Reflections on Mary’s Response to the Father’s Mercy, a Model for Lay Dominicans.
This article is the fruit of my personal reflection on the mystery of the Annunciation to Mary in the light of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. I have taken into account the writings of the Church on this doctrine, the preaching and writings of so many pastors throughout my life, and the Scripture passages that, in my opinion, shed light on the daily attitude of our Mother Mary, the first disciple of Christ. Mary, who was not a nun, but a lay woman living in the world, is an example of life on our way to holiness for us, the laity, who also live in the world. It was preached during the Advent retreat for the professed, candidates and inquirers of the Chapter of the Lay Dominican Fraternity of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, Irving, TX. USA.
- THE KINGDOM OF GOD COMES FROM WITHIN (Luke 17:21)
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”But she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.” (Lk. 1:26-29)
The announcement of the Incarnation of the Son of God to Mary and her implicit divine motherhood is preceded by the goodness of God, who reveals to her the mercy with which He has graced her. No passage or verse of Sacred Scripture is superfluous. And in this case, the Holy Spirit wants to draw our loving attention to a particular sign: Mary’s confusion in the face of the angel’s unusual greeting. It is a sign for us, the hearers of the Gospel. Her confusion reveals the Father’s abundant mercy toward her. She is not disturbed by the angel’s presence, but by the greeting he addresses to her. This leads her to wonder what that greeting might be, or in our modern parlance, “Why does he greet me by that name?” The angel does not greet her by her name according to the flesh, for he does not say, Hail, Mary! but he says to her, Hail, Full of Grace! “Full of Grace” is not said here as an adjective describing Mary’s quality. The angel uses “Full of Grace” as her proper name, revealing from the beginning who she is.
The angel’s greeting is the revelation of the Father’s mercy. It is the mystery of the redemption of the world that begins with Mary’s personal redemption. In His mercy and in view of the expected merits of Jesus Christ, the Father grants Mary from her conception the new name spoken of in the book of Revelation: “To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white stone upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Rev 2:17) The manna is the grace of God that moves Mary’s charity to promptly perform all the actions of daily life to unite more closely with God. The white stone signifies that she has conquered sin and has been found innocent because she lives, is, and moves under the influence of grace. Mary’s soul is God’s secret; her desires and life intention are His alone: “My lover belongs to me and I to him.” (Song 2:16). Similarly, her body is the instrument of her loving soul, whose actions are guided by charity to obey God’s command to God and neighbor. Everything in her belongs to Him; she is the Virgin of virgins. This is why the Song of Songs calls Mary “an enclosed garden, a sealed fountain” (Song 4:12), who knows no one but God. This is not her own work, but the work of the Father and His Christ, who together make all things new: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5), first in Mary, then in us.
Mary has known no other way of existence than to exist in God’s abundant grace. Her personality was completely shaped by this grace. But her greatness as Full of Grace consists not in not sinning, but in obeying the demands of divine grace without delay or hesitation in the chores and tasks of her daily life, however simple they may seem. The Father loves her and guides her always. She is His Beloved Daughter because, following the example of her son Jesus Christ, she always does the Father’s will. “He has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” (Jn. 8:29) Mary does not waste time looking at the circumstances of daily life. She worships God, whom she wants to obey. She has no time for introspection. Every day she cooperates with the fullness of the grace given to her, developing the personality and mind of Christ. Like Him, she is constantly focused on the Father and in everything follows her Divine Son, whose disciple she is. Mary, the most obedient to the Father’s will, is His Beloved Daughter and therefore chosen to be the Mother of God. “He who does the will of my Father is my brother, my sister and my Mother.” (Mt 12:50) The Father wants Mary to hear from the angel that she is His Beloved Daughter. That out of love for her, He raises her up to be the Mother of the only Son of the Father. Through the angel’s unusual greeting, she understands that although she is the handmaid of the Lord, the Father has called her and filled her with His goodness –plenitude of grace– to be the Mother of Life and of all the living.
In the Litany of Loreto, the Church calls Mary the Mirror of Justice testifying that her person and personality correspond to justice. God’s grace makes her faithful and her faithfulness in turn allows grace to continually justify her. This ejaculatory prayer teaches us that Mary has developed in herself the personality of grace, obedient to the will of the Father, as Scripture says, “all who are led by the Holy Spirit are children of God.” (Rom. 8:14) Mary was so purely created by God’s mercy that when St. Bernadette asked her at Lourdes who she was, Mary proclaimed, I am the Immaculate Conception. Before the Annunciation, Mary did not know the truth of God’s special redemption of her being at the moment of her conception, but she has always lived according to that truth. It was the angel who revealed it to her through the joyful greeting, hence her surprise at the angel’s words. From the first moment of her existence, she has been elevated to the Kingdom of God, which is grace itself.
