The statements we have already made about Mary are deeply rooted in Scripture, in the specific reality that unveils itself before our eyes in what the Word of God says about the Virgin Mother. But let us make this more explicit by immersing ourselves in Scripture directly. Let us, by looking at the concrete unfolding of Mary’s life, try to go deeper into her inner disposition, to draw near to her heart.
The Gospels are clear that Mary knows and experiences her littleness and her limitations—her complete dependence upon God—but they are also clear that she is touched, enfolded, and sustained by grace, by the loving kindness of God. She speaks explicitly about this encounter between littleness and greatness in her Magnificat: “He has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid…and he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. He has exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things” (cf. Lk 1:48-53).
During the event of the Annunciation Mary manifests such humility, such lighthearted unselfconsciousness, that she does not fret about her smallness in a way that would hinder the activity of grace. Rather, she lays bare her soul and body to welcome the gift that God desires to give…the very incarnation of the divinity within the confines of her womb, who clothes himself with flesh through her flesh. That God has asked is enough for her—that he has spoken and asked for her permission is enough to awaken her “Yes.” She trusts that he will take care of the rest, as the angel himself assures her: “With God nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37). And she is blessed because she believes in God’s word, even without seeing, as Elizabeth exclaims to her: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). This makes us think of the words of Jesus at the end of John’s Gospel, which apply to Mary in a special way: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29).
Further, Mary’s openness to the divine Mystery continually deepens and matures throughout her life, as God leads her on a “pilgrimage of faith,” in which her own existence is plunged more and more into the abyss of God’s presence and activity incarnate in her Son, Jesus Christ. The whole of her life is just a reaffirmation and an unfolding of the words she spoke in response to God’s love addressing her through the angel Gabriel: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). There are many times when she “does not see,” when she does not understand, but she nonetheless clings in radical trust to the goodness and love of God. Or more accurately, she allows herself to be held by the Love that has cradled her from her earliest days, and which she trusts will never abandon her. This trust, this innermost attitude of restfulness in the enfolding Love of God, allows her to walk, step by step, along the path that God gradually marks out for her.
When she brings the child Jesus to the temple shortly after his birth, presenting him according to the law, she hears that mysterious prophecy of Simeon:
Behold, this child is set for the fall
and rising of many in Israel,
and he will be a sign of contradiction
—and indeed a sword will pierce your own soul also—
that the thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.
Jesus comes as the Light of the world, in order to bring forth from the darkness all who are willing to open their hearts to him. And yet this Light also evokes the forces of darkness which hate and resist the Light:
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. … And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God. (John 3:16, 19-21)
Mary will be caught up into this encounter between Light and darkness, into this movement by which God’s infinite Compassion descends into our anguish and suffering, there to take us up into itself, to consume our misery in the fires of Mercy, and to carry us back into the divine embrace. She will be there as one whose heart and life is totally and unreservedly open to the Light, who welcomes it entirely and lets herself be bathed in its radiance—even in the darkest of places.
We don’t know how much of this she understood, how much she was able to grasp the meaning and mystery of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. But we have ample evidence that her life unfolded in an ever deepening surrender, in a trust that allowed her to abandon herself ever anew to God’s loving invitation. And this trusting abandonment, we believe, also opened the way for a true understanding, which, in matters such as these, is but the resonance of the heart before the activity of Love made present in every moment and circumstance.
When Jesus stayed behind in the temple at the age of twelve, and Mary and Joseph looked for him in anguish, finally finding him after three days, Mary asked him, “Son, why have you done this to us?” He simply replied: “Why do you look for me? Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” The Gospel explicitly says that “they did not understand what he said to them,” but notes that “Mary kept all these things in her heart” (cf. Lk 2:41-51). In other words, Mary is brought face to face with an event whose full meaning she cannot understand. In this way she is invited to reflect, to pray, to contemplate, in order to enter more deeply into the unspeakable mystery of Jesus in his intimacy with the Father—not, as she had known it before, in the tenderness of an infant and a child under her care—but as the sovereign freedom of Love that surpasses all human bonds while cradling them, and the whole of creation, within its tender embrace. This embrace is a Tenderness which, while surpassing her expectations or previous experiences of tender human love, is not less, but more profound and more true.
And Mary consents to enter into this “unknowing,” with a faith that goes beyond the limitations of human understanding, beyond the narrowness of the human wish to be in control. However, her faith is not therefore “blind,” in the sense that it has no motives, nor that it does not care to seek for vision. Rather, her faith—her radical and unhesitating trust and surrender to God’s plan—is but a response to God’s grace and love, and allows God to lead her ever deeper into authentic understanding. Blessed indeed are those who, without having seen, believe. And yet their very faith opens their eyes and their hearts to see, to receive illumination, and to enter into a profound intimacy with the Mystery of the One who unceasingly desires to communicate himself.
– How is it that littleness, while remaining little, can nonetheless allow itself to be opened to the Immensity of God’s Mystery which surpasses all comprehension and experience, and yet cradles us ceaselessly within itself?
– Mary walks a “pilgrimage of faith,” placing her trust entirely in God and his Love—such that her faith, her hope, and her love are the very foundation of her whole life. It is precisely this (living in faith, hope, and love) which allows her to be immersed into ever deeper union with God. In what way is my life founded on faith, hope, and love? Or in what way may God be inviting me to a more total surrender?