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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Behold, the virgin will conceive . . .

During this Advent season I have been posting some essays from my first book, We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed. This one is about the Virgin.

Creed Statement: By the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary . . .

Today’s Focus: The Virgin

And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For He has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed" (Luke 1:46-48).

Why did God choose Mary to bear His Son? What did He see in her that moved Him to select the Virgin to nurture, comfort, and educate the Savior of the world? We don’t know. Scripture is silent. But we can infer several reasons from what Scripture does tell us.

First, Mary possessed courage. In first century Israel, unmarried pregnant girls were outcasts. Israelite culture considered sexual immorality a capital offense, punishable by stoning. That’s why the adulterous woman in St. John’s gospel (chapter 8) would have died had Jesus not intervened. Mary, knowing her unwed pregnancy would cost her reputation, probably her betrothal to Joseph, and perhaps even her life – nevertheless, laid herself at God’s feet and told the angel, “Be it done to me according to Your word.”

And Mary knew Scripture. In an era when catechists didn’t consider it a priority to teach Scripture to girls, it's clear Mary read and memorized God’s word. Her adoration of God (Luke 1:46-55) is an example. She quotes or alludes to at least six Old Testament texts in those short eleven verses (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Psalm 34:2, Psalm 35:9, Psalm 98:1, Psalm 103:17, Psalm 107:9). Mary applied what the Psalmist declared centuries earlier, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Mary also demonstrated humility. She could have told the angel, “You’re asking too much of me. Send someone else.” But instead, she answered, “May it be done to me . . .” In other words, she said not her will, but God’s. Not her plans, but His. Perhaps as she spoke, she remembered Solomon’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes, “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Perhaps she remembered the Proverb, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

Further, Mary presented herself obedient to God. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” If Eve, the Mother of mankind, had answered God as Mary, and not disobeyed the Father’s commandment about the forbidden tree, salvation history would be different. But Eve disobeyed, and Mary, by her obedience, fixed what our first mother broke.

Mary proved herself chaste. “For from the heart,” the Lord Jesus said, “come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person . . . " (Matt 15:19-20). Mary knew none of these. She was a virgin not only in flesh but also in spirit.

And finally, if there is a final word about the Mother of God, Mary didn’t model herself after the world, but let love for God transform her into a useful vessel for Him. No wonder He chose her to carry and mother His Son. 

When we recite, “He was born of the Virgin Mary,” we remind ourselves to imitate her, to clothe ourselves with obedience, humility, courage, purity and knowledge of God’s word. God chose Mary to bring Christ into the world. By imitating Jesus’ mother, we bring Him to our world.

Prayer: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, that we will learn to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.

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