January 1, 2017

Mary Mother of God


We celebrated a few days ago the birth of the Lord, and we called to mind that event that happened in history when God clothed himself in our flesh.

Now we continue to celebrate Christmas, because that birth does not cease to be vital, active: the Lord continues to be born, to grow, to exist in the life of every Christian and – mysteriously – in that of every person. But the birth of Jesus in us is not an event that happens in an instant: it is quite a long process, which takes time and patience, and slowly draws us always deeper and deeper until it reaches every ambit of our lives.

Today’s Gospel gives us a glimpse into the interior life of the Virgin Mary, into the way that she learns every day to stand before the mystery of that child who has been given to her. Luke tells us that the shepherds, after finding the sign which the angel had spoken to them, report “what had been told them about the child” (Lk 2:17). Those present are amazed at the story: before them they have simply a little child like all the others, who came into the world in conditions even more precarious than most. And they learn that his birth was accompanied by heavenly apparitions, by prodigious events.

The mystery precedes us, surpasses us and always surprises us, and has in itself something unpredictable, absolutely new, and not immediately understandable. Faced with the newness of the mystery, the evangelist says that Mary “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).
This must be Mary’s habitual way of standing in life, before God: like the conclusion of the infancy accounts, after the episode of Jesus, a twelve year old lost and then found again in the temple in Jerusalem, Luke uses a similar expression on behalf of Mary: “His mother kept all these things” (Lk 2:51).
Both times, Mary does not understand what happened. In the episode of Jerusalem, the evangelist states it clearly: “Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus had told them” (cf. Lk 2:50). To keep indicates a positive attitude and an inner activity, of reflection, of questions, certainly, but also of a positive acceptance of what is happening, while not understanding everything. The shepherds run to the cave, they see, they witness, and they arouse wonderment: they know, they have seen, and they tell. Mary is silent. Yet her story, her relationship with the Infant who is her Lord and her flesh, who is the Life which she is giving life, lasts for nine months and has already passed many tests. But she still can’t give the “story” about what happened to her. She keeps in her heart the exhilaration of the announcement, the song that has flowed from her heart when she met Elizabeth, that unique moment, sudden and surprising, when she felt him move inside her for the first time. And the warning of the census, to leave the maternal home and to face a long journey, and then to arrive in Bethlehem where there is no place for them, and the childbirth in the Cave: how many “whys” knocked at the heart and mind of the maiden of Nazareth? “Mary, for her part, treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” To treasure is more than to keep: it is to let time reveal what happened to her, it is to increase the intelligence of the heart listening to the silence of God.
Mary accepts to let live within her, to make room, to welcome the life that happens, without possessing it. Mary accepts that this her son is the Son of God. She lets life be other than her own expectations and claims; she builds trust by remaining in active expectation that this mystery will bear fruit, and will be a fruit of salvation.
To treasure means to remember, without throwing away anything of what happens, without thinking that there is something that cannot make sense.

To treasure tells us that faith is not an act of a moment, even if heroic, but is the ordinary and daily attitude of those who consistently believe that life is inhabited by a beyond. That life is not just what our eyes see.

We treasure what is much larger than our heart and at times it is not clear; but we also treasure what is fragile, and therefore needs more care and attention. And the presence of Jesus is also this: not a secure possession, not an obvious answer, but a question, a seed that grows only slowly to its full potential. And that is why it needs a great care. We hold, finally, what is very precious …

Fragile as a baby, precious as a child.

Before the mystery then we can stand in different ways: we can deny it (as will be the case of Herod, who, frightened by the mystery, will try to kill Jesus); we can ignore it (as the heads of the people and the great one, who at the announcement of the one who was born in Bethlehem are not setting out to look for him); we can try to understand it, bending it and enclosing it in what we already know, in a few reassuring schemes (what the Pharisees and the leaders of the people will do further on); we can lose it on the way; or we can keep it.

Jesus will later speak of an image of these different ways of welcoming the mystery, and it will be the parable of the sower, the seed and the soil (Lk 8:4 -15). There, we will discover that the good soil is good not so much because it is better than the others, but because it is capable of keeping. It is the humble everyday perseverance that allows the seed to die and to be born, to give fruit.

One sure way of keeping is that of restoring: to keep is not to hide (like the hidden talent in the ground); nor is it the equivalent of holding tight within oneself. To keep, paradoxically, you have to give and to share. Only thus does one get into that gift of vision that finally allows one to enter into the mystery, and understand not with a purely intellectual effort, but with a life which itself becomes mystery.

The year that unfolds before us is undoubtedly the bearer of a mystery.
It will be up to us to learn how to keep it as Mary did with her son, expecting that each event reveals and completes for us the mystery of life and salvation which it heralds.


Translated from Italian

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