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In Incarnation Mary’s Spiritual Rapture joined to Option for the Poor

I am the Handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38).

Advent and Christmas offer us a time to reaffirm and strengthen our faith. Contemplation of our Most Blessed Virgin Mary leads us to reflections of what our faith should look like. In celebrating the mystery of the Annunciation, we are witnesses to the first act of Christian faith. In this mystery, this consummate act of faith and hope, we see a God of Love who chooses one of us. As God chose Mary, He chooses each and every one of us. On a very practical level, the fiat of Mary, the joyful “yes!,” must serve as a model to believers.

Mary’s greatness lies in her radical openness to the Holy Spirit. Her faith is boundless. St. Augustine states: “Mary’s happiness is much greater for having conceived Jesus Christ in faith than for having given birth to the Savior in the flesh. The maternal bonds that united Mary to her divine Son would have been pointless had she not borne him more happily in her heart than in her womb. (St. Augustine, “De Virg.” in Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P.,Mystery of Mary, Model of Christian Life, Community of St. John, 1958).

She is blessed because she believed. Through her fiat, Mary’s spirit in a dynamic and intimate sense, submits to the will of God. In this divine surrender to the will of God, there is no reservation, restriction or limitation to this gift of her spirit and heart. Today in our culture, alas even among members of the Church, words such as surrender, obedience and submission are too quickly equated with weakness. Indeed, these words even evoke anger. Marian obedience to the will of God allows for a new depth of faith, a seizure of her soul. We are called to follow this example of submission.

The Magnificat

Filled with joy at the impending birth, Mary shares her gladness with Elizabeth and pours out both her joys and hopes. Her words are called the Magnificat:

And Mary said: “Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord, rejoice, rejoice my spirit, in God my saviour; so tenderly has he looked upon his servant, humble as she is. For from this day forth, all generations will count me blessed, so wonderfully has he dealt with me, the Lord, the Mighty One. His name is Holy; his mercy sure from generation to generation towards those who fear him; the deeds his own right arm has done disclose his might: the arrogant of heart and mind he has put to rout, he has brought down monarchs from their thrones, but the humble have been lifted high. The hungry he has satisfied with good things, the rich sent away empty. He has ranged himself at the side of Israel his servant; firm in his promise to our forefathers, he has not forgotten to show mercy to Abraham and his children’s children, forever.” (Luke 1:46-55 from F. Jarvis, Come and Follow, Seabury Press, 1972, p. 21).

In his book, The Mystery of Christmas (Liturgical Press) , Raniero Cantalamessa calls this divine surrender “spiritual inebriation.” In her canticle, Mary urges us not to be afraid of giving ourselves enthusiastically, joyfully to God. Those words of the Magnificat are full of longing, love for God. Spiritual inebriation reawakens our desire for pure praise, awestruck wonder of God’s majesty and holiness. As Mary loses herself in God’s infiniteness, so should we! During Advent and through the year, our prayer life brings us this spiritual contact, which guides and sustains us.

In the second part of the Magnificat, Mary looks out upon the world into which her Son will be born. Thus, we see a joining of a spiritual rapture to a critical perspective of the world. Mary describes a radical reversal of man’s positions: On the one hand the rich and powerful, on the other, the humble and hungry. This reversal took place not in the material world, but rather it took place in the realm of faith. A new richness was proclaimed: Jesus Christ. The hearts of the poor and hungry were the first to accept the eternal infinite richness of Christ.

The Magnificat speaks to us today about problems of wealth and poverty. As a Catholic Worker, who has accepted voluntary poverty, I was challenged by Cantalamessa’s meditations (p.32). Mary speaks to the poor and humble because she is poor and humble. After contemplation of the Magnificat, how foolish the desire for worldly success and praise seem! For if one devotes their energies towards the accumulation of worldly goods, surely their hands will be empty before God!

As I read the Magnificat, I see God raising the men, women and children of Casa Juan Diego and all those who suffer closer to Him. I see a picture of God holding them to his heart as Mary held the Christ-child to her heart.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVIII, No. 7, December 1998.