FULL OF GRACE
Annunciation - March 25
Our devotion to the Virgin Mary is well founded when we understand her place in God's plans. Our devotion is founded on solid facts when we appreciate Mary's relation to Jesus and his Church.
Her privileges may tend to dazzle us and we can fail to model our life on hers if we don't understand her properly. Mary was certainly privileged because God had special plans for her. But she lived the life of faith in the same way as we are all required to live it. We can learn, from studying her, what is expected of us, because Mary is one Christian among all other Christians.
In today's gospel, we read that the angel said to Mary, "Hail, full of grace." We feel at once that we aren't full of grace and we immediately place Mary on a pedestal. But "grace" means God's sharing his own life with us. This was his only purpose in creating the world.
In that sense, not only Mary but also every other Christian receives a fullness of grace. God wants to share his life fully with each of us according to the capacity given to each. Mary was endowed with the greatest possible capacity for sharing God's life. God alone knows what capacity he has given to us, but gradually we come to understand what is required of us.
It is certain that God has called each of us to a particular place in his plans. It could be the dignity of a baptised baby, or of a confirmed youth, or of a single person, or of a spouse, or of a priest or religious. It is certain that he reveals his plans in us as we go along, provided we are faithful to him for the moment.
Mary's role was to be the mother of Jesus Christ and mother of his Church. So her capacity to share in God's life was in proportion to God's plan for her. Since God has chosen each of us from all eternity to play some part in his plan, he will make it possible for us to play that part as fully as God wills.
Mary reached her fullness of grace in the same way as we do. Recall the occasion when the woman in the crowd said, "Blessed is the womb that bore you". Jesus replied, "Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it."
He didn't deny that the woman chosen to be his mother was singularly blessed, but he emphasised that she fulfilled her high dignity simply through faith. Mary heard the word of God and she kept it.
We don't give honour to God or to Mary by making her out to be perfect by necessity, as though it was all God's doing and she had no part in it. This is not true. Mary could have failed in her commitment to God's will since she had free will. Every advance towards her perfection was a victory of her faith: hearing God's word and keeping it. She is no different from us in this. Mary is our model of genuine faith.
To be to be favoured, chosen, loved, honoured, and accepted - all call for a response of faith. We need to trust the one who chooses us.
If we think of faith as the courage to accept another’s choice of us, then Mary is our finest model of faith. At the Annunciation, she accepted God's acceptance. God's messenger said to her, “Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
We may think that being chosen by God doesn’t demand much courage. It may sound easy, but courage is required, and very often it is courage that we lack. “Mary was deeply disturbed by these words, and asked herself what this greeting could mean.”
Why was she courageous to accept God's choice of her to be the mother of the Saviour? Firstly, God's love is infinite. We can never grasp it, much less control it. The only thing we can do is surrender to it, and that feels like jumping over a cliff. We don't want to jump. We are afraid to let go. The angel reassured Mary: “Do not be afraid; you have won God's favour.”
Secondly, when things happen to us that disappoint us, we are inclined to complain: “How can God permit this?” We are easily led to doubt God's love. How could God permit the misunderstanding between Mary and Joseph when he found her pregnant before their marriage and decided to get rid of her? There were many occasions in Mary's life when she must have asked herself, “How can God permit this?” It takes courage to believe in God's loving acceptance, no matter what happens to us. This act of faith in God's love goes against my painful experience. Faith is then a view of life that I accept in spite of contrary evidence.
Thirdly, it is fairly easy to believe in God's love in general, but it is very difficult to believe in God's love for me personally. Why me? Mary said, “But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?” She was reassured that the child would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, “for nothing is impossible to God.” Then she expressed her remarkable faith;
“I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.”
It is rare to meet a person who can cope with the question, “Why me?” Self-acceptance can never be based on my own self, my own qualities, whether good or bad. A self-centred foundation collapses.
When God loves me, I must accept God’s love and accept myself as well. I cannot be more demanding than God. I must not say no to his yes. Not only being favoured, chosen, loved, or honoured, call for an act of faith in the one who accepts me. Self-acceptance is also a humble act of faith.
Carl Schafer OFM
National Assistant SFO -