Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Saying "Yes" to God

For some years, the logo used by the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham had embedded in it the words, "Say Yes to God." It was in every Walsingham Review, and turned up on everything else they published.

As part of our preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Church reflects today on the coming of the angel to Mary and Mary’s “Yes”. Saying “Yes” to God is sometimes very hard. We are apprehensive, fearful, and worried that stepping out in faith and obedience will have disastrous consequences, humanly speaking. Well, the bad news is that sometimes it does!  It can mean sacrifice, pain, misunderstanding, and cruel opposition from those closest to us, as Jesus himself predicted.

Mary uttered her "yes" at a cruel and difficult time in Middle Eastern history. St Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” at the angel’s greeting. But it also tells us that “the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary . . .’” It is a recurring pattern in the  Scriptures, that when a new epoch of salvation history is about to begin, God reveals himself in a special way, and this revelation is accompanied with an encouragement not to be afraid.

Mary is our hero. As Wordsworth put it, she is “Our sinful nature’s solitary boast.” She became the Mother of Jesus. She is our Sister in Christ. She is the Mother of all her Son’s people. We seek her intercession as we so often struggle in our response to God’s love. 

But, while we recognise Mary's unique role in the story of salvation, we don't see her as being APART from us and our experience of grace. Indeed, her life of saying "yes" to God is the primordial Christian life of discipleship. The Gospel account strongly emphasises that God's work in her life - the fulness of grace she had been given - did not mean that she was free from having to exercise sometimes trembling faith in God’s promises just as we do. She really WAS “greatly troubled.” 

There has been nearly two thousand years of Christian meditation of the way that her “Yes” to God, began the great reversal of all that had gone wrong through the “No” uttered by Eve, the mother of all the living.  From this angle Mary is known as the “second Eve” or the “new Eve”, the mother of all who have been brought to life by the dying and rising of her Son.

May each of us be moved to "Say yes to God" afresh, not just for ourselves, but so as to become - like Mary - channels of his healing love for others.

It is in connection with these thoughts that I share with you the amazing crayon and coloured pencil drawing at the top of this post. Originally drawn to illustrate a Christmas card, it is the work of Trappist Sister Grace Remington of the Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey. In 2005 Abbess Columba Guare of the same community wrote this poem to accompany the drawing. Mary addresses Eve with hope and gladness:

O Eve!
My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Life without end.

Also capturing the immensity of our Lady's fiat is this passage from today's Office of Readings. It comes from a sermon of St Bernard (1090-1153):

"You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

"The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

"Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. 

"It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

"Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

"Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving.

"Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word." 

Ex Homilíis sancti Bernárdi abbátis in Láudibus Vírginis Matris (Hom. 4, 8-9: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 [1966], 53-54)


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