Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mutter, Sigh, Groan, Scream, Speak

The exclamation of Elizabeth to Mary (Lk 1:45) [i.e., ‘Blessed is she who believed that what the Lord said would be done to her’] becomes the key word of Mariology… For Mary… faith is trust in, and obedience to, God, even when he leads her through darkness. It is a letting go, a releasing, a handing over of oneself to the truth, to God. Faith, in the luminous darkness of God’s inscrutable ways, is thus a conformation to him.

Mary, the Church at the Source, 49

Reflection – The words here are very beautiful, luminous, simple, attractive. A fine example of Ratzingerian prose stylings. The reality behind these words, while certainly very beautiful, luminous, simple, and (ultimately) attractive, is also very challenging indeed.

It is one thing to regard Mary and her obedience, and to nod our heads sagely. Oh yes, she trusted God and isn’t that wonderful! And look how it all turned out – Jesus saves the world and Mary is assumed into heaven and is queen of heaven and earth. Isn’t that lovely!

We look at the whole picture, knowing full well how the story would unfold and how it would end. But what did Mary see, that little 14 year old girl, pregnant in an utterly inexplicable way, faced with a whole world that would look upon her with contempt and perhaps even violence, not knowing in the slightest what was going to happen to her next? What did she know? What kind of surrender did she have to make, right then and there?

And (more to the point) what about us? We can look at the biblical story and it’s all very lovely, but what about us, when we are in the ‘luminous darkness of God’s inscrutable ways’? A lovely phrase, but that darkness is pretty darned dark, and pretty darned inscrutable, and at times the ‘luminous’ aspect seems pretty obscure!

We have to be clear about this. Faith is hard. Faith is really, really hard. When ‘life’ (or Divine Providence, as we used to call it in more faith-filled times) blows up all around you, when terrible things happen to you or to the ones you love, when you are confronted with painful, searing choices, when all the lights go out, when all the supports and consolations of faith shatter and vanish like they never existed—it is hard.

It is hard to believe. When the real moment of faith comes, when God is truly leading us through such darkness that we scarcely know any more that God is leading us, there is no room for a vague sentimental piety—pastel colored angels flapping their wings while Mary (and we) ‘meekly bow our heads’ to say yes.

We may say yes, but there’s not much pastel coloring to it. More blood red and pitch black. As it was for Mary. We have to get that: Mary was a real person, a girl, a woman—she knows all about this passion of faith. And she really can help us through these pitch black, blood red moments when we are called to mumble our own fiat through clenched teeth and frozen lips, at what feels like enormous personal cost.

She knows what that’s like. She did it herself. Today (liturgical laws notwithstanding) is the feast of the Incarnation, of Mary’s fiat and God’s becoming flesh. And you see, that’s what’s at stake in all this. That’s why ‘blessed is she (and we) who believe.’ Because when we mutter, sigh, groan, scream, or simply speak that fiat—God becomes flesh once more, in us.

And when that happens, the kingdom of God is close at hand. The power of God is unleashed on earth, here, now, in our lives. You and I, right now, have that invitation from God – to say yes to Him, and so receive His life into our life, His flesh and blood into our flesh and blood. Fiat, whatever ‘yes’ God is asking of you and me right now, in all its ‘blood and guts’ realism, is the gateway to that kingdom, to that blessedness, to that beautiful, luminous, simple, and attractive mystery of peace, joy, and glory that God desires to give us.