The Father’s mercy toward Mary extends to us, His children. The mystery of Mary is the mystery of the Church and to some extent our personal mystery as well. The existence of Mary’s soul and body proclaims the fidelity of the Father to her, who created her out of a greater love than for all other creatures. He created her by redeeming her through the blood of His only Son, who suffered more for her alone than for all the other children of Adam. The Church proclaims this truth in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It is the truth about Mary revealed in the angel’s greeting, pondered by Mary, and received by Tradition. A truth about Mary that the Holy Spirit, in His wisdom and mercy to us, makes explicit in today’s Church, to lead us to the end of time, to the Parousia or coming of Christ, the Lord. In showing us that Mary has always acted under the impulse of her fullness of grace, the Holy Spirit urges us to do the same with the measure of grace that the Father’s mercy has given us. Either we are disciples of the grace working in us, or we simply refrain from living as God’s adopted children and have nothing to do with the only Son of the Father. “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory and with the holy angels.” (Mk. 8:38)
SELF-EXAM: On fidelity to our vocation as Lay Dominicans
– Which personality characterizes you more: that of grace, that of the flesh, that of the world, or that of sin?
– Your promise, temporary or permanent, as a member of the Lay Dominican Fraternity is only the starting point of your journey to holiness. Are you working every day to let grace shape your personality? Or was your profession just a nice ceremony, with no transcendence or merit for heaven, and are you still the same as you were before the profession?
– Does your conscience assure you that you are another Christ? As St. John says: He who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But he who obeys his word, in him the love of God is truly full. This is how we know that we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live like Jesus. (1 John 2:4-6)
– What use do you make of Christ’s grace as a professed member or candidate? Are you holier today than you were yesterday? How fervent, mediocre, or stagnant is your life of grace today?
– What will you do to faithfully live the rule of life and constitutions of the Lay Dominican Fraternity in which you believe you will find salvation?
- THE GOSPEL IS PROCLAIMED TO MARY
“Do not be afraid Mary, for you have been graced by God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus -for He shall save his people from their sins-. 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.” (Lk 1: 30-34)
The message Mary received from the angel is “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) It explicitly announces the coming in the flesh of the Messiah-King, son of David and son of God. It proclaims the mystery of the cross contained in Jesus’ name: “who will save his people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21) The Gospel of Jesus always requires the cooperation of its hearers, either to reject the message or to adhere to it. It requires the cooperation of Mary’s body, “you shall conceive in your womb and bear a son” (Lk 1:31), and especially of her soul, for it requires her faith in the mystery of the Cross, “for you shall call his name Jesus.” (Lk 1:31) God demands all or nothing from Mary, either she gathers with Christ or she scatters the grace of God. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Lk 11:23) God has spoken his will to Mary and her heart full of grace is more willing than ever to engage. Mary rejoices when she speaks, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let me be done according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) God acts the same way with all his children. Once God has clearly revealed His will to one of His creatures, there is no turning back. His will is accepted or rejected. There are no gray areas in the growth of grace in us. We are the ones limiting its growth. “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Everything else comes from the evil one.” (Mt. 5:37)
For Mary, the angel’s message that she hears and ponders is not about her, but about the Son she will conceive. Mary’s heart does not reduce the angel’s message to the simple gift of her becoming the Mother of God. True faith is not based on any gift from God, no matter how exalted. For Mary, what matters is the will of the Father who wants to redeem the world and associate her with the Savior and his redemptive mission. She assumes all the consequences of her divine motherhood, a bittersweet prerogative. But for her, everything is circumstantial except the Father’s will. “I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” (Rev. 10:9) “…let it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk. 1:38)
