The Gospel readings for yesterday and today are really quite powerful stories of the transformative power of God’s love, as evidenced in the life of Mary. Yet they are also so familiar that we are apt to miss the importance of the message for us today.
The essence of yesterday’s Gospel reading (Luke 1: 26-38) is actually well described in our CSJP Constitutions:
Mary is our model of faith
because she listened, pondered,
and contemplated the word of God in her life,
and witnessed to it in action (Constitution 35)
Faced with the surprising news, from an angel no less, that she who has had no relations with a man will nevertheless bear a son, and this son will be be a ruler whose kingdom will have no end, she sensibly asks: “How can this be?” I love this painting of the Annunciation by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi because Mary’s body language so perfectly captures her, “What???”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had more than a little bit of “how can this be” in my own life. While our own surprising moments might not quite compare with the drama of Mary’s yes, the wonder of the incarnation is that each of us is called to bear God’s love and witness to it in action in our own lives and spheres of influence … again and again. Like Mary, we are called to live as if we believe in the power of that love, that truly nothing is impossible for God. After all, in the words of Margaret Anna Cusack (Mother Francis Clare), founder of my religious community: “There is nothing Jesus desires from us so much as love.”
Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 1: 46-56) has Mary’s response, her Magnificat, which I like to think of as her proclamation of the promise and challenge of that love. I also find it fitting that she is called to proclaim this message in the company of her cousin Elizabeth, who of course has faced a “how can this be” moment with her own unexpected pregnancy. Together, in community, these two women face the future with hope despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Mary’s Magnificat shifts the focus from “how can this be” to “what does this mean.” In the words of Pope Francis: “We need the Song of Mary, the Magnificat: it is the song of hope, it is the song of the People of God walking through history.” It is a song for all those who “believe in the resurrection of Christ, in the victory of love.”
Because we believe in God’s love, we are called to mercy.
Because we believe in God’s love, we are called to use our strength for those without power, to be in solidarity with those on the margins, and to share our gifts with those in need.
Because we believe in God’s love, made incarnate … indeed, God with us! … we are called to act in love, to be love, to incarnate God’s love in our own lives.
We identify with Mary’s acceptance
of the word of God in her life
and aspire to her spirit of openness
and wholehearted response. (CSJP Constitution 42)
During these last days of Advent as we anticipate the joy of the celebration of the Incarnation, how are we being called to respond in hope to the “how can this be” moments in our own lives? Where are we called to show mercy? Who are the lowly and powerless we are called to lift up? Where and how might we say, with all our heart: “May it be done to me according to your word.”