“The Holy Spirit heated, inflamed and melted Mary with love, as fire does iron, so that the flame of the Spirit was seen and nothing was felt but the fire of the love of God.” – St. Ildefonsus of Toledo
Luke 1:39-56: Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’ And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him. He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.
Christ the Lord Elizabeth knows what’s going on. After years of infertility, God has seen fit to make her the mother of John the Baptist, the Messiah’s herald, whom she is still carrying in her womb. In response to such a privilege she has drawn closer to God, filled as she is with humble gratitude and a new appreciation of his mercy and generosity. Therefore, God begins to fill her with the Holy Spirit, who in turn keeps drawing her deeper into the mysterious and wonderful events taking place through and around her. This intimate union with God enables her to perceive God’s presence in Christ, even though he is only an embryo in Mary’s womb. And she calls him “my Lord.”
Before he ever worked any wonders, before he mesmerized the crowds with his preaching, before he rose from the dead, indeed, from all eternity, Jesus is “the Lord.”
Christ the Teacher It’s impossible to tell the story of Christmas without including Mary. As Christ’s first and most faithful disciple, the first one to welcome him into the world, she shows all of us how to live every Advent and Christmas season – indeed, every season of our Christian life – with faith. Through her example, Christ teaches us how to respond to God’s action in and around us: by believing in him and by trusting that whatever he may be asking of us is the best available option.
Who are we to argue with God, to disobey him? Will he deceive us? Will he lead us astray? Mary, partially enlightened by her heartfelt knowledge of God’s plan as revealed in the Old Testament scriptures, could not see clearly how God’s plans would work themselves out in the end. Even so, humbly and trustingly she put her faith in them, and for that wise faith she was “blessed among women,” as Elizabeth exclaimed. The Lord is constantly hoping that we will put our trust in him in the same way, so that he can shower his blessings upon us as well.
What was Mary’s secret? Why was she able to believe so firmly and to fulfill her vocation so magnificently? Why did she succeed where Eve had failed? She reveals her secret in this hymn of praise that bursts from her heart as soon as she greets Elizabeth.
During the whole journey from Nazareth to the hill country outside Jerusalem where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived, she had been joyfully contemplating all that God had done in her life and in the whole history of salvation. When she meets Elizabeth and realizes that God has revealed his plans to her as well, she feels free to give full expression to her thoughts and sentiments. She sings the Magnificat, a prayer that still echoes throughout the world every day through the liturgy of the Church. In its simple words, imbued with the prayers of the Old Testament, we glimpse Mary’s vision of reality, in which God rules all things with perfect power and with a wisdom that confounds the vain ambition of men. Humility, a serene recognition of our utter dependence on God, unleashes the power of divine grace in the world. Those who depend on themselves – the rich, the self-satisfied, the proud, the powerful – thwart God’s action in and through them. This is Mary’s secret – and it is a secret no longer. She teaches it to all who are willing to learn.
Christ the Friend God is already caring for us long before we realize it. He has had a plan in mind for us, a particular vocation, a unique role in his Kingdom, from before we were born, before we were ever conceived. In discovering and living out that plan we find our true and lasting joy. Why else is John the Baptist able to “leap for joy” while he is still in his mother’s womb? Only because God had made him the herald, the precursor, the one who would announce the imminent manifestation of the Messiah – this was his God-given mission in life, his vocation. Before he is aware of it, he is already fulfilling it.
Likewise, before we hear God’s call in our life, he is already preparing us to follow it – and hoping that when the call comes we will respond generously, so that he can make our hearts leap continually with joy until he welcomes us into his heavenly Kingdom.
Christ in My Life Lord, are you still at work in the world the way you were back when these wonderful happenings were unfolding? I know you are. I know that every time Mass is celebrated, it’s a new Annunciation, a new Bethlehem, a new Calvary. I know that you never cease drawing us to yourself. Open my eyes, increase my faith! I want to see you at work in all things…
Humility is a mystery to me, Lord. How humble Mary must have been! Unspoiled, uncontaminated by original sin and the slew of selfish tendencies it sets loose in our souls! Mary, my Mother, teach me your secret. Teach me to be truly humble, truly great in God’s eyes, so that my life will bear fruit for Christ’s Kingdom…
Lord, I know that you really do have something in mind for me. You created me to know you and love you as only I can. My concept of my vocation may not be in perfect sync with yours. But even so, I want to follow you. I want to discover and fulfill your will for me. I want to perceive it and understand it more deeply every day, so that I can embrace it more fully each moment…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art for this post on Luke 1:39-56: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Words of Magnificat contained in: Middelrijns altaar, visitatie (Middelrijns altar, Visitation), Anonymous (Middel-Rijn), Anonymous (Keulen), Anonymous (Westfalen) [Anonymous – Middle Rhine, Cologne, Westphalia], between 1405 and 1414, CC0-Universal Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.