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Dear brothers and sisters,
In the journey of Advent, the Virgin Mary has a special place as the one who in a unique way waited for the fulfillment of the promises of God, accepting Jesus in faith and in the flesh, the Son of God, in full obedience to the divine will. Today I would like to reflect with you briefly on Mary's faith, beginning from the great mystery of the Annunciation.
"Chaire kecharitomene, ho Kyrios meta sou", "Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). These are the words - recounted by the Evangelist Luke - with which the Archangel Gabriel greets Mary. At first glance, the term chaîre, "rejoice", looks like a normal greeting, common in the Greek world, but this word, when read against the background of the biblical tradition, takes on a much deeper meaning. This same term is present four times in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and always as a proclamation of joy at the coming of the Messiah (cf. Zeph 3:14; Joel 2:21; Zech 9:9; Lam 4:21). The angel's greeting to Mary is thus an invitation to joy, a deep joy, it announces the end of the sadness that there is in the world in front of the limits of life, suffering, death, wickedness, the darkness of evil that seems to obscure the light of the divine goodness. It is a greeting that marks the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News.
But why is Mary invited to rejoice in this way? The answer lies in the second part of the greeting: "The Lord is with you." Here, too, in order to understand the meaning of the expression we must turn to the Old Testament. In the Book of Zephaniah, we find this expression "Rejoice, O daughter of Zion, ... the King of Israel, the Lord is in your midst ... The Lord, your God, in your midst is a mighty savior" (3:14-17). In these words there is a double promise made to Israel, to the daughter of Zion: God will come as a savior and will dwell in the midst of his people, in the womb - as they say - of the daughter of Zion. In the dialogue between the angel and Mary, this promise is fulfilled to the letter: Mary is identified with the people espoused to God, she is truly the daughter of Zion in person; in her is fulfilled the expectancy for the final coming of God, in her the Living God makes his dwelling.
In the angel's greeting, Mary is called "full of grace"; in Greek the word "grace," charis, has the same linguistic root as the word "joy." In this expression, it also clarifies further the source of Mary's delight: the joy comes from grace, it comes, that is, from communion with God, from having a so vital a connection with Him, from being the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, totally shaped by the action of God. Mary is the creature who in a unique way has opened the door to her Creator, she has placed herself in his hands, without reserve. She lives entirely from and in the relationship with the Lord; she is in an attitude of listening, attentive to recognize the signs of God in the journey of her people; she is inserted into a history of faith and of hope in the promises of God, which constitutes the fabric of her existence. And she submits freely to the word received, to the divine will in the obedience of faith.
The Evangelist Luke narrates the story of Mary through a fine parallel with the story of Abraham. As the great patriarch is the father of believers, who responded to God's call to leave the land in which he lived, his safety, to begin the journey to a land unknown and possessed only in the divine promise, so Mary relies with full trust in the word that the messenger of God announces and becomes a model and mother of all believers.
I would like to emphasize another important point: the opening of the soul to God and to his action in faith also includes the element of darkness. The relationship between human beings and God does not erase the distance between Creator and creature, it does not eliminate what the Apostle Paul said before the depth of the wisdom of God, "How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Rom 11:33). But the one who - like Mary - is totally open to God, comes to accept the will of God, even if it is mysterious, even if it often does not correspond to our own will and is a sword that pierces the soul, as the old man Simeon will say prophetically to Mary, when Jesus is presented in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:35). Abraham's journey of faith includes the moment of joy for the gift of his son Isaac, but also the time of darkness, when he has to go up to Mount Moriah to carry out a paradoxical act: God asks him to sacrifice the son he had just given him. On the mountain, the angel tells him: "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me"(Gen 22:12); Abraham's full trust in the God who is faithful to his promises exists even when his word is mysterious and difficult, almost impossible to accept. So it is with Mary, her faith lives the joy of the Annunciation, but also passes through the darkness of the crucifixion of the Son, to reach the light of the Resurrection.
It is no different for the journey of faith of each one of us: it encounters moments of light, but also meets with moments where God seems absent, his silence weighs on our hearts and his will does not correspond to our own, to what we would like. But the more we open ourselves to God, welcome the gift of faith, put our trust in Him completely - like Abraham and like Mary - the more He makes us able, us with his presence, to live every situation of life in peace and in the assurance of his faithfulness and of his love. But this means going out of oneself and one's projects, because the Word of God is a lamp to guide our thoughts and our actions.
