December 8, 2019
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
A keyword that we read in the Annunciation account in the Gospel according to Luke (1:26ff) which we read on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is the word “grace” or “favor”.
We find it the first time in verse 28 when the angel calls Mary “full of grace”.
The angel does so not because he doesn’t know her name: immediately after, he addresses her with her proper name, Mary. But here, in the angel’s first words, it almost seems that the proper name of Mary is “full of grace”.
And we find it again in verse 30: “do not fear Mary, because you have found favor with God.”
Mary is a woman touched by the Lord’s grace; she does not have other prerogatives, other capacities or possibilities, neither titles nor merits. Indeed, everything in here is a sign of uncertainty and powerlessness. She is a woman from an unknown and peripheral village, and she is not even married.
In reality, in the history of salvation, every event of election always goes along this line: whoever has been chosen for service to the chosen people, it was not by virtue of some quality or particular gift, but quite the opposite, precisely because of the absence of merit; it was always and only by grace.
We can say then that, on entering the world to begin the new and definitive stage of salvation history, God repositions the bases, rearranges solid foundations. And there is just one foundation, and it’s His grace.
Grace, first, creates disturbance and questions, asks lots of questions making the head spin (Lk 1:29 – “But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”
Mary does not enter history as a person who knows what she’s doing, who believes that she can make it happen. She enters history as one who is aware that election is always something disproportionate, excessive, impossible to man by himself, something that is beyond our capacity. That’s why grace upsets, and always requires an exodus, a passage by the person who receives it. Grace always surprises.
Moreover, Divine grace collaborates. God does not do everything alone, does not substitute Himself, does not limit Himself to giving orders. He chooses the way of dialog because He trusts and entrusts Himself. Basically, grace is something extremely fragile because it accepts to readily welcome the other, it accepts depending on the “yes” of the girl of Nazareth.
Grace, then, makes man capable of generating something eternal. The angel repeats it many times when he tells what will occur in Mary will be something great, something that will never end (Lk 1:32 – “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father”).
Grace, finally, arouses desire. It does not obligate, does not impose, does not force anyone; but neither does it allow freedom to remain closed in the small measures of our ego. It rouses an infinite desire. Mary’s answer expresses in a special way that desire that immediately blossoms in her: “let it be done according to your word” (Lk 1:38). She uses a rare verb one time, which we are unable to translate in our languages and which expresses clearly her participation, her desire that all this happens.
It rouses a desire before which every other desire will fade and vanish, and when someone finds this desire within one, he can no longer turn back, he cannot but obey what he has in his heart.
Jesus will do exactly this. He will freely gain so many dispersed people and will rouse the desire that can transform life.
We began with the word “grace”, “favor”, and we conclude with the word “desire”.
Here we could say that the pillars of the new life that begins with this mysterious event in the remote town of Nazareth may just be these two words. On God’s part, with His gratuitous and foreseen love. On man’s part, grace reawakens him to a new and deeper capacity of desire, expectation, response, gift.