CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Christmas is almost here. As the fourth candle of the advent wreath is lit, we are reminded that we need to intensify our spiritual preparation for the anniversary of the birth of our Savior.
The external aspects of our Christmas celebration only make sense if we keep our attention fixed on who it is that we are celebrating. Christmas is the birthday of Jesus.
This Sunday's gospel passage focuses our attention on the one central reality of Christianity: that the Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, became man and dwelt among us. On the last Sunday of Advent, the Church allows us to contemplate this reality through Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Often when we attempt to get to know someone, it is always very helpful to know the person's mother. Fr. Romano Guardini once wrote: "Anyone who would understand the nature of a tree, should examine the earth that encloses its roots, the soil from which its sap climbs into branch, blossom and fruit. Similarly, to understand the person of Jesus Christ, one would do well to look to the soil that brought him forth: Mary, his mother" (The Lord, p. 10).
Mary is a young, beautiful, pure and humble woman chosen before the beginning of time to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word. This calling is announced to her by the Angel Gabriel who appears to her. Mary, although she has been chosen, could have said no to God's will; however, it is her profound love of God that allows her to say yes unconditionally. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1: 38).
It is clear that the mysteries of the Annunciation and the Incarnation indicate man's relationship with God. God is our creator and our relationship with him is through obedience to his will. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the most perfect embodiment of this relationship between God and man. Through faith, she listens to the voice of God and freely submits her entire being to the plan of God over her life. The word obey comes from the Latin ob-audire which means to hear or listen to. It is Mary's faith, humility and simplicity that allow her to listen to God and to put his plan into practice.
Faith is our response to God. By the act of faith, we completely submit our intellect and our will, in fact, our entire being to God. This act of submission is rooted in love and freedom. The gift of faith allows us to experience already here on earth the promise of the beatific vision, although in an imperfect way. Mary is the perfect model of someone who correctly lived out to its ultimate consequence the obedience of faith. This is why Saint Augustine once wrote, "Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ."
Nevertheless, sometimes people seem to have difficulty identifying with the example of the faith and fidelity of Mary. They have the impression that everything was very easy for Mary because she was conceived without original sin.
Not everything was clear for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just as in any manifestation of the divine, there is always a profound moment of light followed by long and trying times of darkness. Mary was enveloped in the light of God's presence during the Annunciation. However this brilliance of clarity was followed by the night of faith. She fulfilled her unconditional yes within the many trials and difficulties of her journey towards eternity.
Mary's fidelity was heroic because her faith was heroic. In fact, as Romano Guardini writes, "Her faith was greater, more heroic than that of any other human being" (The Lord, p. 13).
After the Annunciation and the conception of Jesus in her womb, a series of terrible trials began. First of all Joseph did not understand what was happening to Mary, and she had to cling to the promise that had already been made to her by the angel Gabriel: "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". The trial did not come to an end until Joseph received his instructions in a dream: "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1: 20).
As the first Christmas quickly approached, another trial came about because there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn. Where would the child be born? Eight days after his birth, Simeon foretold the suffering that would always accompany Mary: ".and a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2: 35). Soon after these words were spoken, the Holy Family was forced to leave their home in order to escape the evil intentions of Herod. But, when they returned to Nazareth, Mary continued believing during the long years of Jesus' hidden life, without ever seeing any miracles at all.
However, her greatest trial of all was Our Lord's passion. She did not run away like the others had done. She stood at the foot of the cross and continued to be heroically obedient because of her heroic faith.
Fidelity is an austere virtue. Fidelity demands self-knowledge, generosity, sacrifice and a lot of courage. Mary is our model of fidelity. The daily struggle and the failures can be overwhelming at times. But, fidelity is an adventure, and the "good fight" is exhilarating. As time goes on, we can become weary of the battle.
Personally, I believe it is far better to drag an exhausted body and spirit through the difficulties of life, rather than to give in to the promptings of the flesh which make us yearn for an easier life. Rather than to give in to the sirens of comfort, I prefer to hear these words from my Lord at the moment of death: "I know too that you have perseverance, and have suffered for my name without growing tired" (Revelation 2: 3).
I have much for which to thank the Blessed Mother. Throughout my life she has always been close to me, even though at times I have not always been the attentive son I should have been. As December 24th, the 24th anniversary of my priestly ordination quickly approaches, I give thanks to my Blessed Mother who has been intimately present in my vocation to the priesthood.
Back in 1975, I discovered my calling after the recitation of the evening Rosary at Magdalen College. On December 24, 1987, the Marian Year proclaimed by Blessed Pope John Paul II, my ordination took place in Rome, under the maternal gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On the morning of December 25, surrounded by a small gathering of family and friends, I celebrated my first Mass in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. It is through Mary, that each day I am able to hold her Son in my trembling hands. I am a happy priest. I love what I do and I thank Mary for the awesome gift of the priesthood.
Twenty-four years ago, the night before my ordination, in a quiet and secluded corner of the seminary where a beautiful image of Our Lady watched over us, I knelt down before her. In the silence of my heart I prayed: Mary, you know who I am and you are with Jesus. You know that he has called me to be his priest. If I am going to be a bad priest, tell your Son to call me tonight to his side, because I do not want to lose him. The next morning as I awoke, I was filled with a profound sense of confidence that Jesus would give me all of the graces that I needed to fulfill my mission as his priest.
Mary, my Mother, has always been there for me. Twenty-four years have been filled with tremendous blessings and great victories for the Kingdom, but they have been accompanied by much suffering and persecutions. Through it all, Mary has always been there to comfort me and urge me on to fulfill my mission until the end. I long to see her one day in heaven. When we embrace and kiss, the suffering of the cross will give way to the bliss of the resurrection.
As we intensify our preparation for the celebration of Christmas, perhaps certain sadness might cloud the joy that is proper to this time of the year. Many are the challenges of our times. The constant attacks of secularism, materialism and hedonism make it challenging to live authentic Christianity. Many families suffer from many serious difficulties and problems. All of these things attempt to suffocate the gift of faith that has been given to us.
It is precisely in difficult and challenging times that we must look to the witnesses of faith. Mary is the greatest of them all. Through her pilgrimage of faith, she walked into the night of faith. Not everything was clear for Mary, but she continued to trust and she continued to obey. She abandoned herself entirely into God's loving and providential care. Full understanding only came to her at Pentecost. It was there that she understood all the things that she had cherished in her heart.
As we quickly approach the celebration of the birth of Jesus, let us prayerfully consider these words, again, from Fr. Guardini: "What is demanded of us, as of her, is a constant wrestling in fide with the mystery of God and with the evil resistance of the world. Our obligation is not delightful poetry but granite faith - more than ever in this age of absolutes in which the mitigating spell is falling from all things and naked opposites clash everywhere" (The Lord p. 14).
Father James Farfaglia is the Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, TX. Visit Father James on the web at www.fatherjames.org. The podcast of this homily will be posted on Sunday afternoon.
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