“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of David His father, and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be to me according to your word. ” Then the angel departed from her.”
Luke 1:30-33; 38
The following is a reflection I wrote on Mary during my time in the Novitiate in 2001. I include it here today on the occasion of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. May all of us grow in our love for Jesus’ mother during this Advent season as we strive to unite ourselves with a little of the anticipation and HOPE she perhaps felt as she prepared to welcome her Son into our world!
Mary, Handmaid of God
This simple title, “handmaid of the Lord,” is, as far as we know, the only title Mary ever gave herself while she walked the earth. I have heard this passage repeatedly in readings of Scripture, but only recently has this title actually entered into my heart to grow.
I have never really had a devotion to the Mother of God, and I have always wondered about it. What was I doing wrong? I’m still not sure, but it has only been recently – this postulant year in fact, that I have started to yearn to pray to Jesus’ mother, to know her and to emulate her. What a blessing!
In particular, I feel very drawn to meditate on the full and total “YES” that pervades her life and resounds in the hearts of Christians to our present day. “YES! I will do what God wants!” And we see how this YES must deepen and grow through every stage of her Son’s life. As He is smuggled into Egypt as a baby; as He is found in the temple; as He grows to maturity; and then in His public ministry which ended in His crucifixion and death. Mary was challenged again and again to deepen that YES, to “ponder these things in her heart,” to pray about them and meet the challenge to surrender to God until it consumed her entire life.
Often when I pray in the chapel, I meditate on the statue we have of our Blessed Mother, and at the same time a picture of Michelangelo’s Pieta. These two works show Mary at very different stages of her YES to God, but comfort me and give me hope.
The statue of Mary we have in the chapel appears to be a portrayal of a new mother, holding her son up for all to see. But at the same time her hands hold Him close to her, in a protective embrace, and she keeps Him within the warmth of her mantle, which looks very much like a cocoon. The way she holds Him reminds me that she experienced what most new mothers do – she was intimately united to her son, loved Him intensely, would sacrifice everything for Him, and she wanted Him to be safe and well cared for. At the same time, Mary was surrendered to God’s will. She knew this son of hers was also the Son of God, and that He was “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Luke 2:34) and that as a handmaid, “a sword will pierce [her] own heart too.” (Luke 2:35)
There was a deepening of the YES that she first spoke at the Annunciation. An ever deepening surrender to the will of God enabled her to watch her son die; hold His body in her arms; suffer the deep unspeakable pain that any mother would have witnessing the humiliation and public death of her son; and at the same time to be at peace with God. She had to grow into God’s will for her, continuing to “ponder these things in her heart,” in order to surrender in obedience as a handmaid to His will.
I too, want to do what God wants; at least I say I do. But when opportunities arise where I am asked to give much of myself, I start to balk. Why does this happen? Why can I not give all, or why must I complain and be so reluctant in giving?
But I have hope in grace. Mary strengthens me in this hope. I know it will be painful. I know I can not do it on my own. But, in the deepening of this YES, this assent and surrender in free will to be a handmaid of the Lord, I have hope that God will carry me through and allow me to become what He has created me to be.