Today the Prophecy of Isaiah Is Fulfilled
Today the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in a startling and literal way: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and you shall name him Emmanuel, that is, God with us. Whatever the people of Israel understood by this prophecy before the advent of Christ, the Christian Church now comprehends it with remarkable clarity: the Virgin Mary of Nazareth, poor and in love with God, conceived a child by the power of the Holy Spirit – a child who truly is Emmanuel, God-with-us!
Today heaven and earth are wed in the womb of the Virgin-Mother. The Fathers of the Church call Mary’s womb the bridal chamber in which God and man become one forever in the Messiah, Christ, the Lord. Heaven and earth, eternity and time, omnipotence and weakness, Divine Person and human flesh and blood intersect and became indissolubly one. The Person conceived by the virgin begins to pour out all the riches, goodness, beauty, and tender love of heaven into our once orphaned world. From the moment the Eternal Word became flesh in Mary’s womb, everything was changed and for the better. The first recipient of the grace of the Incarnation was Jesus’ Virgin Mother.
Today is nonetheless marked by the shadow of the cross. The Son of God emptied Himself of His glory and became one of us to dissolve our revolt against His Father by His obedience, even to death on a cross, to transform our inner wounds caused by sin into wounds of love, to give meaning to all human suffering through his suffering, to cancel out sins through his love, to destroy death by dying for us.
Today the Church ponders the Letter to the Hebrews, asserting that the Word became flesh to offer Himself in sacrifice for us: It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats takes away sins. For this reason, when Christ came into the world, He said: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, as is written of me in the scroll, behold I come to do your will, my God.
Today, in a special way, is the celebration of the fiat, the yes of the Virgin of Nazareth. The first word the angel spoke to Mary is Rejoice! As Mary stood before the face of God in the presence Gabriel, she represented the people of Israel and, also, all the peoples of the earth. In God’s plan, the salvation of every human person depended on the assent of this young woman. Through the angel, God asked her to be the mother of His Son. He asked her to believe that she would conceive the savior of the world as a virgin. He asked her to give her life, the rest of her life, all of her life to Him.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, preaching on the Annunciation, addressed these words to Mary, coaching her, so to speak, in her fiat: Mary, answer the angel quickly, or rather, through the angel, answer God. Only say the word and receive the word: give your word and conceive God’s Word. Breathe one fleeting word and conceive God’s everlasting Word. Blessed Virgin, open your heart to faith, your lips to consent and your womb to your Creator. Behold, the long-desired of all nations is standing at the door and knocking. Get up, run, open! Get up by faith, run by prayer, open by consent!
Without hesitation, without a long and painful process of discernment, without counting the cost or weighing the alternatives, Mary joyfully soared into God’s plan – believing Him, trusting Him, loving Him with her whole being. Her fiat is basically impossible to translate into English. Perhaps the best we can say is that she said with ecstatic joy: Let this be to me according to your word! The rejoice of the angel’s greeting becomes her abiding sentiment as she surrenders everything to God. As she embraces the will of the God of Israel in absolute abandonment, He embraces her with His love and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth and glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Our Blessed Mother is all assent to God’s will. Hers is the purest and the strongest yes to His will. From the first moment of her conception, Mary’s will was sanctified and conformed to the surrender of the human will of her son on the cross. The Church teaches us that Mary is the first of the redeemed and that, like every other person, she is redeemed by the merits of the suffering and death of her Son. Before anyone else, Mary is able to take the words of the Letter to the Hebrews and make them her own: By this will I have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all!
Through her loving consent to the Incarnation of the Word, the woman whose proper name is full of grace, increased in grace so much that, from the moment of the annunciation, her charity expanded beyond our human powers of comprehension. Through her Divine Motherhood, Mary is uniquely able to help us, her children, surrender to God’s will. She is able and more than willing to help each of us say yes to God’s holy will in our lives.
Perhaps some of you are vacillating over your vocation to the priesthood. Perhaps you have heard the call of God, but unlike Mary, you are hesitating because of the many uncertain factors of the future. Perhaps you are afraid to come out of the long and dark tunnel of endless, narcissistic discernment into the light of a firm decision. Perhaps you are forever counting the cost and weighing the alternatives. Mary knows the way of abandonment to God’s will. As your Mother, she wants to help you believe, trust, and love and to respond joyfully to the Lord’s call. Today is the day to ask her for the grace of saying yes in a definitive way. If you ask, you will receive the grace of joyful self-surrender to God’s call.
Each of us always needs courage to keep on saying yes to God’s will in large matters and in small. We need fortitude to change in the ways we need to change for the sake of the Gospel. This means that each of us always needs Mary. Only in Heaven will we understand fully that all the good we have and are comes from the Trinity through Mary. In Heaven, we will understand with clarity how Mary had been mysteriously involved in our lives as our mother every time we ever said yes to God’s will.
Many years ago, I was presenting a talk on Our Lady in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The housekeeper in the rectory was an elderly woman who seemed to be very close to God. I asked her as I was leaving the house, What should I tell the people about the Blessed Virgin. She paused for a moment and then said from somewhere deep in her heart: Tell them about how much we owe Mary! Tell them that we owe everything to her.
My brothers and sisters, I charge all of you with the same commission: Tell everyone how much we owe to our Blessed Mother!
Rev. Frederick L. Miller
Mount Saint Mary Seminary
March 25, 2009
Fr. Frederick Miller is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., and a member of Father Thomas F. Canty Council 3197 in Hillside, is a professor of systematic theology at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md.
This item 10492 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org