“My soul magnifies the Lord!”
Thursday, December 8, 2022, Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
Does the fact of the Immaculate Conception of Mary say anything to you about your own life? What is there in this feast that you feel like celebrating?
The Entrance Antiphon quotes Isaiah 61:10: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Are these words just for Mary, or can we all say them?
Paul VI calls this feast is “a joint celebration” of three things: “of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, of the basic preparation for the coming of the Savior (Isaiah 11:1, 10), and of the happy beginning of the Church without spot or wrinkle.” This is a challenge to faith: can you really see yourself as “perfect” in heaven? Do you believe no trace of any sin you ever committed will remain? That you will be as totally free of sin and all its consequences as the Blessed Virgin Mary? That everyone there — in fact, the whole redeemed human race — will be “without spot or wrinkle,” totally without “blemish” or “blame”? Is that something to exult in?
The Introductory Rites at Mass call us to “rejoice in the Lord” for all he is and has done, but especially for the Good News. We would not understand the Good News nearly as well if it were not for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This feast clarifies what the end result of Christ’s coming will be for us.
The Opening Prayer tells us God let Mary “share beforehand in the salvation Christ would bring... and kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception.” The power to preserve is the power to restore. The Preface calls her “our pattern of holiness,” God’s “sign of favor to the Church in its beginning and the promise of its perfection as the bride of Christ, radiant in beauty.” What Mary was from the beginning of her life, we will be at the end of ours.
The Preface for the feast of the Assumption, seeing in her “the “pattern of the Church in its perfection” and already the beginning of it realized, cries out to God in praise, “She is a “sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way.” That is what we celebrate
The first reading from Genesis 3:9-20 shows us ‘the beginning and the pattern” of the human race in its sinfulness. The sad story of Adam and Eve’s unfaithfulness to God has been repeated countless times in human history and is still being repeated every day. Adam and Eve just weren’t grateful enough for what they had. And they weren’t conscious enough — although perfectly cognizant — of where it came from. They actually thought for a moment that they could enhance their being by acting in opposition to Being Itself. They thought they could have more by trying to be independent of the One from whom everything comes. That they could make the gift of life better in separation from the Giver.
We ourselves do it all the time. What is sin but the same stupidity? And what will protect us against it?
Suppose you had been created as an adult. One minute you didn’t exist; the next you were looking at God, who made himself visible to you and explained that he had just created you. And had created everything else you saw, just for your benefit and pleasure. How would you feel about God?
How would you feel then about everything you experienced? The beauty of plants and stars and planets, of animals, trees and birds. The taste of fresh fruits, vegetables, gourmet cuisine and candy. The sounds of surf and storm and silence. The fragrance of flowers, food and fresh air. The feel of rocks and trees and earth, of cool air and warm bodies. The joy of intellectual insights and aesthetic appreciation, of discovery and daring choices. You would know, you would be conscious, that God invented and designed all these things, was giving them existence right now so that you could use and enjoy them.
And giving you existence too. Creation is not a one-time act. It is ongoing. If God stops saying “Be-e-e-e-e...” we would just cease to exist. Turn into nothingness. God is in us and in everything we see: “breathing out” existence. If you were always conscious of that, how would you feel about God?
Wouldn’t you walk around in a constant state of admiration, appreciation, and praise? Could you even consider sinning against him if you were still in the glow of having been brought into existence by him? Of being held in existence by his continuing desire? What can keep us in that glow?
Praise. Constant praise. Praise all day long. Praise upon waking. Praise for everything you experience and find yourself able to do. Praise for everything he is revealing and has revealed of himself. The Responsorial (Psalm 98) sums it all up: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.” He has. So do.
The Dimensions of Praise
Ephesians 1:3-12 expands our understanding of what we have to praise God for. “In Christ,” Paul says, God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” And he spells out the main ones:
• to be chosen;
• to be holy and blameless in his sight;
• to be full of love;
• to be his children: sons and daughters “in the Son”;
• to receive his glorious grace freely bestowed on us in the Beloved;
• to be redeemed through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins;
• to know the mystery of his plan to “gather up all things in him”;
• to be destined to live for the praise of his glory. This is our inheritance.
Advent would be a good time to think about each one of these — calmly, reflectively, prayerfully. Asking what each one means and has meant to you.
During Mass, be quietly alert to how many of these blessings are echoed. Listen for them especially during the Introductory Rites. Let them inspire and guide you, as they are designed to do, to “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.”
