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Awaiting Mary’s Yes to God

We began this Advent series of reflections with the question: what are you waiting for? With the busy-ness of Commercial Christmas constantly demanding our attention, it is easy to lose sight of the watchfulness and preparation the Church asks of us this Advent season. Let us now continue with our reflection series on this Fourth Sunday of Advent….

This Fourth week of Advent will only last one day, as Christmas comes to us the following day. Even so, it is important to reflect on this final Sunday before we embrace the celebration of the Christmas season.

Anticipation

We have been anticipating the coming of Christ through the Sunday readings since the beginning of Advent. As I reflect on the Gospel reading for today, the sense of anticipation is intense, the sequence of events almost seems to unfold in slow motion.

First, an angel, Gabriel, is headed for Mary in Nazareth, with staggering news. Upon learning of the approaching angel, we are told twice in v. 27 that Mary is a virgin, a pious and observant Jew. Yet Nazareth was a city of little consequence in Judea and an unlikely place for the appearance of an angel.

Second, as the angel approaches Nazareth, what is Mary doing? Presumably she’s at home attending to everyday domestic chores and tasks. She may be making preparations for her marriage to Joseph or attending to other family matters.

Heavy News

When Gabriel confronts Mary, with “Hail, favored one!” one gets the sense of Mary’s total surprise.  She is understandably startled and confused, as an angel of God has just manifested himself in the midst of her dinner preparations or wedding planning or house cleaning.  Mary is “greatly troubled” by the words of her new divine visitor and “pondered” what these words might mean.  The angel goes on:

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. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom will be no end.

Wow, was this a joke?  How could any of this be true?  The Son of God?  A ruler of the house of Jacob?  Maybe she had already heard of her cousin Elizabeth’s recent miraculous conception.  One can only imagine what must be rushing through Mary’s mind as this flood of new information about her future washes over her.  Mary, understandably replies with incredulity and with the most practical of questions: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

The angel goes on to explain:

The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, as also conceived a song in her old age…for nothing will be impossible for God.

The sense of anticipation continues through the delivery of this “heavy news.” But what will be Mary’s response to this astonishing proclamation? She must have realized the position this would put her and Joseph in with their engagement. People in the community would start to talk of Mary’s “indiscretion.” Her status as a pious Jewish woman would be compromised. Who would believe such an incredible story?

The Ultimate “Yes”

Yet in the the face of this startling news and the seismic shift in her future plans, Mary famously responds:

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.

Mary gives her consent to the angel and to God to become the mother of the Son of God. As with the birth of any child, it changes the parents’ lives forever. But this birth is accompanied by a divine conception, both for her and her cousin, and a divine mandate for Israel.  What a perfectly serene response!

Mary is held up throughout the Scriptures as the model disciple, responding to God and His messengers with perfect obedience and submission. This was undoubtedly not easy for Mary to accept, but she does accept and embraces this new divine mission for her life.

As we await the coming of Jesus, how can we say a more perfect “yes” to God? 

  • What does that need to look like in our final days of Advent? 
  • Can we say “yes” to God in how we prioritize our time for prayer each day?
  • Can we say “yes” to God more often in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
  • What relationships in our life are in greater need of a “yes” to God?

 

Gospel Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of
Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a
man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the
virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he
said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and
pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then
the angel said 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. He will be
great and will be called Son of the Most High, and
the Lord God will give him the throne of David his
father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I
have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit
will come upon you, and the power of the Most
High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to
be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And
behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived
a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for
her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible
for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the
handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according
to your word.” Then the angel departed from
her.

Pope Francis & “Lead Us Not Into Temptation:” A Response

Last Friday on the Logos Blog, Faithlife’s own resident “Logos Pro” Dr. Mark Ward posted a piece in response to Pope Francis’s comments made on the “lead us not into temptation” petition in the Our Father.  The Pope’s comments were made on Italian TV and caused quite a stir in the Catholic media.  Dr. Ward also asked a native Italian speaker to render a translation of the Holy Father’s comments into English from the original Italian, available here in English and in the original Italian.  Dr. Ward is not a Catholic and I was pleased to see my colleagues here at Faithlife take an interest in Pope Francis’s remarks.  Dr. Ward’s remarks are fair and even-handed, even though he didn’t agree with the fundamental sentiments of the Holy Father’s remarks (I would also note that many a Catholic didn’t agree with the Holy Father’s comments either!).

