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Our Lady's Receiving the Message from Gabriel
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present meditation is on the second part of the Annunciation: Our Ladys Receiving the Message from Gabriel
After his opening greeting, Hail Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, the archangel then continues, what we might call his prediction or prophecy. On hearing the salutation Mary, we are told, became troubled. She wondered what the unusual greeting she received might be. She was called full of grace and was told the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and at which our Lady, understandably then continued and asked further questions. We shall first listen to the angels prophecy, then we will see what the prophetic words mean objectively and finally, apply the angels prediction to ourselves and our spiritual life.
Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. You shall conceive in your womb and shall bear a son. And you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of David, his father. He shall be king over the house of Israel forever, and to His kingdom there will be no end.
So far, the words of the angels after the salutation. How we need to have this prediction made by the angel about Marys son, how we should keep this in mind and underline in our whole life. Why? Because, this angelic prophecy is the foundation of not just our faith but of our eternal future.
First of all Mary is reassured by the angels. On what grounds? Because she has found favored with God. To be favored by God means that we have received grace from God. In fact, the Latin word gratia means favored. This should be our deepest source of peace. When the angel told Mary not to be afraid.
What should we fear? We are to fear nothing. Whom should we fear? No one. Because we are confident, unlike Mary, we are not full of grace, but we posses the grace of God. And with the grace of God we are assured, that is the effect of grace, assured in the mind that we possess the truth and in the heart that we are pleasing to God.
To be pleasing to God means to be given grace by God. Our Lady was told, You will conceive and bear a son. But what a son. Mary we are told by the angels to name him Jesus, Savior. Along the Jewish tradition, it was the father who was to name the son. And so it was, Christ, having a divine nature, had a father, the First Person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus was to have no human father. So God the Father told Mary, Christs human mother, to give Him the name. The name she was to call Him was Jesus.
How casually I speak first of all about myself, we can use the name Jesus. Yet how profound this name is. This name has changed the course of history. Better, this name has shaped history. Once we realize which means once the reality dawns on our minds, that God took on human flesh and blood so that he might live and die for our salvation, is there any limit to our desire to live like Him and to die for Him. He is our Jesus, our Savior, our Redeemer. Except for Him, we would have no assurance of being in Gods friendship in this life and no promise of life in heaven in eternity.
Remember, Jesus is our God. He is our God who became man in order to have a human body and soul that could separate and cause His death. God is the deathless one. But God wanted to die out of love for us, to redeem us.
God became man in order to have a human will so that He might choose to die. And this is the profound lesson that the angel taught us through Mary when he told her to name her son Jesus. Being our Savior, we owe Him everything in time and all that we hope for in eternity. Should there be any limit to our generosity in living like Him and dying for Him?
We go on. This Son of Mary whom the angel told her she would conceive and give birth to, would be called, because that is what He is, son of the Most High. Since the condemnation of the heretic Arius at the council of Niceae in 325 AD, this truth of our faith revealed by the angel to Mary, and through Mary to us, has been the single most opposed, most attacked mystery in the history of Christianity.
Over the centuries, only God knows how many, but I would say hundreds of millions of Christians have died for their faith. Since the seventh century, once Mohammed founded Islam, most Christians have been martyred for the last thirteen hundred years. Why? Because they refused to deny that Jesus, the Son of Mary, is the Son of the most High God. Lets be clear. Clear about this foundational mystery of our faith. Jesus is God. Jesus is really God. Jesus is truly God. Jesus is fully God. Jesus is unqualifingly God.
And in the Koran, the followers of Mohammed are told that Christians are idolaters. Why? Because they worship a man. The ebon Mariam, the Son of Mary, in their blasphemy, they believe is the ebon Allah, the Son of God. Either convert these idolaters who are adoring a man as God, either convert them or kill them. And as we know, from the first century already before the death of St. John the Evangelist, the single most opposed truth of Christianity was what Peter told the people in Palestine. You have murdered the Author of life. You have killed God who became man. This is a mystery that is been opposed openly and stealthfully.
How we need to believe what the archangel Gabriel told Mary, that the Son she was to conceive and give birth to is the Son of the most high God. But there is more hidden behind that prophetic name that the angel gave to Mary than the Son of the Most High. God became man so that He might be able, though God, die as man out of love for us. But Jesus is the most high God who lived on earth as man. Why? So that we might not only appreciate His death and thank Him for redeeming us from everlasting damnation. We are to learn from Him to follow His footsteps in the imitation of God who had human feet, human lips, human eyes, human hands.
What the angels was telling Mary, and through her is telling us, is Most High God, to Mary would be conceived; to us, was conceived, was born and lived as man to teach us how God behaves as man. We are to learn from Him, not only from the words He spoke, but especially from the way He lived. From the meaning of humility. One of my favorite definitions of the Incarnation is the humiliation of God. God humiliated Himself, humbled Himself to become a man. God became man to teach us what it means to be patient, this is not cheap etymology--this is our faith.
