Catholics have long celebrated May as the month of Mary. But liturgically, the real month of Mary is December. More particularly, it is the season of Advent and, most especially, it is these last days leading to the birth of the Saviour.
Mary, of course, had her own nine-month advent in which she waited for the birth of her son. It was an advent filled with joyful expectation no doubt, but also one with suffering and recriminations.
There would have been discussions about what to do with this woman, obviously pregnant and not yet married. Should she be stoned to death? Was there some other alternative? Perhaps Joseph was the one who halted the death threats. But no one could stop the whispered recriminations and askance glances, suspicions that likely followed Mary for the rest of her life.
Only she knew the real story and who would believe it? All that she knew was that the promise of the Messiah was accompanied by intense suffering. Perhaps she heard the same words that the Lord spoke to St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12.9).
Surely, she would have responded as Paul did: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardship, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12.10).
Mary surely knew hardships for doing the will of God. Years later, when she found herself at the foot of the cross, it was likely no surprise. Suffering and misunderstanding accompanied the conception of Jesus; it was fitting that he also died misunderstood and in the greatest of suffering.
Mary did not bemoan her fate following the Annunciation. She ran to visit her cousin Elizabeth and joyfully proclaimed God’s mercy. Wednesday’s Gospel presents her Magnificat, her song of joy and praise for the God who shows mercy.
What do we know of such joy and mercy today? Our Ipod breaks down and we are distraught. A favourite sports team loses and we are in a blue funk for a week. What do we know of real suffering? If we don’t know genuine sorrow, how can we know real joy? How can we even know what might be a suitable occasion for joy?
Mary pledged herself to do God’s will. In his little book on Mary, the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar comments: “Faith is the surrender of the entire person: because Mary from the start surrendered everything, her memory was the unsullied tablet on which the Father, through the Spirit, could write his entire Word” (Mary for Today, p. 45).
Surrendering to the will of another is not in our repertoire. We prefer our own will; we want to be free. But lived to its fullness, this is an empty, shallow freedom. The “freedom” of one who follows only his own will is the freedom of the isolated self, estranged from all because his own will is absolute. King of all, but really king of nothing.
But Mary was the unsullied tablet on which God could write. It gave her no earthly power; her will was not supreme. Yet in her nothingness, she became queen, queen of heaven. In the Opening Prayer for Mass on Dec. 20, the priest says for us: “God of love and mercy, help us to follow the example of Mary, always ready to do your will.”
It sounds simple. But can I do God’s will when it is not my will, when it is diametrically opposed to my will? Do I have a listening heart that will even allow me to discern God’s will when it runs contrary to my own?
Think of Mary. She was the first disciple, the perfect disciple. She accepted God’s will and it brought her suffering. In that acceptance, however, was Advent, the new beginning. It was a beginning of joy and mercy and, yes, salvation for those who ignored God’s will.
Mary is so close to God that God is born within her. By giving our will over to God, God will be born in us too.