Fr. Ray Diesbourg, MSC USA Provincial, offers this reflection he gave at the Marmion Mom’s Faith & Fellowship Advent Retreat as a three-part online retreat as we enter the holiday season. Please take the opportunity to meditate on the ways Mary can teach us to open our hearts to the Lord, especially as we prepare for the beginning of Advent next week. Stay tuned for part two!
Advent is a time of waiting. We wait and prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The Scriptures of the season also remind us that we wait and prepare for his return in glory at the end of time. And so it is a season that highlights anticipation. Of course, anticipation can be filled with joy or with dread. Probably the best example of joyful anticipation is that of children awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning. And no doubt at the opposite extreme of anticipation with dread could be a death-row inmate or someone with terminal cancer. Whatever kind of anticipation we may know, throughout Advent Mary is presented to us as an example of how to wait for the Lord with joyful anticipation, whether that be for his birth or after his resurrection.
We describe Mary, then, as our model of waiting for the Lord. We have numerous titles by which we remember her and call upon her. Many of these are found in the Litany to the Blessed Mother. There we pray to her as Queen of all saints, Morning Star, Tower of Ivory, Mystical Rose, Gate of Heaven, Seat of Wisdom, Queen of Peace, etc. All these titles are accorded to her as Mother of God and Mother of our Redeemer. Then we also have titles which are based on places of apparition, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and so on. We are all familiar with these and other such references to the Blessed Mother. We, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, have a unique title and devotion which connects Mary directly to her Son instead of to a virtue or a place: Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. She points to his heart and shows us how to love as Jesus loved.
But there may be some other ways to think about Mary. Many of the experiences in her life on earth could easily speak to people who may be in similar situations, people who are weak or vulnerable, the poor and the “little ones” of this world. We may not often think of her in these terms; but if we reflect on what the Scriptures tell us, we may find there a treasury of food for thought and prayer. I would like to highlight a few of these perspectives on the Blessed Mother.
First, Mary could be described as a questioning or confused teenager. The Gospel of Luke (1:26-29) tells us that she was approached by an angel who greeted her with, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” We read that “she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Here we have a young girl, a teenager, who has a startling and unexpected vision. Obviously, she is taken quite by surprise and doesn’t know what to make of this. The angel has to calm her down, “Do not be afraid, Mary…” Then he tells her about the birth of Jesus. She is still questioning and verse 34 reads, “But Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” This is similar to the objection raised by Zechariah when he was told of the birth of John the Baptist. The main difference between Mary’s question and that of Zechariah is that Zechariah did not believe that the birth of John could happen to an elderly couple. Mary on the other hand wanted to know how this would happen and not whether it could happen. After the angel tells her about the Holy Spirit overshadowing her, she agrees to be “the handmaid of the Lord.” From this we could say that Mary can certainly speak to confused or questioning teenagers. They can take comfort in knowing that even the Blessed Mother experienced confusion and doubt and as Scripture puts it “was greatly troubled.”
Another image is that of Mary as an unwed mother. Because of the circumstances surrounding the Incarnation, Mary is pregnant but not married. Matthew (1:18-25) notes that she is betrothed to Joseph, but that they have not lived together. Joseph discovers that she is pregnant and knows that the child is not his. So he decides to divorce her quietly since he is, as Scripture puts it, “a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame.” Even if she tried to explain the situation to him, we can guess that he probably didn’t believe her since he decided to divorce her. It isn’t until “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” and told him what was what that he finally agrees to take her into his home. Mary experiences, at least for a while, the stigma of being an unwed mother in the eyes of those around her. Might turning to Mary be a source of consolation and hope for so many unwed mothers, even if their circumstances are completely different?