I would like to pause once more to dwell on one aspect that emerges in the infancy narratives of Jesus narrated by St. Luke. Mary and Joseph bring their son to Jerusalem, to the Temple to present him to the Lord and consecrate him as required by the law of Moses, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord" (Lk 2:22-24). This gesture of the Holy Family acquires a more profound sense if you read it in the light of the evangelical knowledge of Jesus when he is twelve, who, after three days of searching, is found in the Temple discussing scripture with the teachers. To the words full of Mary and Joseph's concern: "Son, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety", corresponds the mystery of Jesus' answer: "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?"(Lk 2:48-49). That is, in the property of the Father, in the Father's house, like a son is.Mary must renew the deep faith with which she said "yes" at the Annunciation; she must accept that precedence that the true Father of Jesus has; she must leave that Son whom she generated free to follows his mission. And Mary's "yes" to the will of God, in the obedience of faith, is repeated throughout her life, until the most difficult moment, that of the Cross.
Faced with all this, we can ask ourselves: how was Mary able to live this path beside her Son with such a strong faith, even in the moments of darkness, without losing full trust in the action of God? There is an underlying attitude that Mary assumes in the face of what happens in her life. At the Annunciation she is disturbed by hearing the angel's words - it is the fear a person feels when touched by the closeness of God - but it is not the attitude of those who are afraid in front of what God may ask. Mary reflects, she ponders the meaning of this greeting (cf. Lk 1:29). The Greek word used in the Gospel to define this "reflection", "dielogizeto", evokes the root of the word "dialogue." This means that Mary comes into intimate dialogue with the Word of God that has been announced, she does not consider it superficially, but pauses, she lets it her penetrate her mind and her heart to understand what the Lord wants from her, the announcement's meaning. We find another hint of Mary's interior attitude in front of the action of God, again in the Gospel of St. Luke, at the time of the birth of Jesus, after the adoration of the shepherds. Luke affirms that Mary "treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2:19), in Greek the term is symballon, we could say that She "held together", "put together" in her heart all the events that were happening; she placed each single element, every word, every fact within the whole and compared it, guarded it, recognizing that everything comes from the will of God. Mary does not stop at a first superficial understanding of what happens in her life, but is able to look deeper, she allows herself to be questioned by the events, processes them, discerns them, and gains that understanding that only faith can provide. It is the profound humility of the obedient faith of Mary, who welcomes into herself even what she does not understand of the action of God, leaving it to God to open her mind and heart. "Blessed is she who believed in the word of the Lord"(Lk 1:45), exclaims her relative Elizabeth. It is precisely because of this faith that all generations will call her blessed.
Dear friends; the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord which we will soon celebrate, invites us to live this same humility and obedience of faith. The glory of God is not manifested in the triumph and power of a king, it does not shine in a famous city, in a sumptuous palace, but dwells in the womb of a virgin, it reveals itself in the poverty of a child. The omnipotence of God, also in our lives, acts with the force, often silent, of the truth and of love. Faith tells us, then, that the defenseless power of that Child in the end overcomes the noise of the powers of the world. Thank you!
[Translation by Peter Waymel]
Dear Brothers and Sisters, As part of our catechesis for this Year of Faith, it is fitting, during these last days of Advent, to consider the faith of Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel greets Mary with an invitation to rejoice because the Lord is with her.
This joy is that of the messianic hope of God’s people, the daughter of Zion, now being fulfilled in her. It is also the fruit of the grace which fills Mary’s heart and shapes her obedience to God’s word. Mary’s faith, like that of Abraham, combines complete trust in the Lord’s promises with a certain "unknowing".
In her life Mary knew, as we do, that God’s will can seem at times obscure and far from our expectations; it involves embracing the mystery of the Cross. It is significant that at the Annunciation Mary ponders in her heart the meaning of the Angel’s message. Her example reminds us that faith while fully obedient to the Lord’s will, also must seek daily to discern, understand and accept that will. In this holy season, may Our Lady’s prayers help us to grow in a humble, trusting faith which will open the door to God’s grace in our hearts and in our world.
I offer a warm welcome to Japanese pilgrims from the Diocese of Kagoshima. My cordial greeting also goes to Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience I invoke God’s blessings for a happy and holy celebration of the coming feast of Christmas! Thank you.
© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
In the climate of calm expectation, characteristic of these days close to the feast that celebrates the coming of God among men, I am pleased to greet with affection the faithful of the Italian language. In particular, I greet the Community of the Legionaries of Christ and the new priests; the Association "City of the Crucified One," of Gravina in Puglia, the delegation from the Municipality of Bolsena; and the Matese Bagpipers from Boiano, accompanied by the Archbishop of Campobasso, Mons. Giancarlo Bregantini.
I urge everyone to make your commitment to prayer and good works more intense in these days, so that Christmas may fill our hearts with the joy that only Christ can give.
A special greeting to young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Dear young people, especially you students of the Capriotti Institute of San Benedetto del Tronto, approach the mystery of Bethlehem with the same sentiments of faith and humility as Mary. Dear sick people, draw from the manger scene that joy and that inner peace that Jesus comes to bring in the world. And you, dear newlyweds, contemplate the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth, to impress the virtues practiced in it on your journey of family life.
[Translation by Peter Waymel]