All is essentially interior for a true woman’s heart. She learns this early. Her love, from the first moment it is given, is a part of the very substance of her own life. She can never detach herself from the beloved once she has truthfully given her heart away. The reaction of the beloved could never change her response, for deep inside, somewhere surrounded by mystery, concealed in darkness, the gift of the heart was given. It is an Act of Entrustment; an act of sacred consecration; a total commitment: a gift forever.
Mary simply said “Fiat, Be it done unto me according to Your will” for her will was not a separate entity. Instead, it had spent itself in the embrace of the beloved. Her life from then on would become more and more a quiet withdrawal, a growth inwardly and, only much later, would this increase become visible to others. Silently, deeply, secretly Divinity came into Her womb; 2000 years of Promise was fulfilled in a moment; in a hidden altar of Sacrifice, the Divine Priest would dwell as in His seminary (His school); His period of growth and preparation. At Her Word, a seed was planted; a Divine seed. She was open….and God entered therein!
How can we fathom the instant change in her prayer – from conversing with the “God – outside” to the “Lord-within”? The mother-with-child speaking as tenderly to the God-Above as to the God-Inside. This Union was complete; thus, the Trinity finally knew the personal warmth of a human heart. Not a single thought or action of Mary’s would not have been spoken and communicated also, to the Holy Spirit, Her Spouse precisely because she now would understand the depths of her vulnerability before God. And this humility kept her unassuming, guarding the Secret she could share only with God. Though she had promised her virginity to Him when she was but a young child, only a Divine Lover could overpower her resolve and thus gain entrance therein. The Holy Spirit knew her, purely and virginally. He loved all He knew and her immaculate goodness, so like His own, drew Him to find a home in her. Mary became pregnant with Love Himself.
Nine blessed months of secret conversation she would know as Her Body gave Him His. Her Blood formed His… the same Blood which would, in His timing, be spilt on endless altars of sacrifice – until the end of time – whenever a Sacred Priest offers a Holy Mass. According to Old Testament Jewish Law, it was always necessary that blood be spilt in sacrifice. Mary must have understood the prophecies about her Son as a Victim Lamb. But, for the present, this was the original Advent – not a time of bloody sacrifice yet certainly, but a time of the blessing of blood because Divinity’s blood was being formed.
In preparing my thoughts for you, I wanted to mention what is probably my favorite Advent book – in case you might wish to read, or re-read, it as well! Probably all you have heard of Caryll Houselander, the famous British mystic, writer, artist, visionary and healer who lived from 1901 until her death of cancer at the age of 52. A most fascinating person who, in her 1944 classic, “The Reed of God”, depicts the intimately human side of Mary, Mother of God, as an empty reed waiting for God’s music to be played through her. Lovingly bringing Our Lady down off her time-honored, ancient pedestal, Houselander shares her insightful and beautiful vision of Mary on earth, Mary among us, Mary as a confused but trusting teenager whose holiness flowered with her eternal “Yes.” With profound theological teachings and appealing imagery, The Reed of God is a spiritual classic written in the mystical tradition of Julian of Norwich. In the words of another famous contemporary Catholic author and teacher, Scott Hahn: “This wonderful book gives us a privileged peek into the soul of a holy woman as she engages beautiful biblical texts in prayer.”
So, let us listen to a portion of Houselander’s poetic reflections:
“When she [Mary] surrendered herself to God, there was a new heaven and a new earth. The Spirit entered the world. Light, wisdom, love, patience, fortitude and joy entered the human heart and mind, and in the sight of God, a springtime of loveliness woke the world. It was in Mary that God fell in love with humanity again!”
Beautiful, wouldn’t you agree? She continues to lead us into reflections pregnant with Advent Grace. For a moment let’s consider that the food Mary ate would actually feed and nourish the child. We might imagine further imagine the young maiden of Nazareth beating out the sticky- flour mixture that she would eventually bake into loaves of bread. Might this not be a prefigurement of the Mother, 33 years later, baking the bread for her Son’s “Last Supper on earth”…the very bread baked by his mother’s the loving hands, which substance, He would change into His own Body! Did Mary, perhaps do this same action first – as during her advent she would take the bread, bless it, break it and eat it so that it might become the flesh and blood of her Son as well.
She clothed herself even as her body clothed the child. In working to clean the home, She was already shaping her Son’s muscles for future work. In sleeping, She served as a cradle and her own heartbeat was the melody for the Child to rest in security.
However, no love comes without a price. Why is it so startling to lovers that after the initial courtship is completed, crosses would lie in their future?
Joseph noticed his intended wife’s condition. He must have surely died his own unknown death, the death of a lover whose faithful love has suddenly been repaid by seeming infidelity. Joseph wondered: It couldn’t be true but Mary’s roundness was only increasing. Joseph wanted to simply ask Mary, but his devoted love of her who was so above him in virtue–his shining star, his hope, his dream– his raw heart would never let his lips vocalize the question. Mary was silent , always, it seemed, wrapped in prayer. Could the prayer, perhaps, be one of silent contrition?
