that the Trinity pinned all its hopes on Mary so that mankind could be delivered from sin and death. Mary, filled with grace, drew the eye of the Trinity to the earth. In the whole of creation, in time and in space, nothing and no-one was more beautiful in the sight of God than the Virgin of Nazareth.

Because of her yes to the Trinity, her obedience to the will of the Trinity, she was, is and will always be uniquely placed to draw the Trinity in mercy and graciousness to the rest of mankind. Her role in doing so is embedded in that of her Son, just as the role of intercession of the Church herself and of each of her members, especially of the saints, is also embedded in that of Jesus. “Without me, you can do nothing”, Jesus says, and that is true of Mary, too.

But among all the ways and means through which Jesus pours forth his grace into our hearts, He Himself has given Mary an extraordinary power of intercession. Proof of this is that, on the Cross, Jesus “knew that everything had now been completed” (John 19) precisely after having entrusted Mary as Mother to John, the representative of every disciple of Jesus, and John to Mary as her son.

A mother nurtures life by her selfless love and service, by anticipating needs and wants, by pacing the stages of development of her child and responding to each stage most appropriately when it comes. A mother empathises in deep compassion when her child is ill in mind or body, in soul or conscience. She reassures with acts and signs of understanding and affection. She encourages and gives hope. She is close, attentive and vigilant. She is herself a kind of guarantee that life will work out well in the end, that what is harmful and painful will be overcome and conquered.

The idea of motherhood is not ours, but God’s. Motherhood manifests the genius and gentleness, the resourcefulness and imagination of the Trinity. So, when Jesus entrusts each and all of us to Mary as Mother, He is giving her to us, after the Church and sacraments, as one of the greatest gifts of his dying love. The Church is greater than Mary, but Mary is its greatest member.

So it is that, in this time of great trial and peril for humanity, our God-given Mother Mary will once more hear us and herself be heard before the throne of the Trinity on our behalf. She will say, “they have no wine”, that is, “remember once more the mercy you promised to Abraham and his sons for ever.” Her prayers will stay the hand of the Angel. Her plea will obtain, as it did in Cana, that Jesus acts to manifest his glory before the time has come.

Many today, including many Catholics and even priests, are diffident towards Mary. They consider her an embarrassment. In rightly rejecting excessive devotions to her, they have mistakenly rejected Mary herself. They see her as a crutch used by the weak-hearted and weak-minded. How sad! There is a kind of pseudo-sophistication which tragically puts to one side one of the greatest gifts to us of the Crucified Lord. But Mary still loves all of us. She can only help us if we let her help us, as Jesus could only be born of her because she let him. Yet, she is always ready to help. She is on permanent stand-by.

It is the most natural thing in the world for a human being to cry out for his or her mother in times of danger and fear. Today, on her great feast day, let us once more cry out to her, “remind thy Son that he has paid the price of our iniquity” so that the scourge of this coronavirus may be eliminated from the whole earth and so that we may return to worship her Son in the sacred Liturgy and in the conduct of our lives as individuals, as families, as Church, as societies and as nations.