grace, which are both within and all around us.
We can learn this and so many more things from the encounter of Mary with the angel or "messenger" of God. Her experience with Gabriel offers other important lessons for our own daily lives. Let's look at a few.
First of all, the story is time specific. The angel came in the sixth month. Angels still come at the specific moment that God chooses to intervene in our lives. The One who sends them does not wear a watch, keep a day-timer, or use a pocket computer. He is outside of time but always on time. He is never early. And He is never late.
The angel came to a specific person, "a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph." Angels appear to specific people in the real circumstances of their daily lives, in the midst of their human relationships.
The older I get, the more I am able to recognize the "angels," or messengers, the Lord sends into my life. They come bearing His message, speaking to my specific circumstances at a specific time of need. The angelic greeting also tells us about our invitation into a relationship with God.
Gabriel's greeting was specific. Mary was addressed by her Hebrew name, implying that the God from whom the angel was sent knew Mary personally and had a relationship with her that preceded the visitation. So it is with each one of us.
As the Great Hebrew Psalmist David sang, "You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be (Psalm 139).
The angel refers to Mary as "O highly favored one" or, in other translations, "full of grace." Mary was indeed favored and full of grace. The Lord of heaven and earth had prepared and chosen her as a fertile ground into which he planted the seed of His Word.
Angels still visit those who believe that grace is real and available, the favor and blessing of God. They come, bearing God's message to men and women are humble enough to open themselves to its dynamic, sanctifying and transforming action. In a real and substantial way, when we respond to the words of the Lord, we also become filled with grace - and He is formed within us. In that sense, we become favored.
Another early father of the undivided Christian Church, Gregory of Nyssa, once wrote:
"What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for 'we no longer know Christ according to the flesh', but He dwells in us spiritually and the father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us"
Perhaps the reason the scriptures tell us so little about Mary was because she was meant to serve as a mirror, a reflection, of "Some- One" who was much more important. It was His grace that filled her. God brings new life to ordinary people who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and pure hearts that are opened to his invitation of love. Like Mary, they become full of grace through their encounter with the Lord.
A profound mystery is made wonderfully simple by Mary of Nazareth's witness. She lived a fruitful life, marked by an innocent and childlike spirit. As Jesus said, "I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth that what you have hidden from the learned and the wise you have revealed to the merest of children" (Luke 10:21). His words help us understand that we, too, are to become "as little children."
Each of us is called to be full of grace. The Lord desires to be with us and to give Himself through us, to a world that hungers for His love. Mary shows us the way. She heard the promise, believed, was filled with grace, and conceived the Lord who is Love incarnate. We can participate in His continuing redemptive mission if we learn to pray, to listen, to hear, to respond, to say "Yes".
This is part of making the Advent journey with Mary. Years ago I wrote a little book of reflections on Mary. It is called 'the Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life" and some copies are still available here.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Mary, Hail Mary, Grace, Mother of God, Mother Mary, Marian, Deacon Keith Fournier, Rosary, Catholic Piety, Holiness, Catholic Devotions
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