Zephaniah 3: 14-18a; Isaiah 12: 2-6; Luke 1: 39-56
"Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." (Lk 1:45)
In Catholic tradition, May is reserved as a month in which the faithful honor Mary, the Mother of God. As a student at Sacred Heart School in Bennington, each May we took part in the "May Crowning," a ceremony in which a statue of Mary would be crowned with a wreath of flowers. It was a way to honor her presence and remember our devotion to her. The ceremony was followed by a "Living Rosary," in which each student would take one prayer of the Rosary. In my sixth grade year, I was designated by Sister of St. Joseph Mary Ancilla, our teacher, to carry the cross into the Church, and then to start the Rosary in praying the Apostles' Creed. I was nervous! While the event began with me, thankfully Sister Ancilla was right there directing our efforts.
The final day of May is the feast of the Visitation, the second Joyful Mystery in which Mary, now pregnant with the child Jesus, pays a visit to her cousin Elizabeth who is also with child. The child in Elizabeth's womb, known to us as John the Baptist, leapt for joy at being in the presence of his cousin, Jesus. At this point, Elizabeth made the statement at the top of this article: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." Elizabeth's statement to Mary sums up nicely our belief in Mary's role in the Church and in our lives. What a beautiful statement! Mary shows us the nature of true discipleship and intercedes for the Church to God the Father and her son, Jesus Christ.
Key to understanding Mary is the story of the Annunciation, a scene that has captured the imaginations of artists and poets for centuries. The angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her what God has in store for her. She will conceive, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and bear a son, and that boy will be the Son of God. She doubts the angel as any normal human being would-but then, overcome with grace, tells the angel that she is the "handmaiden" of the Lord. She is the Immaculate Conception. Called from all time to be the Mother of God, this was now her moment. She will fulfill his will and she believes what the angel told her. Mary's life changed forever in that heavenly visit. That moment ushered in salvation; God is now present in the flesh!
Mary's "yes" is the response of a true disciple. Each of us has been called by God to be the person he has created us to be. Have you ever thought of that? God had created you in his image and likeness to be who you are, at this time and in this place, among these people, with these gifts and talents and not others. Mary's "yes" brought her fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. Following God's will does that for all of us. While Mary learned of God's will through a visit of the angel, we grasp it in prayer. Nevertheless, let us follow Mary's example and say "yes" to God, that we, too, may find meaning and purpose in this life. The mature Christian knows that following God's will is the sure way to finding fulfillment in life.
In the Hail Mary, we ask our Blessed Mother to "pray for us now and at the hour of our death." Mary intercedes for the Church, and for you and me. Mary stayed with her son through his life, and at the foot of the cross watches her son die. We believe she has been assumed body and soul to heaven, and there intercedes with God on our behalf. We ask for Mary's intercession and prayers.
Mary's role in our lives is one of example of discipleship and intercession. Each Christian today prays for the ability to say "yes" to God and his will. Mary is our example of what it truly means to follow the Lord. As Elizabeth said, she believed that what the Lord told her would be fulfilled. Following Mary's example, let's say "yes" to God, believing that God's will is our fulfillment as it was for Mary.
For private reflection. . .
While the angel visited Mary to tell her God's will, we learn of it through prayer. Have you prayed to find that will? Have you said "yes" to God's will as did Mary?
(This column is dedicated to the memory of Jose Miana of Barre, Vt., a former parishioner and dear friend who died April 2, 2016. Jose's deep love for the Blessed Mother taught us all the nature of true discipleship. Requiescat in pace.)
The Reverend Monsignor Bernard W. Bourgeois is the pastor of Christ the King Parish, Rutland, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Rutland and St. Patrick Parish, Wallingford, Vermont.