Our Lady Awake

The Lord promised king David that the Messiah would spring from his loins. The house of David would produce the Savior and Redeemer, the everlasting king whose reign of peace would endure with the perpetual youthfulness of God Himself.

But, the prophet told the king, it would all come to pass at a future time, when David himself slept. Slept in death with his fathers.

king davidOn the other hand, when the time came, a thousand years later, for the fulfillment of this prophecy, the Blessed Virgin Mary was very much awake.

We don’t know what hour of the day or night the Archangel Gabriel arrived. Whenever it was–early morning, midnight, late afternoon, evening time–whenever it was, Mary was not snoozing.

The idea of the Blessed Virgin Mary sleeping–actually, it’s hard to picture. Did she snore when she slept? Hard to imagine the Blessed Virgin snoring. I, for one, do not think she snored.

Certainly, our Lady slept sometimes. I mean, people need sleep. Sometimes she would close her eyes for a little while, and St. Joseph would hold the baby.

But, of all the people who have ever lived, the Blessed Virgin Mary may well be the one we would least associate with the idea of snoozing. Lounging. Lolling around. Vegging. Binge-watching whole seasons of Law and Order, supine on the couch for hours. No.

When he came to speak with our Lady, the Archangel Gabriel found her alert and recollected. Reading, perhaps. Or meditating. Or praying for her family, or neighbors, or future husband. Reflecting on a passage of the Torah, or one of the books of the prophets. Or quietly chanting a psalm to God.

espressoNot anxious. Not agitated. Not stressed. Not buzzing on the first-century-Palestine equivalent of Starbucks or 5-Hour Energy. No. Calm. But altogether awake.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord has chosen you.”

She didn’t say, “What’s that?” or “Come again,” or “Huh?” She heard it very clearly the first time.

Now, what does it mean for a member of the human race to be truly awake?

Our survival of course demands our taking action to provide for our sustenance, so we cannot sleep all the time. We have to wake up and do something to keep from starving to death.

When we bestir ourselves, what do we perceive? Family, neighbors, the world around us. The buzz of tv or the ambient muzac. My own appetites. My own thoughts, my own meditations. My memories. My anxieties.

What about being awake like the Virgin Mary, at the moment the archangel chose to visit her?

Seems like she perceived all the elements of her environment, and her interior life. She perceived it all, and she perceived something else, too.

alarm clockSeems like Mary perceived that the day–or the night, whichever it was, at that moment; she perceived that the walls around her, her house, her town, her homeland, her family, her thoughts, her desires, her imaingation; she perceived that all of this had a Master. Everything has a Source and Guide and Goal. It all has a oneness, because everything is the work of the hand of one great Artisan.

And this Artisan communicates. This Artisan converses. This Artisan expresses with consummate eloquence the true meaning of… of existence, of why I am here, of why there is something, rather than absolutely nothing. Why there is light, and not absolute, endless darkness.

Listen, I am all for the traditional forms of Christian art and the famous depictions of the Annunciation. If we had eyes to see the Archangel Gabriel, we would probably see that he looks a lot like Fra Angelico painted him to look.

But angels are not material creatues, after all. And they communicate with each other in pure light, with a kind of harmony that makes the beautiful sounds, the most beautiful sonatas and symphonies we have ever heard sound like jangling gongs.

So, maybe when the Archangel came to the Blessed Virgin, it didn’t look like anything we have ever even imagined, nor did it sound like anything we have ever heard. Because we tend to snooze through life.

Maybe what happened was: She was awake and alert enough to hear a harmony in all the things she perceived. In what she could see and feel, in what she could remember and imagine and believe–in all of it, she heard a single song. All the elements of history produced at that moment a song, a sweet lay that opened the next moment up to her, like an eternity in an instant, with this invitation:

“Give birth to the One Who made all this. Give birth to the One Who will bring it all to fulfillment.”

She was awake enough to hold all this in her perception, awake enough to respond with everything–her entire self, completely at her command.

That’s who we are, as a race–the human race. Creatures who can wake up like the Virgin Mary. Who can be awake, like her, to God’s eternal Word.

El Greco Annunciation

The Christmas the Lord has Planned

Every year, at Holy Mass on December 19th, we read from Luke 1. And we confront the question: Why did Zechariah get punished for asking the Archangel Gabriel a question about John the Baptist’s birth, but Mary did not get punished for asking about how Jesus could be born?