But not Mary! She was too good! Did anyone tarnish her immaculate dignity? But no!! But if not promiscuity and not rape, then how? Only one answer was left….a 2000 year old Promise was at last seeing a fulfillment for it had said, “A Virgin shall be with Child.” Then came Joseph’s darkest night…. Any unworthiness could never be united to such sacred Purity! I must leave Her! Depart from me, Mary, for I am a sinful man! O, my Lord God, I am unworthy to untie the strap of Her sandal…
Mary knelt, with the God-in-her to the God-above-her and, in this act, she thrust out Her arms in cruciform prayer, thus intimating to her Son the stance by which He would, 33 years later, consummate His Marriage with His Bride, the Church. She, too, was submitting in obedient Love; to the silence of the Mystery; to the spiritual dark night her beloved Joseph was undergoing. As a Virgin, She knew not man; but as a woman, she already knew and understood and loved this holy, just man, Joseph. Her heart ached for him! If an angel had rescued her from the loneliness of her barrenness, could not an angel also rescue her Joseph from such a Gethsemane of seemingly unfaithful love? But oh, how long the wait!!
Returning to Caryll Houselander’s reflection:
“We live in an age of impatience, an age in which everything, from learning ABC’s to industry, tries to cut out and do away with the natural season of growth. That is why so much of our life is abortive. We ought to let everything grow in us as Christ grew in Mary… No one should ever make anything except in the spirit in which a woman bears a child; in the Spirit in which Christ was formed in Mary’s womb, in the love with which God created the world… In this contemplation, there is a great virtue in practicing patience in small things until the habit of Advent returns to us.” (Caryll Houselander) The Reed of God, 1944)
Joseph waited …and suddenly, in the radiant whiteness that joins souls of great purity ‘heart-to-heart’, an Angel came to Joseph. Like a dream…but are not some of life’s greatest dreams also life’s greatest realities? The humble, young, handsome, strong, virtuous man himself cried like a baby that could have also been hidden in Mary’s womb. Then he rose out of this dark night, ready to assume his responsibilities as husband of Mary and earthly father to a soon-to-be-born Divine Child. Joseph the Just had been confirmed Joseph the Strong.
The pregnancy, enveloping body, mind and heart, was all consuming. And no longer would Joseph burden his beautiful, young wife with any internal questioning. In silence, he took up his role as the manly Protector. To travel to Bethlehem for the governor’s census would be difficult as his beloved was already so heavy with child! He would get her a donkey to ride, and his place would be in walking humbly beside the beast’s precious cargo.
But her time was near, would the bumpy ride be enough to initiate the birth process? And what would he do? His hands were skilled at working with wood, far too rough to hold the tender flesh of a newborn or even assist the mother when her time would come. Besides, his relationship with Mary was one of complete chastity, could this moment, too, be in God’s strange plans?
Mary sensed his paternal concerns and, as she leaned forward on the donkey to touch Joseph’s hand, he suddenly looked up at her from the sorrow of his pain. The stars in the sky were caught in the brightness of the Mother’s eyes; the moon lit the soft hair that appeared from beneath her veil; her countenance was one of warmth….reassuring maternal warmth. Looking in her eyes, he beheld mystical, immaculate love, and in a tone that melted his worried heart, She simply said, “Joseph” and he knew he could continue to guide the donkey with its sacred burden and carry peace within his heart. Should the child come, Joseph knew the little one’s birth would be as secret as had been His virginal conception.
Then the words…. no room….stunned like a sudden arrow piecing the heart! Joseph had not even considered such a possibility – no room for Mary and the Child about to be born? No room in the entire city?! Only Faith could have quieted the fiercely pounding heart of Joseph – Faith that the God who had miraculously given this conception would also miraculously provide room for the birth! Indeed He did – Only God would be accepting of His Son’s birth taking place in a hidden stable where mute beasts so characteristic of the ancient pagan gods and goddesses, would offer the first Eucharistic Adoration to Emmanuel, God with us. As Joseph worked to clean the manger and prepare a softer area in the stable for the mother, his exhaustion overcame him…
The cry of an infant rang through the darkness. Joseph sprang to his feet as his first thought was of someone in distress who needed his saving assistance! But Light suffused the area; thus turning what had been a shabby stable into a palace fit for Royalty. As his eyes focused, he suddenly found again his wife and at her side, the newborn Infant… Joseph made his way, on his knees, up to the sight ….a mother nursing her firstborn….and the rest of the night would pass unknown to Joseph lost in contemplation…
I often think what it must have been like for Mary on that night. As a woman, I believe that my greatest joy would have been to hold this Child in my arms and to guide Him to drink that my life might be more fully His….that all of me might be poured into the One I so love. Each morning at Holy Mass, there are words that remind me of this moment….. ATake and eat…This is My Body…Take and drink; This is My Blood. Perhaps it is the priest who best understand a woman’s heart because of the Eucharist that he holds….the bread that becomes Life in his hands and through words he utters. And this is why a mother’s love must be Eucharistic. St. John Vianney’s reflection, which I read many times in the novitiate and its depth has growth within my soul through the years, comes to mind. When we are before the Blessed Sacrament, let us open our heart; our good Good will open His. We shall go to Him; He will come to us; the one to ask, the other, to receive. It will be like a breath from one to another. No wonder Mary loves her Priests so very much….They hold Her Heart and offer Him back to the world of all Her children.