The gospel reading on the fourth Sunday of Advent brings us back to the joyful Feast of the Annunciation. The short narration of the event in the Gospel of Luke ends with Mary, in fear and trembling but with determination, assenting to the plan of God: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
For centuries, the Catholic Church has accorded great reverence and highest honor to the Blessed Virgin. She has been given many titles – Theotokos or Mother of God, Stella Maris, New Eve, God-bearer, to name a few.
In his catechesis on the role of Mary in the plan of salvation as Mother of God, St. John Paul II said: “In stating her total ‘yes’ to the divine plan, Mary is completely free before God. At the same time, she feels personally responsible for humanity, whose future was linked with her reply. God puts the destiny of all mankind in a young woman’s hands. Mary’s ‘yes’ is the premise for fulfilling the plan which God in his love had prepared for the world’s salvation By her conduct, Mary reminds each of us of our serious responsibility to accept God’s plan for our lives. In total obedience to the saving will of God expressed in the angel’s words, she becomes a model for those whom the Lord proclaims blessed, because they “hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11, 28). Jesus, in answering the woman in the crowd who proclaimed his mother blessed, discloses the true reason for Mary’s blessedness: her adherence to God’s will, which led her to accept the divine motherhood.
Less celebrated but equally edifying is Saint Joseph’s own yes to God’s plan. He could have abandoned Mary, quietly as he was a decent man, but when an angel appeared to him, he readily embraced the mission to father of our Messiah. Fr. James Martin SJ describes this well:
“Like many saints whose lineage can be traced back to the earliest days of the church, very little is known of St. Joseph, besides what we learn from the few lines written about him in the Gospels. He was of King David’s line and engaged to a young woman from Nazareth. Mary was found, quite unexpectedly, to be pregnant. But Joseph, “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,” as the Gospel of Matthew tells it, planned to dissolve his betrothal quietly. Even before Jesus was born, then, Joseph’s tender compassion and forgiving heart were on full display.
But God had other plans. As with another troubled Joseph—a patriarch in the book of Genesis—God used a dream to reveal his redemptive plans for the carpenter from Nazareth. In the dream, an angel let Joseph in on Mary’s secret: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” That same angel, after the birth of Mary’s son, advised Joseph to take the child and his mother to Egypt to flee the murderous King Herod. And Joseph listened.”
In his reflection entitled “A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts”, Pope Francis observes:
“In this past year of change, my mind and heart have overflowed with people. People I think of and pray for, and sometimes cry with, people with names and faces, people who died without saying goodbye to those they loved, families in difficulty, even going hungry, because there’s no work.
Sometimes, when you think globally, you can be paralyzed: There are so many places of apparently ceaseless conflict; there’s so much suffering and need. I find it helps to focus on concrete situations: You see faces looking for life and love in the reality of each person, of each people. You see hope written in the story of every nation, glorious because it’s a story of daily struggle, of lives broken in self-sacrifice. So rather than overwhelm you, it invites you to ponder and to respond with hope.
These are moments in life that can be ripe for change and conversion. Each of us has had our own “stoppage,” or if we haven’t yet, we will someday: illness, the failure of a marriage or a business, some great disappointment or betrayal. As in the COVID-19 lockdown, those moments generate tension, a crisis that reveals what is in our hearts.
In every personal “COVID,” so to speak, in every “stoppage,” what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected.
We are in a time of turmoil and fear. But we can reclaim the joy in our lives, not only in this season of Advent, but in the years ahead. And this can all be achieved if we are willing and ready, like Mary and Joseph, to say “yes” to God’s plan for our life – in this pandemic and beyond.
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