The message of the Annunciation does not come from the angel, for he is only the messenger. It is the Son of God Himself who, as the eternal Word of the Father, proclaims the Gospel to Mary by the humble means of His messenger. The divine way is always a humble way. The angel’s presence adds nothing to the message. He serves the eternal Word of God by hiding His divine splendor so that Mary is not overwhelmed by the sight of His glory. Nor does the angel change Mary’s status as a wayfarer. He serves her only as a companion on her journey of faith. In God’s Divine Providence, the angel’s presence enables Mary to freely obey in the non-vision of faith. “Although you have not seen him you love him; even if you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pt 1:8-9) In heaven, bowed down by the majesty and weight of the Father’s love, we will promptly and peacefully do His will. In that beatitude, we will surrender fully and unreservedly to the will of the Father who reveals Himself to us face to face. Meanwhile, here on earth, we see dimly through the flesh and blood of the Son of God. It is our condition as wayfarers that limits us to only hearing and touching the Word of Life through the limitations of His human condition. What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life, for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testified to it and proclaimed to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us.” (1 Jn. 1: 1-2)
Mary heard but did not see the splendor of the Word of God speaking to her through His messenger. She believed without seeing. She believed because she loved. “Blessed are you who have believed that what the Lord said to you will be fulfilled.” (Lk. 1:45) Faith is the ear that God has given us to obey and be guided through the difficulties of the present world. Despite the fact that we are intelligent creatures, we are asked not to see, but to hear; otherwise, we remain in our sins. (Jn. 10:39) Those who believe accept not to see. A test that Adam and Eve did not pass, preferring to see with their minds, to understand their lives on their own terms and with their own prudence. The measure of their love of self is the effort they made to gain knowledge. They love their knowledge with pride, rather than believing without seeing. These are people -maybe ourselves- who pass for good people, with great work ethics, impeccable manners, and as caring as the most concerned social worker. All in the name of Christ, but they do not accept the wisdom that comes from above. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.’…” (Mt. 7:21-23) Mary, on the other hand, hears but does not see the splendor of the Word of God that spoke to her through His messenger. For her, as for us, faith causes us to turn around to hear the voice of the Shepherd who speaks to us but whom we do not see. We are led into the darkness (Psalm 23) ablaze with the Fear of God, for “in your light, we see the light.” (Psalm 36:6)
After the Ascension of Jesus, even the comforting presence of His tangible Humanity has been taken away from us. From now and until the end of time, our hearing and touching of the Word of Life are done through the limitations of His Body the Church, and through each of her members. We no longer have sensory signs other than the preaching of the Word, the liturgy, and the sacraments. For there are no longer angels to listen to; now it is the pastors of His Church to whom we must turn to receive the will of the Father. “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me.” (Mt 10:40)
SELF-EXAMINATION: On prayer and personal study, pillars of our Dominican vocation
Regarding the Word of God, St. Jerome says that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, who speaks to us in the humble pages of the Bible. As the splendor of the Word spoke to Mary through the humble means of an angel, so the Holy Spirit enlightens every day those who feed on the Word of God.
Reading the Bible is not a matter of gaining information about God. Faith, on the other hand, make us touch the Word of Life through the pages of the Bible, the liturgy, and the preaching of the Scriptures by the pastors of the Church. If we do not know the Scriptures, we cannot touch the Word of God in our personal prayer. Every time we pray attentively, the Holy Spirit leads us to the bosom of the Father, where Christ is. There He enlightens us on the mysteries we need to know for our daily life. There is nothing extraordinary about reading with recollection, praying, and meditating on the Words of the Lord as we go about in our daily tasks and chores. This constancy and perseverance transform us into prudent virgins waiting to be spoused to the Lamb.
The illumination of our minds and hearts by the Spirit is proportional to our effort in the daily reading of God’s Word in the Bible. In our daily lives, the Holy Spirit reveals to us riches of knowledge, wisdom, and counsel through the mysteries of Scripture we read, study and ponder. But as a rule, He leaves us ignorant of those mysteries we do not bother to know or even read. “For to him who has, more will be given, and he will have abundantly; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matt. 13:12)
 Pope St. John Paul II, in his homily on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, referred to the following words: “Full of grace”, “κεχαριτωµευη”: in the original Greek of Luke’s Gospel, the Angel greets Mary with this title. It is the name that God, through his messenger, chose to use to describe the Virgin. This is how he had always seen and thought of her, ab aeterno (from all eternity).
 For the Bible quotes in this article, I used the Saint Joseph edition of the New American Bible. In this quote, the text reads “amulet” instead of white “stone.” However, the footnotes state that literally read from the Greek it should be “stone.” I have freely adopted the literal use of the Greek word here.
 See also Pope St. John Paul II’s June 12, 1996 General Audience on the Dogmatic Definition of the Privilege of the Immaculate Conception for a broader explanation of the dogma, which this article does not seek to provide.