Patience comes from the Latin Patu, which means to suffer. God became man to suffer willingly, to suffer lovingly, in a word, to suffer patiently. Out of love for us, we should not just endure, we should embrace the cross out of love for Him who choose the cross out of love for us.
When the angel told Mary that the child she would conceive and give birth to was the Son of the Most High, He became man to show us the meaning of love. Love in the practice of charity. And loving Him by loving those strange, unwelcome, thoughtless, uncouth, mean, cruel people that God consciously and deliberately puts into our lives so that by loving them we might practice the charity that the Son of the Most High became man to teach us.
All of this belongs to what the angel foretold what Marys Son would be. And the lesson we are to learn is that God became man in order that by following in His human footsteps, we may become more like the God who became man to teach us what it is to live like God.
Jesus Christ we believe, is God. As God became man, was a direct descendant of King David. It was not for nothing that God for centuries, among the chosen people, made sure they had kings. And the most important king David, from whom Jesus, Son of the Most High was descended in the flesh.
Mary conceived Jesus without carnal intercourse. But Mary herself was conceived by her own parents, Joachim and Anne, and Marys descendants went back centuries, back to king David. All this so that we might as the angel told Our Lady, that the son she would conceive and give birth to, would be a king. And the society He would found would be a kingdom.
How desperately we need to understand what the angel meant when he told our Lady that Christ founded a kingdom. The kingdom of Christ, we believe, hear it, was founded by Jesus the moment that He expired on the cross. That is the price that Christ paid to establish His kingdom.
But lets be clear this kingdom, basileah, in the Greek of the New Testament gospels. Christs favorite word for the kingdom was the Church. This kingdom of Christ is not a symbol, it is not a figure of speech. This kingdom is a kingdom. It is therefore a society which is visible, audible, countable, touchable. Historically identifiable.
This church of Christ has a king. The mystical king is Jesus Christ, and a visible king, who is the Vicar of Christ, the bishop of Rome. In the sixteenth century when the so-called Protestant Reformation was founded, with no exception, all those who became Protestant, and drew six whole nations away from the Catholic unity, they all claimed the Church founded by Jesus Christ was invisible. It was either, some said, the invisible society of all believers, or others, the invisible society of all the predestined. And we in the Anglo-Saxon world have been deeply, infected by this untruth.
The Church that Christ founded as a kingdom, and this Church has a visible, real, audible, culpable authority. We are therefore to see, how important this is, to see in the bishop of Rome, the visible head of Christs kingdom here on earth. We are to obey this visible head of Christs kingdom which means Christs spokesman. And, as Christ told Peter we are to be fed the food of truth which Christ assured Peter and his successor until the end of time.
How we need these angelic words of Gabriel in todays world when so many professed nominal Catholics are ignoring the teaching of the visible head of Christs kingdom which is His church, here in this valley of tears.
We go on. The angel promises our Lady, that the kingdom of her divine Son will be without end. Of course, the Church is undergoing, and I mean this, heavy trials. Of course the Church is being opposed on all sides. Of course the Church is being betrayed by some of her unfaithful members and some of her leaders. But as the angels foretold in the prophecy, the Church will survive. She is the kingdom of Christ, and as over the centuries the Churchs scholars have explained the words of Gabriel.
The Church is without end because she will never be destroyed by the enemies on the outside no matter how forcible and cruel they may be. It was not for nothing that Tertullian in the early Church declared, The blood of the martyrs are the seeds of the Church. The more followers of Christ that are killed, the more the Church grows. The Church will be without end because she will never be destroyed from within.
The expression Catholic Church is not only a name, it is an enduring, unchangeable reality. The Church will never be destroyed from within no matter how unfaithful or disloyal some of her members may be. In sixteenth century England, all the bishops of England except one, the martyr John Fisher, were proselytized. Sad, tragic, but not fatal. The Church will remain the unqualified foundation of truth. In spite of all the heresies, all the atrocities, all the schisms, which may plague her from within, she will remain without end. She will remain without end because she will remain loyal to Christ, the mystical head, until the end of time.
Before we close this meditation, I would like to speak about what I identify here as a reminder. Even as we are speaking of Christs divinity and Christs immutability, on the Churchs incomparable stability, we should remind ourselves that we are reflecting on what the archangel told Mary. Was there ever a more important angelic declaration than what Gabriel told our Lady?
Remember the angelic promise was fulfilled. What we are now experiencing is what an angelic messenger foretold to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph in a small town of Nazareth in Galilee. The angel is talking to us -- trust the Church, trust that she will not only survive but will thrive on the opposition that she is experiencing, thrive on the betrayal she is having from her own members and some of her leaders.
Mary, Mother of God, and Mother of the Church, obtain for us something of your deep faith of what the angel told you two thousand years ago. Help us believe more deeply that your son Jesus is the Son of the Most High God. Help us believe more deeply that His kingdom will endure until the end of time, as the Church Militant on earth, and endure as the Church Triumphant into the endless ages of eternity. Amen.
Dallas Carmelites, Conference #8, Monday 2/26/96, 4:30 AM
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