For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is His name.
It is an awful thing to be free, dear brothers and sisters, and most of us find it very hard to bear. Of course, we have no choice, for we were all created by God to create ourselves, to determine ourselves, and therefore to be free. It is the only legitimate mode of human life, for not to be free is not to be human. And yet, it is a frightful burden. It is one we often wish to be rid of. “Tell me what to do, Lord, and make me do it. Show me the way and make me follow it. Take over. Make the decision for me! You, Lord, you live my life. . .”
How many times has that been my prayer! How often have I sought the relief of being relieved of my freedom! Take it away – you, God, you choose! That, however, is the one thing which Almighty God cannot do – relieve you of your freedom. And He cannot do it because He will not do it. You and I were made for relationship with God Himself, and relationship is not possible without freedom. That was His design, and God’s desire is that we freely live with Him and freely respond to Him, and freely commune with Him. The terrible burden of freedom is His law for us, and it is our glory. lt is, as well, the only possibility of bliss.
Saint Augustine said many things which I come back to again and again. One of them is this. “God who made you without your cooperation will not redeem you without your cooperation.” Listen again: “God,” says Augustine, “who made you without your cooperation, will not redeem you without your cooperation.” God created our freedom and He asks us to exercise it. You and I are called to respond and cooperate with Him, and in that free cooperation is our salvation. There is no other way.
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Today, good people, the Sunday before we celebrate that great feast during which we rejoice in the commemoration of God’s incarnation in Jesus, the Church calls us to think about the one through whom He became incarnate, Mary his mother.
Jesus is God’s new Covenant. He is, to paraphrase Augustine, God’s “new cooperation” with humankind, and Mary was the first to cooperate. Mary said, “Yes.” “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Her response sets the pattern which will be followed later by her son – “Not my will but thine be done.” And it is the pattern of every moment in the life of the spirit: God proposes, the Christian soul responds “Yes.” “Be it unto me according to thy word.” “God who made you without your cooperation will not redeem you without your cooperation.” Mary, the Jewish peasant girl, an adolescent, proves St. Augustine to be right.
We know little about her. She was a daughter of Israel, that nation which both struggled with and yearned for God. And it very likely that what education she had was in the traditions of her people, the Jews. Women had important religious responsibilities in the home, and these Mary would have learned from her mother. It is unlikely that she could read – that was a skill required of men, but not of women. Women stayed away from the disputations and decisions of the synagogue – leave all those complications to the men.
I think that we can say that Mary was simple in the best sense of the word. And she was pure, which is to say, un-mixed, single in intent. And Mary, in her simplicity, trusted God.. Mary in her purity had faith. And in her freedom, her own individual freedom, Mary said “Yes.” She had the courage freely to say “Yes.” “Be it unto me according to thy word.”
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“For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” for he that is mighty hath magnified me and holy is his name.” Mary said “Yes” and her yes is a pattern and an example for all women and all men. And we honor her as our example: Mary, the maiden, shows you and me what it is to be human, what is is to be Man.
But we also honor her as Mary, herself, the one particular individual person who in her freedom cooperated with God, and by that cooperation – her unique, individual “Yes” – became the entrance of salvation into the world. Hail Mary! In a very real sense, your salvation and mine depended upon the faith and trust of a young woman. Mary, therefore, in the wisdom of God, had a role in our salvation and in the salvation of the whole world. God’s plan depended on her “Yes,” “Be it unto me according to thy word.” God demands our freedom, our free response and Mary’s free response. It could be, it can be, no other way.
Mary had a role in our salvation. And in a mysterious and sweet way she is still involved. In the order of grace and in the communion of saints she, Mary, is our mother. Even the most skeptical of Biblical scholars will tell us that when, in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks from the Cross: “Woman, behold thy son” – “Behold thy mother,” a possible meaning of the text itself – not something imposed – is that Jesus is commending the Church to the spiritual motherhood of Mary. We cannot be certain that the Gospel means precisely that, but it is possible. Certainly, the Church has from earliest times understood those words of Jesus in that way. And it has been the experience of Christians that they have in Mary a spiritual mother, for she has been to them in the order of grace what their own mothers have been / should be in the order of nature. She is a help and an encouragement. Hail Mary ! She is a support and a comfort. Hail Mary ! She, in the life of the spirit is a blessed and sweet source of nurture and motherly love.
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It is an awful thing to be free, dear brothers and sisters, and most of us find it difficult to bear. We are alone in our freedom. We must be. But we need not be lonely, for the Christian and Catholic religion is not a lonely place. No. In faith, as the Epistle of the Hebrews tells us, we enter “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” and in faith we have fellowship with “innumerable angels in festal gathering,” with the “assembly of the first-born,” those who said “Yes” to God. And in faith we have fellowship with her who first said “Yes” and began the new cooperation. She is our mother and the mother of Jesus our Savior and Brother. And she is worthy to be praised now, just as she was greeted by the angel so long ago:
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.