A New Start
Luke 1:26-38 is the new Genesis story. There is a woman: Mary. And an angel speaks to her, as one did to Eve in the garden. She is at first “troubled” or “perplexed” by his words, as we can presume Eve was at first by the suggestion of the serpent. The angel’s words contain a promise, as the words of Satan did. Mary believed in the promise, as Eve believed in the promise made to her. Both accepted to do what they were urged to do. What was the difference between them?
Mary was listening to good; Eve to evil. What Eve was urged to do was disobedience; God had forbidden it. What Mary was urged to do was obedience; God was asking it. Eve acted in pride, wanting to be “like God.” Mary acted in humility, wanting only to serve God. Because of Eve’s “Yes,” the human race was deprived of grace, the gift of being like God. Because of Mary’s “Yes,” all who echoed her would become like God in a way beyond imagination: by sharing in the divine life of God himself. Because of the fruit Eve took, until the end of time the “fruit of her womb” would be cursed with suffering and sin. Because of the fruit Mary gave, in the “fullness of time” all who accepted the “fruit of her womb” would be “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”
What was the difference between these two women? It was in the words they listened to. Mary listened to the words of God. Eve listened to the words of Satan.
So before we take our first breath as Christians, at the very beginning of the ritual of Baptism, we are asked to declare the voice we will follow:
• “Do you reject Satan?... And all his empty promises?”
• Do you reject sin and the “glamor of evil,” the empty promises of this world, the seductive and deceptive values found in every human culture? Do you “refuse to be mastered by sin,” so as to “live in the freedom of God’s children?”
• “Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?”
• Do you believe in the words and in the Word of God? Do you choose to follow his voice?
Every Eucharist announces to us again the Good News of Christ’s coming. Every Eucharist leads us in hymns and prayers of praise. Every Eucharist invites us to believe in the promise of our redemption, and to let the words spoken to us be made flesh in action. Every Eucharist says to us, “If you hear and do, blessed is the fruit of your life.”
“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.”
Do I believe that Mary’s Immaculate Conception is the preview and promise of an “immaculate conclusion” to my life? Does this encourage me to “refuse to be mastered by sin,” and to strive for the “perfection of love?”
Examine your heart to see if you have “settled for less” in your spiritual life. Seek now to grow into the perfection you are promised in heaven.
 Devotion to Mary (Marialis Cultus), 1974, no. 3.See Ephesians 5:27; 2Peter 3:14; 1Timothy 6:14.
Second post for today – for the ordinary readings of Advent
Seek Fulfillment by Surrendering to Jesus
Thursday, December 8, 2022, The 2nd Week of Advent
by Fr. David M. Knight
The Responsorial Psalm gives the secret of fulfillment: “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion” (Psalm 145).
There is in all of us a lust for power and achievement. We want to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5) by breaking all resistance to our goals, our will. And anger can energize us for this. But this is not God’s way: “The Lord is… merciful; slow to anger….”
St. Thomas Aquinas said that God gave us the emotion of anger for self-defense — not just against aggressors, but against our own apathy and fear. Anger energizes us to overcome obstacles. But anger and force are two different things. Force and violence are not God’s way.
Fear also drives us to violence. But Isaiah 41: 13-20 gives us the answer to fear: “I am the Lord, your God…. Fear not, I will help you.”
If we refuse to rely on power and force — or to place our trust in any human resources (see Matthew 10: 9-10; Luke 1:34-35) — God promises to help us in such a way “that all may see and know… that the hand of the Lord has done this” — not our power. This builds hope.
It is true that God has chosen to rely on us. We can do nothing without God, and God will do very little without us. He chose to use human beings to save the world, beginning with the Word made flesh in Mary, and continuing through Jesus risen and living in us, his body on earth.
But we have a problem: we don’t feel holy enough to do the work of God. We look at Mary and the great saints, and feel like just walking off the field: we are out of our league.
Matthew 11: 11-15 relates to this. People in Jesus’ day were awed by the austerity of John the Baptizer. Jesus took nothing away from what they saw in John: “History has not known a man born of woman greater than John….” But he added something they did not see: “Yet the least born into the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
The key to greatness is not human success, but surrender to God living and acting within us by grace. Mary’s greatest achievement was to say, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me….” (Luke 1:38). Mary is the greatest in the kingdom of God because she was “full of grace”; that is, fully surrendered to whatever God wanted to do in her.
The greatest fulfillment is not to achieve goals by force fueled by anger. It is to be surrendered to God. That is the secret of fulfillment.
Initiative: If you seek fulfillment, seek it where it can be found. Surrender to Jesus. Keep saying all day long, especially when you feel discouragement, fear or anger, ““I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry