Yesterday, at the conclusion of our first week of preparation, we saw how Mary reveals to us in a beautiful way the three “primary” relationships for which God has created us: childhood, spousehood, and parenthood.
Just as in human life these three relationships exist in a dynamic union with one another, so the same is true on the spiritual and supernatural level. Each one of us is born as a child of our parents, and we start out in a state of complete dependency upon their love, their shelter, and their care. And to the degree that we welcome this love and this foundational relationship, we will mature into authentic love, acceptance, and reciprocal self-giving. And then there comes a point when our capacities for love blossom also in the readiness and the desire for the unique depth and reciprocity—and the particular union, indissolubility, and fruitfulness—of the spousal relationship. Finally, when this spousal union is lived authentically, as a true and complete mutual self-giving of the spouses, then the fruit of new life in parenthood springs forth spontaneously from this union.
We see, then, how childhood is the root and branch from which spousal love flowers; and the fruit of this flowering is the beauty of parenthood. In this way, too, these relationships come “full circle,” for we began with childhood and we end with childhood again. The persons who were once little children themselves have now, through their love, cooperated in allowing God to bring forth a new child into the world. But not only this: the parents themselves are led back, anew, to experience the truth of their own childhood again, and more deeply still, through seeing it reflecting in the face of their child. However, this is a childhood, not of the flesh, but of the spirit, in which the dispositions of radical trust and receptivity transcend one’s human parents to find their home in the heavenly Father, who is consciously embraced at the Rock and Foundation of one’s life, and whose Love is welcomed as cradling and sheltering one’s entire existence.
In being the root and branch of our whole existence, therefore, childhood is in no way something that is “left behind” for the sake of the other relationships. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that it is the all-enveloping mystery in which the other relationships can authentically unfold. It is never for a single moment necessary to separate ourselves from this truth of childhood before God; rather, this is the very foundation of our life at every moment, within which spousal and parental love truly blossom and bear fruit.
We also see how friendship and fraternity themselves—these forms of relationship of which spousal love is simply a unique and intense expression—find their foundation in the reality of childhood. In other words, we can recognize ourselves as brothers and sisters—and grow in authentic friendship on the basis of mutual sharing—only because we are all children of a common Father, whose love has created us and binds us together.
Let us now try to see these three forms of relationship more deeply in the Virgin Mary. They can be discerned through contemplation of the scene of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel approaches Mary and speaks to her in the name of God. Here we can glimpse the fact that Mary is indeed enfolded in these three forms of relationship in an intense way: in daughterhood, in spousehood, and in motherhood.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
First of all, Mary is, and knows herself to be, a beloved child of the heavenly Father. When the angel Gabriel addresses her in greeting, it is this truth, above all, which he emphasizes. It is interesting that he does not call her by her natural earthly name—Mary—but rather gives her a new name, the name known only to God: Kekaritomene. This Greek word, usually translated as “full of grace,” is very rich in meaning. The root word charis means gift, grace, favor, or love bestowed from one to another. And the form of the word is a passive perfect participle, meaning that it is past, present, and future all at once—indicating an enduring, constant, and unbroken state, and one that is received from another (passively). Therefore, we can understand Mary’s own unique name as meaning: you who have been, are, and ever will be loved by God.
This pure and abiding gift of God’s love for Mary is the source of her authentic and unrepeatable personal identity. It is, in other words, precisely God’s love which makes her the person who she is. This “belovedness” is indeed the truth of childhood, in which she unceasingly dwells. Mary is, in her deepest truth, God’s beloved daughter. This is the all-enveloping truth in which the rest of her life unfolds, the root from which all things spring and from which they never depart.
Indeed, it is precisely Mary’s joyful awareness of her belovedness before God that enables her to open her heart and her life to welcome God as he comes to her. She can open herself as a bride precisely because she is aware of God’s intense love for her; she can receive his gift of self because she already knows his utter trustworthiness, his utter desire for her good, and his utter beauty—revealed through the Love that has gently cradled her from her earliest days. This gift of childhood, therefore, blossoms in Mary’s heart into a total and radical bridal receptivity to God. She receives, as it were, God’s “marriage proposal,” which comes to her through the message of the angel. And she responds with her whole being: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
This act of complete consent by Mary is a “seal” set upon the gift of God’s Love, which Mary has received from the first instant of her existence. It is, as it were, a “consecration” or complete entrustment in love, through which she places her entire life in God’s hands. And her consent to God’s Love is itself dependent upon this prior gift of his Love. In other words, when God offers an invitation of love to her, the invitation itself contains the grace of her response.
Wen Mary consents to this Love, she is freely affirming and making her own the gift that always precedes, accompanies, and sustains her. Her loving assent is, in a word, her “binding of self” to the Beloved, in a total and irrevocable way. And yet this “binding” is itself but an expression that she has already been bound by the gentle embrace of God’s all-enfolding Love. She is simply saying yes to the reality of Love that already holds her, and thus allowing this Love to irradiate and transform her life totally and unreservedly:
I am yours forever, and I want nothing, absolutely nothing, to separate me from you. I give myself into your hands totally, in trust and simplicity, and aflame with the longing of love. And in this surrender I give you complete permission to take possession of my life, of all that I am, within the mystery of your Love. You do not even need to ask me again, in the future, whether I will say “yes” to what you desire. You do not need to confer with me, my Love, about whether I am willing. I give you, in this moment, my willingness and my “yes” forever. Simply do anything and everything that you desire, for me, in me, and through me…for I know that it is all Love and only Love.
– Do I find myself living habitually from this place of “belovedness” which is the deepest truth of who I am?
– Or do I live from another place? If so, what is this place from which I habitually think, live, and act? Can I open myself to welcome God’s Love, allowing him to draw me into the shelter of his embrace–or rather to reveal to me that I am always cradled in his Love at every moment?
– Do I see in my heart the desire to give myself totally to God, to “bind” myself to him through total and unconditional surrender—in other words, to be intimately united to him in spousal love?