Friday, March 25, 2011

Annunciation: God Becomes man -Supreme Ontological Density

Benedict XVI’s Insight: It has to be done again: now. “At a certain point, they said to the Lord: ‘Behold, your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside.’ Indicating the people gathered around him, he said ‘He who does the will of my Father is mother, brother, and sister to me.’ In saying this, he also transmitted the mission of maternity to us, so that we might, as it were, give God a new chance to be born in our time, too. The birth of God was one of the major themes for the Church Fathers. They said that God was born once in Bethlehem, but that there is also a very significant and profound way in which he must be born again in every new generation, and it is to this, they thought, that every Christian is called.”[1]

With this, Benedict is echoing the commentary of Augustine in his Sermon 25 that was delivered on the feast of the Presentation of Mary commemorating the dedication of the church of Saint Mary built in Jerusalem near the site of the Temple.

Augustine comments on the Gospel passage: “a woman in the crowd raised her voice… ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’ (Lk. 11, 27), which Jesus responded to with: ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’ (Lk. 11, 28):

“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 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.

Now listen and see if the words of Scripture do not agree with what I have said. The Lord was passing by and crowds were following him. His miracles gave proof of divine power. and a woman cried out: Happy is the womb that bore you, blessed is that womb! But the Lord, not wishing people to seek happiness in a purely physical relationship, replied: More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Mary heard God’s word and kept it, and so she is blessed. She kept God’s truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb. The truth and the body were both Christ: he was kept in Mary’s mind insofar as he is truth, he was carried in her womb insofar as he is man; but what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb.

The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the Church is greater than she. Mary is a part of the Church, a member of the Church, a holy, an eminent – the most eminent – member, but still only a member of the entire body. The body undoubtedly is greater than she, one of its members. This body has the Lord for its head, and head and body together make up the whole Christ. In other words, our head is divine – our head is God.

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 fulfils the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother. As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone. It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with himself.

Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother? Much less would I dare to deny his own words. Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ? You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ. Of whom were you born? “Of Mother Church”, I hear the reply of your hearts. You became sons of this mother at your baptism, you came to birth then as members of Christ. Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ.”

We Give Christ Our Humanity by Hearing the Word of God and Doing It in Daily Living: Living Obedience in Our State of Life!

Mary made the gift of herself and said “Yes.” By saying “Yes” she opened herself as receptive of the Word of God-Person, and in so doing, she gives Him the whole of her humanity. Specifically, she gives the egg which is genetically her very self. The seed of the Word becomes implanted there and assumes her humanity – which is ours – into His divine Person and becomes the man, Jesus Christ.

What takes place is the following in the words of then Joseph Ratzinger: “it is no longer a merely external word but is saturated with the experience of a life, translated into human terms; now it can be translated, in turn, into the lives of others. Thus Mary becomes a model for the Church’s mission, i.e., that of being a dwelling place for the Word, preserving it and keeping it safe in times of confusion, protecting it, as it were, from the elements. Hence she is also the interpretation of the parable of the seed sowed in good soil and yielding fruit a hundredfold. She is not the thin surface earth which cannot accommodate roots; she is not the barren earth which the sparrows have pecked bare; nor is she overgrown by the weeds of affluence that inhibit new growth. She is a human being with depth. She lets the word sink deep into her. So the process of fruitful transformation can take place in a twofold direction: she saturates the word with her life, as it were, putting the sap and energy of her life at the Word’s disposal; but as a result, conversely, her life is permeated, enriched and deepened by the energies of the Word, which gives everything its meaning. First of all it is she who digests the Word, so to speak, transmuting it; but in doing so she herself, with her life, is in turn transmuted into the Word. Her life becomes word and meaning. That is how the gospel is handed on in the Church; indeed, it is how all spiritual and intellectual growth and maturity are handed on from one person to another and within humanity as a whole. It is the only way in which men and mankind can acquire depth and maturity. In other words, it is the only way to progress.

“This brings us back to our earlier questions. Today, by progress we generally mean the growth in the scope of technology and the increate in the gross national product. When we say progress, quite simply, we think of ‘having’ more.”[2]

In the office of readings for January 1 from St. Athanasius’ letter to Epictetum (5-9), Athenasius quotes St. Paul” “The Word took to himself the sons of Abraham, and so had to be like his brothers in all things. He had then to take a body like ours. This explains the fact of Mary’s presence: she is to provide him with a body of his own, to be offered for our sake. Scripture records her giving birth, and says: She wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Her breasts, which fed him, were called blessed. Sacrifice was offered because the child was her firstborn. Gabriel used careful and prudent language when he announced his birth. He did not speak of ‘what well be born in you to avoid the impression that a body would be introduced into her womb from outside; he spoke of ‘what will be born from you,’ so that we might know by faith that her child originated within her and from her.

“By taking our nature and offering it in sacrifice, the Word was to destroy it completely and then invest it with his own nature, and so prompt the Apostle to say: This corruptible body must put on incorruption; this mortal body must put on immortality.

“This was not done in outward show only, as some have imagined. This is not so. Our Savior truly became man, and from this has followed the salvation of man as a whole. Our salvation is in no way fictitious, nor does it apply only to the body. The salvation of the whole man, that is, of soul and body, has really been achieved in the Word himself.

“What was born of Mary was therefore human by nature, in accordance with the inspired Scriptures, and the body of the Lord was a true body: It was a true body because it was the same as ours. Mary, you see, is our sister, for we are all born from Adam…

“[As a result], man’s body has acquired something great through its communion and union with the Word. From being mortal it has been made immortal; though it was a living body it has become a spiritual [i.e. relational] one; though it was made from the earth it has passed through the gates of heaven.

“Even when the Word takes a body from Mary, the Trinity remains a Trinity, with neither increase nor decrease. It is for ever perfect. In the Trinity we acknowledge one Godhead, and thus one God, the Father of the Word, is proclaimed in the Church.”[3]

[1] Benedict XVI, “Light of the World,” Ignatius (2010) 159.

[2] J. Ratzinger, “Seek that Which is Above,” Ignatius (1986) 102-103.

[3] Office or Readings for January 1, Second Reading “From a letter by Saint Athanasius, bishop” (484-485).

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