Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Virgin as Advent

The Virgin as Advent

1) Our Lady is the true Advent. She is the true eschatology. The “Last Thing” of man is God. God has become present to us in her 2000 years ago, and continues to be present, but hidden and silent

Advent means “arrival” or the beginning of a presence. It does not mean expectation.

The Virgin Mary is the model of feminine receptivity. She is not the model of masculine activity. “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came in to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace…’” (Lk. 1, 27-28).

The Real Advent:

The Virgin Says “Yes” and The Word “Arrives” Hidden in Time and Space

“This scene is one of the fateful moments of world history, for at this moment and in this place the presence of God – in the full sense of the term – among men truly began. Here there was a real ‘Advent.’ But we must observe that this fateful moment of world history was also one of history’s most silent and hidden moments. It was a forgotten moment that no newspaper recorded and no picture magazine mentioned or would have mentioned, had such a periodical exited at the time. What we are told here, then, is a mystery of silence.

“That which is truly great grows unnoticed, and silence at the right moment is more fruitful than the constant activity that only too easily degenerates into spiritual idleness. [This is the big problem: the lukewarmness that generates boredom and therefore activism]. In the present age, when public life is being Americanized, we are all possessed by a strange restlessness that suspects any silence of being a waste of time and any kind of repose as being negligence. Every bit of time is weighed and measured, and in the process we forget the real mystery of time, the real mystery present in growth and activity. That mystery involves silence and stillness.

“Even in the religious sphere we tend to expect and hope for everything from our own activity. We use all kinds of exercises and involvements to evade the real mystery of interior growth before God. And yet in the religious sphere receptivity is at least as important as activity” (J. Ratzinger "Dogma and Preaching" Franciscan Herald Press [1985] 77-78).

Richard Rohr on same: “My continuing momentum in this work {“Adam’s Return”} has been a rather constant sadness and disappointment over the lack of an inner life in so many men I meet, even among ministers, religious, and devoted laymen, and high-level and successful leaders from whom we would expect more. It is not their fault, if fault must be named. Usually no one has offered them anything more than Jacob’s cheap ‘soup.’ We are sons of Esau, having sold our birthright for fast-food religion (Genesis 25, 29-34). It does no deeply transform the self of the world.

“So here are my viewpoints…: First, I believe that truth is more likely to be found a the bottom and the edges of things than at the top of the center. The top or center always has too much to prove and too much to protect. I learned this by connecting the dots of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, from my Franciscan background – the pedagogy of the oppressed and the continued testimony of the saint and mystics – and from the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous. Final authority in the spiritual world does not tend to come from any agenda of success but from some form of suffering that always feels like the bottom. Insecurity and impermanence are the best spiritual teachers… The good news is clearly not a winner’s script, although the ego and even the churches continually try to make it so.

“Second, as Einstein put it, I believe that ‘no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.’ I try to teach a contemplative stance toward life that gives people an entirely new way of knowing the world, and that has the power to move them beyond mere ideology and dualistic thinking. Frankly, what religion calls contemplation is the only mind that is broad enough and deep enough to answer the real and important questions.”[1]

Opus Dei as “School” of Advent

The spirit of Opus Dei is transformation into “Ipse Christus” in the exercise of ordinary, hidden work in the world. One must understand the Christological anthropology of the God-man who masters (subdues) His human will and makes the gift of Himself to the Father in the exercise of that human will – i.e. the will of a Divine Person - in work.[2] This is ultimately the redemptive act of John 6, 38: “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent me.” It is the priestly act of mediating between Self and the Father (or as Escriva puts it: “being priest of one’s own existence”). St. Paul (Hebrews 9-11) explains that Christ did not enter the presence of the Father with “something” like the blood of bulls and goats, but with His very Self as enfleshed Son. He did not enter with objects, but the supreme Subject. When the human person, baptized into Jesus Christ, does this, he exercises what Escriva called “the priestly soul” executed with the actual power Christ’s act on Calvary and shared in at the Sacrifice of the Mass. As Christ’s act is redemptive, the work of the human person is “co-redemptive.” By exercising this Christological anthropology, one actualizes self as “another Christ.” Jesus Christ becomes present in time and space now as He did 2,000 years ago within the Virgin. This is the ongoing Advent that is the very life of the Church.

