Tag Archives: Mary

Nothing Will Be Impossible

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1: 26-38.

So, we pretty much all know this story.  In fact, most of us have heard the Annunciation story so often that it’s lost some of its impact.  If we’re not careful, we can forget just how remarkable and surprising this story is.

In the first place, let’s look at the context.  After centuries of war, occupation and exile, the Jewish people were mired in hopelessness.  Mary, or Miriam as she would have been called, lived on a dead-end street in a long-forgotten town at the far corner of the Roman empire.  More importantly, she was a woman. In that culture at that time, being a woman means nothing much that’s important would happen to her.  So, the angel Gabriel’s announcement that “The Lord is with you” would have startled Luke’s audience. 

This passage clearly echoes Gabriel’s earlier announcement to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  So, St. Luke reminds us that God is up to something astonishing here, involving both Mary and Elizabeth.  God’s action in this regard actually begins much earlier, in the creation story.  In the birth narratives of both John the Baptist and Jesus we find God engaged in the same sort of thing we encountered in Genesis:  creation ex nihilo (from nothing).  The angel even tells Mary that God is doing precisely that with her cousin Elizabeth.  The notion of the virgin birth therefore raises the idea of the Lord resuming the work begun in creation:  re-creating the world.

But let’s return our focus to Miriam, the Theotokos.  Gabriel announces that she will bear a son and name him Jesus. (The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, who led the people of Israel into the Promised Land.  Thus, his very name involves the notion of God keeping his promises, fulfilling the covenant.) As was the case with the John, God seems terribly interested in Jesus’ name, as though the words themselves would act as icons of God’s power working in the world. 

Now, while the coming of the Messiah might have constituted very good news for the people of Israel, it might not have sounded like such good news for Miriam.  An unwed mother, at best, would provide the people of Nazareth with a fine scandal.  It’s the sort of thing that could get a girl killed.  I think the Holy Mother understood perfectly well the cost that she might have to pay for bringing God into the world. 

Jesus’ conception through the Holy Spirit will resonate later in the story of his baptism in the Jordan, as a dove descends and the voice of God announces that Jesus is God’s beloved son.  So, these two birth narratives (Jesus and John) will reconnect years later as Jesus begins his public ministry and God claims him as his own son.  All these things happen through Mary’s “fiat”:  “Let it be done with me according to your word.”  Mary thus serves as the real gateway of the Incarnation.

I wonder how many of us are able to hear God’s message in our own lives:  “The Lord is with you.”  Can we come to think of ourselves as  “favored ones”?  Can we bear the Christ child, and are we willing to bring him into the world?  Are we willing to respond, “Let it be with me”?   I ask these things because those same questions that the Holy Mother faced, well, I think the Gospel asks them of you and of me.  While it’s certainly true that God intended to draw Mary into his plan to re-create and redeem the world, I  believe He has exactly the same intent for us.

The Advent message centers on hope and promise, and setting aside our despair and our terror.  The season of Advent recognizes, as it’s so desperately difficult for us to see sometimes, that nothing will be impossible for God.   And while Gabriel says that as a matter of fact, I think for most of us it’s a kind of a prayer: a prayer we might say more often.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P. 

© 2011 James R. Dennis

St. John of the Cross On the Incarnation

Because today is the feast day of St. John of Cross, and we’ve been meditating on the mystery of the Incarnation, I thought we might look at what he had to say on the subject.  In the Eighth Ballad, he wrote:

Then he summoned an archangel;
Saint Gabriel came,
And He sent him to a maiden,
Mary was her name,

Whose consent and acquiescence
Gave the mystery its birth;
It was the Trinity that clothed
With flesh the Living Word.

Though the three had worked the wonder
It was wrought in but this one,
And the incarnated Word
Was left in Mary’s womb.

And He who had a father only
Now possessed a mother,
Though not of man was He conceived
But unlike any other.

And deep within her body
His life of flesh began:
For this reason He is called
The Son of God and Man.

The poem properly focusses on the figure of Mary, by whose acquiescence the mystery of the Incarnation begins.  In many ways, Mary operates as the lynchpin of the season of Advent.  Our Orthodox brothers and sisters call her the Theotokos, or God-Bearer. 

During this season of Advent, we might properly reflect on what it means to be pregnant with God.  I suggest that we consider that, not only as it pertains to the Holy Mother, but also as it pertains to each one of us.  What does it mean for you and I to bring God into the world, a world which is sometimes hostile and often indifferent to Christ?  And while we’re doing so, as with any expectant parent, we might properly wonder just what this event will cost.  How do we carry Jesus into the places where, as with Bethlehem so long ago, there’s just no room for Him?

Part of the mystery of the Incarnation, part of the wonder of belonging to the Body of Christ we call the Church, lies in the recognition that Christ must live within us.  Somehow, through the enigma of God coming to live among us, our very DNA has changed.  St. Paul recognized this, writing:  “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  Gal.  2:20.   Paul reminds us that following Christ does not so much hinge on an intellectual assent to a certain doctrine  as it does on surrendering to Christ’s indwelling within us and allowing Jesus to re-make us.

Our Advent hope lies in recognizing that God’s entry into the world is not an event that took place a couple of thousand years ago, and which made things a bit more bearable.  Rather, the very fabric of time and space have changed.  God has and will re-create all things (including you and me) through this Son of God and Man.

Have a good and holy Advent,

James R. Dennis, O.P. 

© 2011 James R. Dennis

Don’t You Think It’s Time?

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  John 2: 1-5.

I absolutely love the story of the Wedding at Cana in the Gospel of St. John.  Among other things, I love the apparent reluctance of Jesus to begin his public ministry with this first miracle.  It’s as though Christ hesitated to begin the process of revealing his true nature to the world.  He tells Mary, “My hour has not yet come.”  And within the subtext of the story, we can almost see the Holy Mother nudging Jesus and whispering in his ear, “Don’t you think it’s time?”

I love this story, in part, because I had a mother like that.  Anne Dell Dennis died seven years ago tomorrow, on October 31, 2004.  At her funeral service, the priest remarked  that she died on the Eve of All Saints Day, and her funeral mass was said on All Souls Day.  Anyone who thinks that was a coincidence did not understand my mother’s life very well.

My mother came from a very long line of Irish Catholic women who attended Daily Mass because . . . well, because that’s just what they did.  She and my father did not always see eye to eye (a trait I happened to share with my father).  My mother was a force of nature:  faithful,  obstinate, charitable, and immovable.

At her gravesite, my brother Sean Michael observed that she and my father were like two tectonic plates.  Their collision, while not always fun to watch, generally produced some pretty spectacular results.

One of the most important lessons my mother taught me was that our generosity with God’s children bears directly on our relationship with the Almighty. The authentic Christian life must be lived charitably.  She also taught me that  our faith, our relationship with God, is a terribly important matter.  During my fairly lengthy periods of indifference toward the Church, my mother regularly suggested, “Don’t you think it’s time?”

So, for every mother who has nudged, prodded, cajoled, and even nagged her children into taking their spiritual life a bit more seriously:   Well done, and thanks.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2011 James R. Dennis