|Mary’s “Yes” Inspires our “Yes” to God
8th December 2007
(Gen 3,3-15; Eph 1,3-12; Lk 1,26-38)
1. Respect for a Mother
Some years ago, as a young priest, I witnessed a unique scene in a market place in Kinshasa between some people and a preacher of one of the New Religious Movements. The preacher had started accusing Catholics of worshipping Mary, of praying to her and treating her like a Goddess. He went on and on till somebody in the crowd could not stand it any more and shouted at the top of his voice “mama na yo” (in Lingala “your mother”). He had not said more than that. But the preacher felt insulted because he had not shown respect to his mother. So, he turned to the man who had said so and asked, “why did you insult my mother?”. The other replied: “so it pains you that I said that about your mother! How do you think that we feel the way you are speaking about Mary?” After a few more words were exchanged, there was a great silence and then the preacher said. You are a better preacher than me. I have learnt a lot from you today”. He kept quiet and continued his way to another spot. Everybody clapped hands in appreciation for what had happened.
We are all sensitive to what people say about our parents and especially about our mothers. In many traditions (African included), the mother has a special place. Even in Israel, it was the Queen mother who had a special place next to the reigning King and not the father. A mother’s word, especially her «yes», has a lot of weight. There is apparently no situation so desperate that a mother will not be able to say something good about.
The story of the Irish man falling off the cliff who asks to have a word with the mother of Jesus is revealing. He hopes that the mother’s intervention will bring a solution to his dilemma.
We each have a unique relation with our parents and especially with our mothers; a relation that started in the womb and that goes beyond it. For the Universal Church, and for our Missionary family, this special relationship with Mary is expressed in the consideration of Mary as the one who protects and inspires us by her example. That is what Lavigerie and mother Marie-Salomé desired for us.
Our time of prayer this morning has helped us to look at Mary, as our model of readiness to work together in the mission that God has given us. The readings of this Eucharist help us to meditate further how Mary, Mother of all people, responded to God’s invitation to participate in the salvation history.
It was in 1854 that Pope Pius XIX declared as an article of faith that: “The Virgin Mary at the moment of conception was preserved in advance from all defilement of original sin by a unique privilege in view of the merits of Jesus Christ”. It was a gradual conviction that grew. Already in 1830, the apparitions of Mary to Catherine Laboure had led to the creation of the popular miraculous medals which show Mary “conceived without sin”. The most spectacular, however, remains St Bernadette’s vision of Mary as the Immaculate Conception in 1858. Next year, the Pope has declared that between February 2, 2008 and February 11, 2008, Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes and 150th anniversary of the apparition, it will be possible to obtain plenary indulgence.
2. The “Yes” of the Mother of Jesus
The Gospel story (Lk 1,26-38) is very well known. I will limit myself to two points: the greeting of the Angel: “Highly favoured/graced one…(v. 28); from which probably comes the notion of Immaculate; and Mary’s unique answer: “[Yes] let it be done to me”, which is an aswer with joy. In this story, we discover the richness of the person of Mary. She has a character that evolves. She does not know where it will lead her but she agrees to give over her life totally to God and to collaborate with him and offer Christ to the world. From that perspective alone, she offers an example for imitation.
(i) "Rejoice, favored one! [kecharitômené])!” (Lk 1,28)
The Greek (charitoô : “bestow favour on”) occurs only 2x in the NT. In the Gospel it is used for Mary and in Eph 1,6, the second reading of today, it refers to all Christians. The form is called causative) and indicates that an external action affects something in the object. The Angel suggests that Mary has been favoured through an action brought about by God’s grace in the past already. It is not due to a particular merit on her, but a gift freely given by God. When and how that happened, he does not say.
According to the second reading (Eph 1,3-12), the grace/favour in question is one that introduces us into communion with God, through Christ, as his sons and daughters. It takes away sin. Whereas Mary has been introduced Mary in a special way in God’s love from the beginning and preserved her from sin, for the rest of us, the purification is ongoing and will last our life time.
Committed though she was to Joseph in marriage, Mary had a deep longing for a life totally and freely given to God. The Fathers of the Church have, at times interpreted this in terms of Mary taking a vow of virginity. This, we would recognize today as an anachronism. Some writers of the past (St Thomas Aquinas) and of today (de la Potterie) would speak rather of a desiderium viginitatis (the desire for virginity). In and through her relationship with her husband, she remained opened to God’s word and responded to it.
(ii) “let it be…” (Lk 1,38)
Mary’s answer that we commonly refer to as her fiat indicates a real joyous desire to collaborate with God. The optative form of the verb “t$o become/to be” (ginomai) that is used, testifies to this. God needs her “yes” and she will have to say this “yes” again and again as she discovers what it means to be Mother of Jesus. This attitude remains a challenge to all peoples of all walks of life. That is the attitude of a disciple: listening to the word and living joyfully by it. For Luke, Mary is first and foremost a disciple. She listens to the word and meditates upon it in her heart (Lk 2,19.51). She tries to live by this word (Lk 8,19-21; 11,27-28). This contrasts very much with the first parents in the story of Gen 3,9-20. Not only do they not listen to God’s Word and live by it, they tend to put the blame on each other and implicitly on God himself. They had sought to be free, but the story shows that instead of becoming free, they became enslaved in their passions and need the intervention of God to be free once more. Mary’s openness to the Word of God enables her to collaborate freely in the realisation of God’s plan for her and for humanity.
3. Our “Yes”, inspired by Mary’s “Yes”
Like Mary, each one of us has been graced by God in a special way in view of the good of the entire body of Christ, the human family (1 Cor 12). We are God’s hands, God’s feet, God’s mouth, God’s ears. We are invited to collaborate with God through collaborating with each other in the mission that we receive. I am God’s servant. But I am not alone. I serve God together with other. We can only do this if we give a joyful «yes» where we are and in what we do. We have Mary’s example.
Saying «yes», is sometimes one of the most difficult things. We often hear “si-ma; «yes»- but, oui-mais, ja-aber”. I still remember with some joy the German expression “JAEIN” – a combination of Ja (yes) + Nein (no). It appealed to me because, I felt that, somehow I sometimes find myself saying “yes” because I think I should say “yes”, while deep down, my heart is really saying “no”. Today’s feast invites us to ask ourselves where is our “yes” rooted. Is it in God’s word, like Mary’s or not. A yes nourished by God’s word will not be afraid of meeting God. Let us recall the story of our first parents. They hide away from the voice of God.
We have ultimately Jesus’ example of a total “yes” that Paul offers to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 1 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not "yes and No"; but in him it is always yes. 20 For in him every one of God's promises is a "yes." For this reason it is through him that we say the "Amen," to the glory of God.
I dare say that Jesus had learnt from his mother to say “yes” joyfully to the Father. May she intercede for us in our daily “yes” to God.