But, although this is our most free act, we cannot perform this self-mastery without the love of God for us, which is grace. Grace is divine Love extended to us that confirms us in our most personal identity and empowers us to master self and exercise this Christogenesis in us. It is our act, but the initiative and the power are not from us, but from God. Ratzinger remarks: “We find the reason when we open the Old Testament and see how the way was already prepared for the mystery of Mary at decisive points in the history of salvation. The process begins with Sarah, the mother of Isaac, a woman who was barren; only when she is quite on in years and her powers of communicating life are dead does she become by God’s power the mother of Isaac and thus of the chosen people. The preparation continues with Hannah, the mother of Samuel, who is likewise barren but eventually gives birth; with the mother of Samson; and again with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.

“The point of what happens is the same in all these instances; they show that salvation comes not from human beings and their own powers but solely from God and his gracious action. God intervenes where there is human vacuum; he starts at the point at which, from the human point of view, nothing can be done. He gives life to the bearer of the promise in the dead womb of Sarah, and follows the same pattern through history spelled out in Is 54, 1 (Gal 4, 27); ‘Sing, O barren one, who did no bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married, says the Lord.’

“The meaning – let us repeat it (it is already brought out in Romans 4) – is that the salvation of the world is exclusively God’s doing and therefore occurs in the midst of human weakness and powerlessness. From the viewpoint of the Bible the virgin birth is in the last analysis a sign that what occurs is a pure act of grace on God’s part. It is a symbol of grace, the most fully real verification of Mary’s words: ‘He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree’ (Lk. 1, 52).”[3]

The point of what happens is the same in all these instances

Joseph Ratzinger comments on this experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ by Escriva: “There is something which one immediately notices when one comes in contact with the life of Monsignor Escrivá de Balaguer and his writings – a very vivid sense of the presence of Christ. ‘Stir up that fire of faith. Christ is not a figure that has passed. He is not a memory that is lost in history. He lives! Jesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula”, says Saint Paul, – “Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday, and as he will be for ever”,’ wrote Josemaría Escrivá in The Way (584). This Christ who is alive is also a Christ who is near, a Christ in whom the power and majesty of God make themselves present through ordinary, simple human beings.

One can, then, speak of Josemaría Escrivá having a marked and special type of Christ-centeredness, in which contemplation of Jesus’ life on earth and contemplation of his living presence in the Eucharist lead one to discover God; and from God they throw light onto the circumstances of our everyday life. ‘The fact that Jesus grew up and lived just like us shows us that human existence and all the ordinary activities of men have a divine meaning. No matter how much we may have reflected on this’, he goes on, ‘we should always be surprised when we think of the thirty years of obscurity which made up the greater part of Jesus’ life among men. He lived in obscurity, but for us that period is full of light. It illuminates our days and fills them with meaning, for we are ordinary Christians who lead an ordinary life, just like millions of other people all over the world.’(Christ is Passing By, 14).

There are two things we can learn from these reflections on the life of Jesus, from the deep mystery of the fact that God not only became man but also took on the human condition, making himself the same as us, except for sin (Heb 4:15). First of all is the universal call to holiness, to whose proclamation Josemaría Escrivá made such a contribution, as Pope John Paul II recalled in his homily during the beatification Mass. But also, to give body to this call, there is the recognition that holiness is reached, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, through ordinary life.[4]

Escriva went to the school of the Virgin: in Loreto in 1951 and Guadalupe in 1970 to share in this intimacy with Jesus Christ and ask the blind man on the side of the road: Bartimaeus. This is the real on-going Advent and the true eschatology of experiencing our “end” here and now.

[1] Richard Rohr, “Adam’s Return,” Crossroad (2004) xi-xii. Rohr does not know the source of the Einstein quote. I asked him.

[2] Cf. Ratzinger’s “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1988) 37-42 and “Journey to Easter” Crossroad (1987) 101-102.

[3] J. Ratzinger “Dogma and Preaching” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 77-78.

[4] Inaugural message at the Symposium “Holiness and the World” on the founder of Opus Dei, organized by the Faculty of Theology of the Roman Atheneum of the Holy Cross, from 12 to 14 October at the Palazzo Apollinare di Roma.

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