Today our Gospel narrative signals the end of waiting and the beginning of the fulfillment of the mission.
Following the Lord’s Annunciation and Incarnation, God’s plan enters its final stage as His Son enters our world to “bring glad tidings to the poor… liberty to captives… sight to the blind… to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Mary, our Blessed Mother, whose waiting in prayer bore fruit in obedience, brings the whole of humanity and creation into the final stage of salvation history.
There is a saying from Ignatius of Loyola which best personifies Mary’s grace and the prototypical spirit of a follower of Christ: “Pray as if everything depended on you and work as if everything depended on God.”
An aside: Quite often we get this mixed up that it becomes, “Pray as if everything depended on God. Work as if everything depended on you.”
An article by Fr. William Barry, S.J., points out this error and explains the insight of Ignatius on prayer and work.
In today’s Gospel we find a transition point between prayer and work in Mary’s “yes”—she enters the core of her relationship with God while we enter the core of our own personal relationship, with Christ allowing us to follow Him in His mission to heal a broken world.
Mary’s prayer sought God’s will and mission for her. “Pray as if everything depended on you.” This she did.
Mary’s mission was to be the mother of the Christ and to be His first disciple. This did not give Mary divinity, but with her “yes,” she was given “the highest honor of the human race.”
But prayer was not lost in her work to live out her mission. It assumed a new depth, breadth and height. We catch a glimpse of this in Scripture when Mary, as she followed her Son, encounters things she did not understand. But still, “Mary kept all these things in her heart.”
She made the contemplation of her Son’s life and mission her prayer. It is the same contemplation we can frame in Ignatius’ grace of the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises: “Lord, that I may see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly.”
Mary prayed as if everything depended on her. She used all her faculties—her mind, memory, heart and spirit—to see God more clearly and love Him more dearly, with a love that expresses itself in “work” to follow Him more nearly.
This is the prayer we are invited to do: to pray as if everything depended on us. I have come to believe that the effort to know or see Christ more clearly comes through a prayer of remembering.
In the story of Christ on the road to Emmaus, his first “command” was for his brothers to “go back to Galilee” and there they will see him. As they listened, they started to remember.
After they recognize Christ “at the breaking of bread,” they feel their “heart burning within” and then burst forth in mission. They go back to Jerusalem to proclaim that Christ has truly risen.
Seeing Christ clearly
While writing this, I remember accompanying Rico Yan as he recalled his story and journey. On March 16, 2002 the actor began with this simple statement: “I am ready to live out my mission, Father, and I want you to mentor me.”
Almost every single day, we would talk. A week later, he pointed out: “This is the first time I have told one person my entire story. It was always bits and pieces to different people, but never the whole story.”
Rico, in remembering his story, prayed as if everything depended on him. It was a vivid remembering, including the joys and pains of the journey, the brokenness and the redemption.
It was—as we tried in the remembering—walking on the road with Christ, seeing the story again, but this time from the perspective of Rico’s relationship with Christ.
As is often the case of remembering, it came to the point of making a choice to enter the core of Rico’s relationship with Christ—the Cross and the Resurrection. As he embraced the Cross of his Life, the Resurrection came with it.
This was the moment when Rico began seeing Christ more clearly. He beheld his mission and said “yes” to Christ: “I am ready to live out my mission, Father, and I want you to mentor me.”
It was Rico’s “yes” that, as I look back now, prepared him for his death on March 29, 2002.
Where it all started
Some of you might wonder why I am talking about the Cross and Resurrection, about mission and death, even as we prepare for Christmas.
As the Gospel today narrates, the waiting ends with the Incarnation and the mission begins.
Nine months after this story takes place, we remember the birth of Christ which signals the final stage of the mission.
As Christ 30 years later declares, I came “to bring glad tidings to the poor… liberty to captives… sight to the blind… to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
We remember the birth of Christ each year to return to where it all started—in a manger is the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. He reminds us of God’s dream for us that starts with this infant, who, through His Cross and Resurrection, shows us the way to the fullness of life.
It all began in the manger. It began with Mary’s “yes”—which always leads us to the core of our relationship with Christ, to the core of our mission to follow him.
As we embrace this infant in the manger, we also embrace His Cross and Resurrection.