While the Verbum team does not have our own, full time “Verbum Pro” like the Logos team does, we do have many supportive scholars of Scripture and theology.  I reached out to Fr. Devin Roza, LC and Fr. Andrew Dalton, LC. Fr Devin Roza has a licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and is the author of Fulfilled in Christ. Fr Andrew Dalton has a licentiate in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Both currently are theology professors at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. They graciously agreed to respond both to Dr. Ward’s post, in a spirit of fraternal dialogue, and to offer a Catholic perspective on Pope Francis’s comments.

  • Fr. Roza will be commenting directly on the Holy Father’s remarks, providing some additional context, and engaging some of Dr. Ward’s comments as well.
  • Fr. Dalton will focus more on the “lead us not into temptation” petition within the Our Father.

We will be posting Fr. Roza’s and Fr. Dalton’s comments next week here on the Verbum Blog.  When their posts go live we will update this post with their links below.

Please let us know what you think of this post, as we’re thinking of doing more like this.  We ultimately want this blog to be of value to you, so let us know what you think!

Post #1: Pope Francis and the Our Father: Why Context is Key by Fr. Devin Roza, LC.

Post #2, Part I:

Post #2, Part II: 

What to do while we are waiting

A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

Last week, on the First Sunday of Advent, we were exhorted: “Be watchful! Be alert!” We posed the question: What is it that you are waiting for? This week, on the Second Sunday of Advent, we ask: what practically does watching and waiting mean? John the Baptist has the answer for us!

Preparation for the Way

“The Way” was an early designation for the Christian community. We see “the way” referenced several times in today’s reading. John the Baptist symbolizes the preparation that was necessary for the early Christian community. Life in these communities and house churches was literally dangerous, with both Jewish and Roman authorities leaning heavily on them.  One could be called on at any moment to give up one’s life in the name of Christ. Therefore, potential new community members needed a period of waiting and preparation before being fully initiated into the community through Baptism. This preparation required would-be Christians to to be very clear about their priorities and how much of a priority God was for them.

Amidst our holiday preparations, are we prioritizing time to spend with Jesus?

Asceticism

The preparation for “the Way,” as symbolized by John the Baptist, was marked, as we are shown in the readings today, by a rigorous asceticism. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us:

The word asceticism comes from the Greek askesis which means practice, bodily exercise, and more especially, athletic training. The early Christians adopted it to signify the practice of the spiritual things, or spiritual exercises performed for the purpose of acquiring the habits of virtue.

John’s camel hair tunic, diet of locusts and honey, and generally radical lifestyle is the archetype of early Christian asceticism. The desert was always associated with fasting, prayer, and a stringent, focused way of life. We see the beginnings of the tradition of desert asceticism in John, which, coupled with Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert, forms the basis of the entire desert monastic tradition that arose in the second century around St. Antony the Great and the other Desert Fathers.

How can you be more focused and deliberate with your spiritual practices this Advent?

The Voice Crying Out in the Desert

Life in Mark’s Christian community was marked by much chaos and confusion. The Gospel of Mark was written around 70 AD, which is the year the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. This injected significant fear and confusion into the Christian community, particularly for the Jewish converts. The Christian community, with its rituals of Baptism and Eucharist, was the antidote to that chaos. The Church then, as it does now, saw itself as initiating the restoration of creation itself in Christ. If we cannot discern the voice in the desert, we miss what Christ has in store for us.

How much time are you spending each day listening for that “voice crying out in the wilderness?” What is the voice saying to you?

Proactively waiting

The theme of waiting is central throughout Advent. Last week we asked: “What are you waiting for?” This week we ask: “What do we do while we are waiting?” The “answer” that John the Baptist presents is ultimately paradoxical. On the one hand, we can wait and anticipate the Lord’s coming by ascetic discipline. On the other hand, we would also do well to wait and anticipate by not doing, by pausing in the midst of the chaos of holiday preparations to observe some prayerful silence so we can have the opportunity to hear the voice that is crying out to us from the desert.

Many Advent Blessings! See you next week.

Gospel Reading for the Second Sunday of Advent, Mark 1:1-8.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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