Presentation of Mary by Joachim and Anne
Mary had already been chosen by God, preserved by a singular grace as a chosen vessel through whom the Incarnate Word would be given for the salvation of the whole world. However, the offering by her parents is a response to the invitation to join our free choice to God' invitation. This exercise of freedom lies at the heart of discipleship, and is the inner core of every vocation, to cooperate with grace.
In the Office of Readings, we are given a sermon by St. Augustine given of this Feast and entitled "She who believed by faith, conceived by faith" for reflection. Here are a few excerpts:
"Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord Christ declared: Here are my mother and my brothers; anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and my sister and my mother. I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Savior was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her - did she not do the will of the Father?
"Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father's will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ's disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master."
Today's Feast emphasizes our response to God's gifts. We remember the response of Mary's mother and father in their decision to present her in the temple for dedication to the Lord. All parents are called to imitate their response by presenting their children for Baptism.
We reflect on the mystery of Mary's own continuing response from her very earliest days to the Lord's invitations of grace. Yes, that is right, though preserved free from the fractured freedom which is the bad fruit of original sin; Mary was called to continually give her "Yes" to God's invitations of love. In that continual "Fiat" she shows us the way we are all called to respond to the invitations of grace in our own lives as we grow in holiness.
She was the first evangelizer and the first disciple of her own Son Jesus. She gave the first Gospel testimony to her cousin, Elizabeth, without words, as the Redeemer in her womb drew the child in her womb, John the Baptizer to Himself. Jesus did so from the Throne he had established in Mary's womb, a living Tabernacle. Jesus, Love Incarnate, drew John from the very first home of the whole human race, a mother's womb, into eternal communion.
At the beginning of that missionary encounter, Elizabeth greeted Mary with profound humility, saying "who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Then the son in her own womb became the first convert "in utero" as he leapt in praise of the Maker of the Universe, who had taken up residence in Mary's womb.
John the Baptizer, the last Prophet of Old Testament and first of the New, was prepared in a womb - and drawn by this amazing grace - without a word being spoken, through Mary's witness of surrendered love. This event, traditionally called "The Visitation" and recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke l: 39-45), is meant to be reproduced in our lives as we carry Jesus forward in time. It can - through the witness of our surrendered lives of love.
In the Biblical account, this encounter immediately follows the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 16:38) and is a fruit of her humble, obedient response, her "Fiat" to the word of God which she was most certainly attuned to hearing. That response was not a onetime reaction. It was the fruit borne from a life of surrendered love and it stretched forward to characterize and inform her entire life.
Mary was there at the Wedding Feast at Cana in Galilee, when the first of the Lord's "signs" occurred - in a response to and as a fruit of - her intercession. It was there she gave that sage and still relevant advice to all those in attendance at that wedding and to all who throughout human history seek to follow her Son, "Do whatever He tells you". She still invites that kind of response through the testimony of her surrendered life of love for God.
There are very few records of Mary's explicit words in the texts of the New Testament of the Bible. However, there is no lack of her presence at the most significant events in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and therefore in the great events of salvation history. She always encountered God - in profound ways - from the beginning to the end of her life. In every encounter, she surrendered to Love and was changed.
Mary was there at the Incarnation, Birth, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of the One whom Christians proclaim is God Incarnate, Jesus Christ. She was there throughout what are often called the "hidden years" in His life at Nazareth where ordinary work was ennobled and childrearing forever changed because of His participation. His disciples spent three years with Him, during His "public ministry", but Mary spent thirty three years!
We should remember and reflect on the truth that in the earthly life of the Redeemer, every word he uttered - at every age and stage - and every act he undertook was redemptive, revealing as it does the very life of God and the mystery of heaven touching earth. Because of that, every moment of His presence among us reveals the deeper purpose of our own lives when they are lived entirely for Him.
Mary was there in all those pregnant moments of His complete thirty three year earthly mission of love. His redemptive presence forever changed the history of the world and can do so in our own personal histories if we learn how to surrender to His invitation to love and choose to live as she did. The mission of the Redeemer continues now for all who have the eyes to see His presence still walking and working among us; and the ears to hear His loving words still being spoken amidst the cacophony of our daily lives. Mary did.
