The whole Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection is ultimately about re-opening our closed and fearful hearts to the Love of God that ever envelops us within itself. Jesus penetrates into our loneliness and isolation in order to reopen it from the inside to the expansiveness of God’s own embrace. In this way he immerses us again into that “torrent of love” that ever passes between himself and his Father, so that we may share, like our Virgin Mother, in the intimacy of the Trinity itself.
When we consent to receive this awesome gift of Love, to let ourselves be drawn near to the burning Hearth of God’s immense Tenderness, then we find ourselves gradually healed and transformed by the divine touch. We are reconciled with our authentic personal truth in the eyes of God and allow him to unite us, through his pure grace, to himself. In this way we become, like Mary, daughter, spouse, and mother (or son, spouse, and father), by experiencing the joy of adoption and of resting in the Father’s love, of nuptial union with Jesus who gives himself to us and welcomes us into himself, and of fruitfulness through the overshadowing and impregnating power of the Spirit of Love.
As we have seen, these three are like concentric circles, each contained within the other: childhood enfolding all the rest, and spousal union blossoming within childhood, and this union itself bearing abundant fruit in a sacred paternity and maternity. All childhood, spousehood, and parenthood in this world participate in these realities as they exist, in their most eminent and perfect form, in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, the Source and Archetype of all childhood and nuptiality exists in the eternal union between the Father and the Son in their one Spirit, in the ardent flame of Love that passes ceaselessly between them, and in their mutual acceptance and surrender of self. And God’s eternal creativity, even before the creation of the world, is that “from which all fatherhood on heaven and earth takes its name” (Eph 3:15): that mystery by which the Father eternally begets his beloved Son within the “womb” of the enfolding Spirit, and that mystery of the Spirit’s procession from the shared union of the Father and the Son, which is overflowingly fruitful.
We were created to share in this Mystery of the Trinitarian Intimacy…the blessed communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not only the deepest and most foundational origin of our life and our dignity, but also our central and highest vocation and destiny. And in our human relationships we already image and reflect this Mystery, in an imperfect but real way. Nonetheless, childhood, spousehood, and parenthood in this world are only images, and point beyond themselves to the fullness of Reality in which alone our hearts can be at rest. It is in our relationship and union with God himself that we pass fully from image to Reality, from reflection to the fullness of Light: into the truth of childhood before our true and heavenly Father, into the indwelling love of spousal union with the Bridegroom Jesus, and into that beautiful “spilling over” of love and creativity that blossoms from this union in the eternal fecundity of the Holy Spirit.
Let us talk more deeply, now, about the true meaning of fruitfulness—and therefore of maternity and paternity, indeed of all creativity in word and act within this world. All true and enduring fruitfulness, in order to truly make God present in the fullness of his Mystery, must spring from a prior and abiding contemplative receptivity, such that we conceive his grace and life within us by the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore allow him to make himself more deeply present in our world.
This is the meaning, for example, of Jesus’ parable on the seed that is scattered on the ground, with only certain kinds of soil allowing the seed to sprout, grow, and bear fruit:
A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. (Matthew 13:3-8)
It is profoundly important to realize that the seed bears fruit of its own power, if only the soil yields itself up entirely to it and nourishes, shelters, and protects it. This is central to what prayer and contemplation is all about. It is about becoming good soil in which the seed of the Word can implant itself and bear abundant fruit. Here, again, the Virgin Mary is the most perfect example: for it was she, before anyone else, who offered her entire being in contemplative and virginal receptivity to the seed of the Word, conceiving him literally within her heart and in her womb.
But this contemplative receptivity, as we have seen, did not end with the Annunciation, nor after the nine months of pregnancy were concluded. Rather, this receptivity was Mary’s most central and enduring attitude throughout her entire life. Saint Luke, who most probably spoke with her directly and in depth about her experience (for how else could he know about the events of the first two chapters of his Gospel?), makes a point of this contemplative receptivity. He portrays her very explicitly as the one who is “good soil” for the Word—the Word who is Jesus Christ himself. Her first assent to God’s invitation is her “Let it be to me according to your word” at the Annunciation (Lk 1:38), but then this assent is renewed and perpetuated at every moment of her life afterwards. When the shepherds come to see the Christ Child and the choir of angels cries out in the heavens, Luke says that “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart;” and again, after the finding of the twelve year old Jesus in the temple after three days: “his mother kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:19; 2:51).
Mary has conceived already through faith and brought Christ physically into the world, but her abiding love and acceptance also allows her to lay her being open for the ever-deeper revelation of the mystery of God and his Love. In this way her journey is not ended with the birth of Christ, but continues to progress ever more deeply into the immensity of God’s Love, and also dilates ever more universally to encompass his desire for salvation of all. God, for his part, can do immense and beautiful things in and through her, precisely because her heart is a pure dwelling-place for the gift of his Love and surrenders to this Love unconditionally.
In her he finds the home that he seeks, the space in which he can pour out the torrent of generosity which overflows from his Heart. Further, her contemplative surrender allows God to draw her into the awesome mysteries of the life of Christ as they unfold before her eyes. Indeed, her surrender allows God to draw her into the most intimate depths of his own Trinitarian Being. Is it not she who abides, full of faith, at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, when the faith of the others falters? We already saw that she is there to receive the outpouring gift of the divine Bridegroom’s love as it flows from his opened Heart. And she bears this gift within her without ceasing, conceiving again as the “archetype” or “model” of the Church, in order to bring forth perpetually from the fount of Baptism new children of the heavenly Father.
We see this mystery of conception and birth symbolized so beautifully in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. After the commemoration of the mystery of Christ’s passage through the darkness of this world as the burning Flame that brings light to fallen humanity, and after the in-breaking joy of his Resurrection, the celebration of Baptism begins. Those who have been preparing, through the period of the catechumenate, now come forward for their rebirth into the fullness of life as children of God, their sharing in the most precious fruit of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Before the sacrament of Baptism is administered, however, the new water of the font is blessed. But how is it blessed? It is not blessed as on other days, with a simple prayer and gesture of the sign of the cross. Rather, it is blessed and sanctified—made life-bearing and fruitful—by the descent of the Easter Candle, the symbol of Christ, into it three times. This symbolizes the mystery of the Bridegroom’s outpouring love entering into the receptive womb of the bridal Church, in order to make her fruitful as the Mother of all the faithful.
Now this awesome mystery is true not only of the universal Church, nor even of Mary, the most eminent member of this Church, but of every individual soul. We are all invited to be “mothers” of Christ by welcoming his gift and conceiving through his divine power at work within us. Indeed, we can say that authentic fatherhood itself must be immersed in this bridal and maternal mystery, so as itself to become transparent to the authentic light and love of God himself. Whether man or woman, our primary and all-encompassing attitude is meant to be, like the Virgin Mary, one of loving and trust-filled contemplative receptivity to the love and the gift of God.
– Do I see my deepest vocation—the fulfillment of my desires—as sharing in the intimacy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? If not, in what do I place my hope instead?
– Do I find in myself tendencies to the “activism” that is so prevalent in our culture? Do I place “doing” over “being”? Or “productivity” over the authentic fruitfulness that springs from contemplative receptivity?