Saturday, December 8, 2012


In her response this morning Mary surrenders to God’s desire with a serenity and, it would seem, even a kind of a quiet joy. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." In the first reading we heard God’s very first recorded question. God says to Adam: “Where are you? Where are you, Man?” For Adam is hiding after all, naked and embarrassed at his lost innocence, hidden there in the underbrush. “Where are you?” Mary’s reply, centuries later, is the healing antidote to Adam’s fearfulness and furtiveness. She is utterly present. Mary stands right in the middle of the garden, small, delicate, defenseless but truly courageous. She comes forward, unembarrassed by her nothingness, and she says simply, “Here I am, you called me. Behold I am your handmaid. May it be done to me.”

And so Mary models for us our human capacity to be God-bearers, God-collaborators, at a very visceral level- every fiber of our being, our very bodies, totally available for God, for what God wants. “May it be done to me," she says as she steps quietly into mystery, into God’s arms. Such abandonment is always disorienting. And as Mary perhaps suspects at this moment of her Annunciation, her yes (like ours when we dare to say it) will be her undoing; things are going to fall apart. Still she names herself handmaid, not understanding fully, but believing that love is worth it, believing that God is trustworthy. She is grace-fully confident that God never deceives or manipulates but simply waits, always waits. Forever and ever and over and over God invites and waits- awaits our response most patiently. God pursues, even allures, proposes gently, modestly; but he is never ever coercive or pushy. Perhaps our response is not always as quick as Our Lady’s, but God always waits for us; and the offer always stands, for God cannot, will not withhold his compassion.

Most of all in this tale of Annunciation, we witness the surrender of love, the surrender of mutual desire that happens in any real relationship. Most truly it is Mary and God who are both losing themselves in each other. If we take the Incarnation seriously, this is perhaps exactly what is so scandalous about God becoming human. God has lost himself in love, given himself over to us completely. God in Christ through Mary is now subject to the laws of nature, of human flesh, its smells, its aches and heartaches, its narrowness and limitations, its unpredictableness.  
In defining this dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, Pius IX proclaimed, indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin. We  celebrate this solemn feast not only out of our loving obligation to the Mother of God, a sort of family duty as Catholic Christians. That’s nice enough, but  Our Lady would want something more for us. For we also celebrate what her privilege means for our human flesh. We are not like her ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness. Far from it, but our destiny and potential are foretold in her privilege. Foretold in her privilege. We are meant for more, to be more. This is what Mary shows us. For her work is always to be transparent to Christ, to point to him, to his most beautiful body, as it once was on earth, as it is forever in heaven, as it is here and now on earth in his body that we are becoming.