Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Annunciation of Our Lady

“Someone who disregards the place of Mary in the history of salvation, as the Church has come to know it in her prayer and contemplation, will pay the price in the long run; he will sooner or later land in a feminism that demands the equality, which means in practical terms the identification, of woman and man.”[1]

“The Whole World Awaits Mary’s Reply” (St. Bernard)

“You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

“The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

“Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

“Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to othe angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

“Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open you womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.”

The Truth of Mary: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk. 1, 45).

Faith is an act of the whole person. It is not merely an act of faculties of intellect and will. It is an act whose metaphysical anthropology is gift of self. It is the only adequate response to the act of Revelation which is the act of the three divine Persons revealing the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Word of the Father and is the full and complete disclosure of who the Father is. There is nothing more to be said after the Son. The development of the faith throughout history is the ongoing experience of the Son by becoming “like” Him by making a corresponding gift of self in living deeds. Thus there is an increase of revelation as the subject of the believer increases in self-gift, and therefore in likeness to Christ as the Father’s self-gift. The Church grows in an experiential knowledge of Christ, and therefore there is a multiplication of conceptual reflection on this that issues in a growth in dogmas.

This is the point that is precisely misunderstood by traditionalists who ask: “What if the human members of the Church could be induced to embrace non-doctrines and non-teachings that engender confusion and division over the meaning oaf the actual doctrines of the Magisterium? Is it not apparent that this is precisely what has happened in the post-conciliar Church? Verbal `viruses’ have invaded the Mystical Body, disguising themselves as doctrines to which we are expected to adhere. And yet we find that we cannot adhere to them, because they lack doctrinal content; they are not definite teachings that oblige our assent to particular theological propositions.”[3] Or, as Thomas Droleskey says, “There is no need to search for truth. It ahs been deposited by Truth Incarnate in the Catholic Church. All a man needs to do is to submit his will to this truth, which has been revealed by God and proclaimed doctrinally when necessary by popes and dogmatic councils, without attempting to redefine anything that has been handed down to us because `we do like’ certain formulations. Von Balthasar’s life, therefore, was spent in vain searching for a truth that was readily accessible in the Deposit of Faith.”[4]

Love (Faith) Engenders Life

Since the Being of the Trinitarian Persons is Relation, and we image them in our being as persons, to be is to be in relation. That means that the act of radical love as self-gift is the very meaning of life. And to give self is to engender life.

Mary: Not a Mere Instrument, but a Free Co-operating Agent (unimpeded by sin):

This is the case of the Virgin at the Annunciation. To hear the Word of God and do it, is to make the radical gift of the self, and so engender the Son of God in one’s very flesh, and from one’s very flesh. Our Lady “was not a mere instrument in the Incarnation, such as David, or Judah, may be considered; they (St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus and Tertullian) declare she co-operated in our salvation not merely by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon her body, but by specific holy acts, the effect of the Holy ghost within her soul; that, as Eve forfeited privileges by sin, so Mary earned privileges by the fruits of grace; that, as Eve was disobedient and unbelieving, so Mary was obedient, and believing; that as Eve was a cause of ruin to all, Mary was a cause of salvation to all; that as Ever made room for Adam’s fall, so Mary made room for Our Lord’s reparation of it; and thus, whereas the free gift was not as the offence, but much greater, it follows that ,a s Eve co-operated in effecting a great evil, Mary co-operated in effecting a much greater good.”[5]

“Indeed, at the Annunciation Mary entrusted herself to God completely, with the `full submission of intellect and will’ manifesting `the obedience of faith’ to him who spoke to her hrough his messenger. She responded, therefore, with all her human and feminine `I,’ and this response of faith included both perfect cooperation with `the grace of God that precedes and assists’ and perfect openness to the action of the Holy Spirit, who `constantly brings faith to completion by his gifts.’”[6]

And besides, this self gift of Our Lady “can also be compared to that of Abraham, whom St. Paul calls `our father in faith’ (cf. Rom. 4, 12). In the salvific economy of God’s revelation, Abraham’s faith constitutes the beginning of the Old Covenant; Mary’s faith at the Annunciation inaugurates the New Covenant. Just as Abraham `in hope believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations’ (cf. Rom. 4, 18), so Mary at the Annunciation, having professed her virginity (`How shall this be, since I have no husband?’) believed that through the power of the Most High, by the power of the Holy Spirit, she would become the Mother of God’s Son in accordance with the angel’s revelation: `The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’ (Lk. 1, 35).”[7]

We Must Do the Same: Engender Christ in Us by the Gift of Ourselves in Obedience

We are called to make the same act of faith and so re-incarnate Jesus Christ today in this culture and civilization in our own flesh. John Paul II brings to our attention the advertence made to Christ that “his mother and brothers are standing outside and wish to see him” (Lk. 8, 20-21). He replies “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

Augustine says: “Now, beloved, give me your whole attention, for you also are members of Christ; you also are the body of Christ. Consider how you yourselves can be among those of whom the Lord said: Here are my mother and my brothers. Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ? He himself said: Whoever hears and fulfills the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother.”[8]

We can become the Mother of Christ by engender His Flesh in us by hearing the Word of God and doing it. This was precisely what Our Lady enjoined on the servants at the wedding feast of Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2, 5). We will put Jesus Christ at the summit of all human activities if we pass through the heart of Our Lady and live the obedience of faith as she did. She engendered Jesus Christ into the world. By obeying her injunction to do whatever He tells us, we will engender Jesus Christ in the middle of the world by our very selves becoming alteri Christi (other Christs). Remember the words of John Paul in #13 of Redemptoris Mater: “She responded… with all her human and feminine `I’…” In 1986 in Toronto, Benedict XVI explained the nature of faith as “death event.” “Conversion according to Paul is something much more radical than a mere revision of a few opinions or attitudes. It is a death event. In other words it is the replacement of the subject – of the `I.’ The `I’ ceases to be independent and to be a subject existeing in itself. It is torn from itself and inserted into a new subject. The `I’ does not perish, but must let itself diminish completely, in effect, in order to be received within a larger `I’ and, together with that larger `I,’ to be conceived anew.” [9]

And on December 8, 2005, the Pope said of Our Lady:

“[Mary] illuminates the inner structure of the Church’s teaching, which was developed at the Council. The Second Vatican Council had to pronounce on the institutional components of the Church: on the bishops and on the pontiff, on the priests, lay people and religious, in their communion and in their relations; it had to describe the Church journeying on, `clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification’ (Lumen Gentium, no. 8). This `Petrine’ aspect of the church, however, is included in that `Marian’ aspect. In Mary, the Immaculate, we find the essence of the Church without distortion.”

[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Mary-Church-Office,” A Short Primer for the Unsettled Layman Ignaitus (1985) 88.
[2] St. Beranrd, abbot, From ahomily “in Praise of the Virgin Mother;” Homily 4, 8-9.
[3] Christopher A., Ferrara, “Viruses in the Body of Christ,” Latin Mass Summer 2004 13.
[4] Thomas A. Droleskey, “Benedict’s First Encyclical, Teaching Us to Love Modernism and Modernity,” The International Report, Catholic Family News, March 2006, p. 16.
[5] John Henry Newman, “The New Eve,” The Newman Press, Westminster, MD (1952) 16.
[6] Ibid. #13.
[7] John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater #14.
[8] St. Augustine, Sermon 25, 7-8. PL 46, 937-938. Breviary: Presentation of Mary, November 21.
[9] Josef Ratzinger, “The Spiritual Basis and Ecclesial Identity of Theology,” in The Nature and Mission of Theology Ignatius (1995) 51.

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