Every waking moment can now be filled with the invitation of grace for each one of us, if we learn to discover their deeper meaning and make them our own. If we learn to live our entire life as, an invitation to love, an encounter with the God of love, as Mary did, we will find our lives transformed by the Son whom she bore for the whole world.
She was there on the great day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, and witnessed the extraordinary clothing with the Holy Spirit that transformed and empowered the early disciples. That same Holy Spirit had inspired her own unique missionary vocation. Mary understood this work of the Holy Spirit unlike anyone in history. She had been clothed in that wonderful gift when she was first visited by the angel and "overshadowed." It empowered her to live her whole life in complete surrender to God's will and to thereby prefigure the mission of the entire Christian community throughout history.
Mary understood all of this because she was a woman in love -with God. Mary was a woman of prayer, an ongoing conversation and intimate communion with God. We are invited into her prayer because we are invited into that same relationship with God. Understanding and living the Prayer of Mary is about living a life of surrendered love. She is the first disciple who shows is the way to follow her Son and Lord.
It is about being- more than about doing. It is about response- more than initiation. It is about encountering God relationally, personally and intimately. It is about a receiving, giving, receiving, giving..and thus becoming a person for the Lord and in Him for others. It is about offering the "Fiat" of a surrendered life. Mary's "Fiat" ("let it be done"), freely given in response to the visitation from the messenger of heaven, the angel, provides a pattern of prayer and a way to live for every follower of her Son.
Her "Yes", her "Fiat", her humble surrender to God's vocational invitation, bore the fruit of her "Magnificat" which bore the fruit of the Word, which was spoken and birthed through her. This is a kind of trajectory of love. It provides a prototype of the vocation of every human person who says "Yes" to God and learns to bear the fruit of surrendered love. Her "Yes" touches the inner core of the meaning of life for all men and women who are children of the one Creator. We were made to give ourselves away to the Lord and to others.
God is not an "add on" to our life. Rather, He is its source and its summit. Authentic and fruitful spirituality is "inside out" rather than "outside in." There is a way, a pattern that all men and women are invited into - not just once, but daily. This is the way of surrendered love. Mary's surrender reveals the deeper meaning of every human life and is the true path to authentic peace.
It is the portal of the mystery of meaning itself. It is what Christian Scripture calls the "more excellent way" (1 Cor. 12), the way of love. Mary understood and walked this way with extraordinary humility.
Is it any wonder that the early Christians painted her image in the catacombs during their moments of fear, persecution and doubt? They found great inspiration from this little woman of great faith. In her "yes" they came to understand that ordinary people can change human history. They were inspired to add their own "yes", their own "fiat" to hers.
Is it any wonder that the writings of the early Fathers of the Christian Church are also replete with reflections on this woman who said so little verbally in the biblical text? That is because it is not about an abundance of our words but rather our receptivity to the Word.
Justin Martyr and many other early Christian apologists found in her "fiat", her obedient "yes" to the angel, the undoing of the "no-I will not serve" uttered in rebellion by the first woman Eve. They called Mary "The Second Eve", the mother of a new creation, because she said "Yes" and in her womb carried the One whom the biblical authors would call the "New Adam." Jesus Christ was born from her as the first born of a new race of men and women who would themselves come to find a new birth through His life, death and Resurrection. That occurs as we say "Yes" to Him in both word and deed.
That same Redeemer now comes to reside within, and live through, all of those who respond to the invitation of Love like Mary did. All who are prepared and who, in response, surrender to His grace. Mary's choice, her response to the invitation of a God who always respects human freedom, is a singularly extraordinary event in all of human history. However, it is meant to be much more. It is meant to be an invitation to each one of us to explore our own personal histories and to write them anew in Him by joining our own "yes" to hers.
On this Feast of the Presentation of Mary, let us make the choice to surrender ourselves to the same Lord. That is how we can bring this Feast to life in our own age and continue to participate in God's plan for the whole human race.