HOMILY ADVENT DECEMBER 22
Profound Faith and Grateful Praise
(1 Sam 1:24-28; 1 Sam 2; Lk 1:46-56)
The readings today, as we approach Christmas, invite us to cultivate a profound faith in God’s love, as well as an attitude of grateful praise like Hannah and Mary.
The first reading about the fidelity and gratitude of Hannah for answered prayer, serves as a background for the Magnificat of Mary in the gospel. Hannah and Elie are models of humble faith and genuine love, as they journey to Shiloh each year. Shiloh is where the Israelites built the first semi-permanent tabernacle after their generation-long sojourn in the wilderness.
Year after year, Hannah, who was barren, had prayed for a child, and finally her prayer was answered. Their prayer intention this time was not so much petition as grateful praise. They must have been fairly wealthy, to be able to offer a bull, a measure of flour and a skin of wine, unlike the two turtle doves of Joseph and Mary for the birth of Jesus.
Mary’s faith, expressed through the exuberant Magnificat, is her grateful response to the wonderful way God is working in her life as a totally gratuitous gift. Her own Immaculate Conception, and the conception of Jesus in her womb, was all pure gift from God. She knew this and thus gave thanks to God through this Magnificat.
Mary announces here that her whole being is ordered to the glorification of God. Her ego wants nothing for itself; it wants only to be an occasion for giving honor to God. But since God needs nothing, whatever glory Mary gives to him returns to her benefit, so that she is magnified in the very act of magnifying him. In giving herself away fully to God, Mary becomes a superabundant source of life; indeed, she becomes pregnant with God.
This odd and wonderful rhythm of magnifying and being magnified is the key to understanding everything about Mary, from her divine motherhood, to her Assumption and Immaculate Conception, to her mission in the life of the Church.
The annunciation was a great moment of consolation for Mary. Consolation is a movement of the Spirit in our lives, along with periods of desolation. Consolation is a joyous brief experience of the Spirit. Desolation is not depression, but also an experience of the Spirit who, to help us grow and strengthen our faith, gives us the experience of the “apparent absence of God.” We are to understand and accept these times of desolation and not be afraid of them – even to the point of the dark night of the soul. There are things in life that we will learn only through suffering and pain.
An example of this is St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her dark night of the soul lasting 50 years. From the time she began her ministry of taking care of the dying in Calcutta to her death, it seemed that God had abandoned her. Her previous sense of God’s closeness and intimacy in prayer had all but disappeared. All she felt was distance, deafening silence, aloofness, dryness. She would mention this to her spiritual director alone, so no one else knew what she was going through, as she carried on her ministry seemingly full of joy and energy.
That experience in the spiritual life is given to those who have a strong enough faith to be given a share in what Jesus experienced on the cross – the experience of the apparent absence of God. The rest of us, whose faith is weaker, will get that experience in smaller doses of desolation, designed to strengthen our faith and give us a hint of what life would be like without God.
Actually, in the Our Father, we pray that God won’t give us that experience, when we pray “lead us not into temptation.” A more correct version would be “lead us not into the test” – that test being precisely the experience of the apparent absence of God in our lives.
We can recall our moments of desolation, and let them strengthen our faith. However, God has and will always give us consolations to balance those off, and to help carry us through the darker moments of our lives. It was the consolation of the Annunciation and the Visitation that empowered Mary to endure the seven sorrows in her life without bitterness or resentment.
The bottom of all the spiritual life Mary models for us is her humility. She glorified God because she knew it was all God’s doing. Humility is the key foundational virtue in our lives, opening us up to the power of God working within us. The 12 Step program understands this, especially with Step 1 – Admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or something else in our lives) and that our lives were unmanageable.
The Eucharist is a deep act of faith and a humble meal. So, let us strive to be like Mary, put our faith in Jesus, and adopt her magnificent attitude of gratitude.