"I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word."
When Mary spoke those few words, human history was forever changed. They came from a deep spiritual reservoir within the heart of a young Jewish girl who was in love with the God of her fathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Mary's "Yes" is called the Fiat: in Latin, "Let it be done."
Mary's Fiat was spoken from a heart filled with pure love for God. In a Biblical context, "heart" is a word that means much more than the fleshy organ at the center of our chest cavity. It refers to our center, the core of each of us, the place where our deepest identity is rooted, and from which our fundamental choices about life are made.
Mary's words proceeded from her heart. Such a humble heart. This young woman was not full of herself, not self-protective, not cynical. She was therefore able to completely surrender herself in love, to Love. Her initial assent to the Angel Gabriel's announcement reveals the very meaning of another Biblical word, holy. Holiness is not about being religious or looking pious. It is about being selfless. Mary was holy, and she shows us the way to become holy, too.
In the original languages, the words in Holy Scripture which are translated into the English word "holy" mean set apart or consecrated. They refer to people or things that are totally given over to God and His worship. If we want to be holy, we need to explore the meaning of these words and make them our own.
In our common parlance these people or items involved in temple worship are entirely dedicated to God's service. It is in that sense that we, too, are called to be set apart for the living God. We are to make a place for Him within ourselves and within the world. We are to bear His message through a lifestyle that radiates His love.
It is only by embracing ideas of being set apart and consecrated that our own personal histories can be truly transformed. This happens through conversion, or "metanoia", which, in Greek, means "to change." Our hope for change, for becoming holy, is to open our lives to the One who is the source of all goodness and holiness.
We are called to respond to His invitation, to say "Yes" to a relationship with Him. This is what Mary's Fiat is all about. In saying Yes to God, as Mary did, we are able to discover the path to conversion, to holiness, to authentic spirituality.
Our call to embrace the Fiat and to make it our own is not a formula for easy spiritual growth, nor is it the first in a series of steps that lead to solving the problems of life. The Fiat is not the answer to a riddle or the meaning behind some mystery. The spiritual life is a path, a Way, and it involves a continuing, ongoing walk with the Lord. He has invited each of us into an intimate, personal, exchange of love. This kind of intimacy with a living, loving God is the interior meaning of Mary's Fiat, her Magnificat, and her way of life. When we embrace Mary's Prayer and make it our own, we allow the Love that Mary bore in her body to be incarnated in and through us, too.
Each of us can say "Yes" to God. Each of us can respond with our entire being, with a Fiat of surrendered love. When we do so, our positive response marks the beginning of a participation in the very life of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We become sons and daughters of the Most High and enter into the life of the living God. In Him we find our deepest identity, our real selves, through our participation in the One who made us, who redeems us, and who transforms us by His continual grace. Our holiness comes through touching the Holy God, through being filled with His life and love.
Conversion begins when we say our own Fiat with our words and our deeds. It introduces to us a new and dynamic way of living with God, and in God. As we lose ourselves in Him, we find ourselves again, made new and completed. This holy exchange--our life for His--is the essence of the spiritual journey. It is not about power but powerlessness. It is not about increase but decrease. It is not about becoming greater but about becoming smaller. In short, true spirituality is about surrender.
Centuries of Christian people have learned that as we lose ourselves in Him, He reveals Himself as a God who can, does and will act in our very real, human daily experiences. He makes it possible for us to have a genuine relationship, a dialogue, with Him. He certainly wants us to live life to the fullest. However, precisely because we were made for Him, we find our fulfillment in emptying ourselves, in selflessness. Then, of course, we are filled and fulfilled in Him. However, this is a fruit and not a goal. He is the goal.
Mary's Prayer teaches us to stay afloat in the ocean of life, with all of its undertows. Mary's way is to become an ark within, where the same God who became incarnate within her takes up His residence in us. He comes to dwell in all men and women who say "Yes" to Him.
Mary's Prayer is an invitation to participate in the ongoing incarnation of God's Love, for the sake of world. It is an invitation to live redemptively. In living a surrendered life we not only are transformed ourselves, but we also participate in the mediation of God's love to others. The ongoing creative and redemptive work of God's love continues through us as we learn how to become arks, or dwelling places, through which Love comes alive for all those around us.
We enter into Christ's incarnation as we participate in the Prayer of Mary. But first, we must hear God's invitation. We must learn to listen for it with our whole hearts. In response, we can respond the same way Mary did: "Behold the servant of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word..."
God takes the initiative. He may whisper to our hearts through His Holy Spirit, or he may speak through a chosen messenger, His angel. But it is God who always initiates and then awaits our response. Mary, in her selflessness, was open to the angel's visit. She recognized who was speaking. She listened, received and responded. In so doing, she demonstrated the framework of all authentic spirituality. God initiates a relationship and we respond in surrender to Him. This dynamic, this heavenly road, leads to a dialogue, a conversation, a way of life.
By saying Yes, through our own Fiat, we are set apart. Consecrated. Made holy.
Mary shows us that way.
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