By ARCHBISHOP GREGORY J. HARTMAYER, OFM Conv. | Published December 9, 2022 | En Español
In the midst of our Christmas preparations of decorating, baking, writing cards and selecting gifts for family and friends, the church is journeying through the holy season of Advent.
Advent means “arrival” or “coming.” It is a time of waiting and expectation. It is a penitential season whereby we prepare for the coming of Jesus, not only at Christmas but also at the end of time. The central character of the Advent season is Mary. Not only does Mary guide us in living out the holy season, she personifies Advent. What better way to prepare for the coming of Jesus, than to accompany Mary in the last month of her pregnancy as she carried the Messiah is in her womb.
As with all expectant mothers, Mary experienced wonder and awe, expectation and hope, but also fear and uncertainty. The American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we could be.” The Blessed Virgin Mary has been an inspiration to followers of Jesus from the very beginning. Her counsel to us, her spiritual children is: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).
Mary can give us such advice because her whole life was one of obedience to the will of God, beginning at the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel announced to her that she was chosen to be the Mother of God. To a young teenage girl came the message that has reverberated throughout the centuries. And more importantly, we recall the unconditional generosity of her response: “Let it be done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
The Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross wrote: “Live in faith and hope, though it be in darkness, for in this darkness God protects the soul. Cast your cares upon God for you are his and he will not forget you. Do not think that he is leaving you alone, for that would be to wrong him.” He continued: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
Meditating on the virtues
At this stage of the Advent season, we might meditate on the virtues of faith, hope and love reflected in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Letter to the Hebrews states: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Hope is what we desire to happen. Faith is what we trust will happen. You cannot have faith until first you have hope. Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.
Mary’s faith: Faith means openness to God’s will and trusting acceptance of his call, no matter what demands it makes upon us, no matter what risks it brings with it. Mary sets an example of what authentic faith looks like.
At the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel appears and says to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Lk 1:30-31). She listens closely to what is being said. In response, she asks a question: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Lk 1:34) The bottom line of Gabriel’s response is that God will take care of it.
A teenage girl is confronted not only with God’s plan of salvation, but also her role in it. She could have come up with many excuses to say no: her age, the stigma of the time that she was unmarried, or she had her own plans for the future. However, she said yes to God. Mary’s response is one of absolute faith and trust: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Her faith rested on what was handed down to her by her own parents, Joachim and Ann. Parents are the primary teachers of their children in the ways of faith. Mary was given a solid foundation which prepared her for this moment.
Mary’s Hope: Mary is the epitome of hope, from trusting God to work through her yes to become the Mother of God to her unwavering confidence that the cross was not the end for her Son. She knew that God had “a future with hope” (Jer. 29:11) in mind for her. And even though she did not fully know what that meant in every circumstance, she lived hopefully, living out God’s will for her.
When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child, Mary sang the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-56), her hymn of praise and thanksgiving. In it, she tells us that God has done all these things for her, that he is the one to be praised and exalted for the wonders of his works in her. From now on, she will be called blessed by “all generations” because of the Lord’s favor for her. Mary believes that nothing is impossible for God. She sings confidently that God rescues life from death, joy from sorrow, light from darkness.
Mary’s Magnificat offers us a message of hope. It is a message we need to hear in our world today: the message that God is still at work, even in the midst of poverty, war, suffering and heartache.
Mary’s Love: Mary’s life is a perfect example of charity through her humble response to the Archangel Gabriel, even though her response was given as a teenage girl. Yet, her selfless fiat did not see her sit back and rest. Instead, she went to assist her cousin Elizabeth who was expecting the man who would become John the Baptist.
Mary continued with ardent charity throughout Jesus’ life–presenting him at the temple as a baby, teaching him the Jewish faith, the Law, and ultimately, gently nudging him into his life of public ministry during the wedding feast at Cana. All the while, she knew she would sacrifice her only Son for the salvation of humanity. What a great gift Jesus bestowed upon us, as he was dying on the cross, in giving us Mary as our Mother.
During Advent, we are particularly blessed by the witness of the Blessed Virgin Mary in two liturgical feasts. On Dec. 8 we honor her Immaculate Conception, and on Dec. 12 we remember her appearance as Our Lady of Guadalupe, to the young St. Juan Diego in 1531 in Mexico.
Let us take time to reflect on the Blessed Virgin Mary during this Advent Season. Not only will she inspire us, she will intercede for us so that we might, in the words of Pope Francis, “renew our faith, draw from the living waters of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God.”