And the answer is?…

–Zechariah—a wise, old priest—should have known better than to doubt.

–St. John the Baptist got conceived according to the traditional, birds-and-the-bees method, so Zechariah’s question was petulant. Whereas Mary asked a perfectly honest question.

–Zechariah was a chatterbox who talked too much anyway.

Remember how, two years ago, a lot of people worried about the Mayan apocalypse? And fifteen years ago, a lot of people worried that Y2K would crash everyone’s computer? 1,015 years ago, most of Western civilization sat waiting for the world to end at the turn of the first millennium.

New Agers Mayan templeI don’t mean to make fun of any of these people. In a way, they had the right idea. Zechariah failed to give God credit for being able to do something totally unexpected.

Do I know what Christmas is supposed to be like for me spiritually? Aren’t I supposed to have such-and-such feelings, such-and-such ‘faith experiences’ at Christmas? That’s the way it always is. It’s traditional. Christmas is a time for my traditional emotions.

For me personally, Christmas is traditionally a time to be tired and out-of-sorts. Because I have a cold. Because Our Lady decided to appear to St. Juan Diego in December instead of July. Thereby turning Advent from difficult to practically impossible for the Martinsville/Rocky Mount/Roanoke-Catholic priest to manage.

Traditional spiritual experiences.

But what if these are not what the Lord has planned for us for Christmas AD 2014? What if this Christmas will involve spiritual graces for me unlike any I have ever received before?

Lord, help us open ourselves up to the future that You have planned for us! Open us up to the Christmas that You have planned for us! We don’t know how to plan like You do. What You have in mind is much better, much more interesting, and much more wonderful than anything we have ever thought of.

Conditions for Belief

The gospel tells us that Zechariah lived a holy, upright life. The angel came to visit him while he faithfully fulfilled his priestly duties. Gabriel found Elizabeth’s husband in the Temple, the most splendidly divine place imaginable. The humble priest busied himself burning incense, praying, surrounded by crowds of pious people praying in the Temple court outside.

In other words, the archangel came to the place most frequented by the holy heroes of Advent, the place where they came to await the fulfillment of the Lord’s ancient promises. Where Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, everyone knew Elijah was to come again, to direct the hearts of children to their fathers and to prepare a people fit for the Lord.

jerusalem_solomon_templeThe angel came to this most believable of settings, and proceeded to tell Zechariah something which hardly even defied the laws of nature. You and your wife will have a son!

Wonderful news, yes. Another instance of God’s fruitfulness, to which the Old Testament had borne so much witness through the centuries. But the rules of the birds and the bees would remain intact. Zechariah was not asked to believe anything too outlandish. Just that he and his wife would have an unexpected son.

Meanwhile, the archangel visited the Blessed Virgin in a much less holy city, in a part of the country as pagan as it was Jewish. Nazareth has a great name now. But at the time, as we know from reading the gospels, the Jews thought of the town as an unmentionable backwater, in a region over-run by distasteful foreigners who cared only about commerce.

And what Gabriel proposed to Mary demanded a much greater leap of faith. He told her that something would happen which had never happened before. She asked the angel an honest question, got an enormously mysterious answer, and humbly submitted.

Continue reading “Conditions for Belief”

Rambo Virgin Mary (non-superficial Christmas)

We began Advent with two goals. 1) Try to get these new Mass responses right. 2) Prepare to celebrate a non-superficial Christmas.

A superficial Christmas practically ends before it begins. A superficial Christmas feels like work, not a holiday. A superficial Christmas costs too much money. A superficial Christmas leaves a person angry at one relative or another, out of sorts, and five pounds heavier.

How can we have a non-superficial Christmas?

Well, one “person” knows how to do it. Namely, the Church. But our Mother the Church does not take credit for inventing the proper way to celebrate Christmas. The Church learned how to do it from the true master of the non-superficial Christmas. Namely, the Virgin Mary.

“Hail, Mary!” The archangel Gabriel saluted the unique woman, indeed a new Eve. Hail, Mary. Hail, favored one.

This woman lived and breathed nothing but the will of God. No one has ever been more perfectly aware of the fundamental fact of life: I am the work of the Creator’s hands. The Blessed Mother studied this fact with every gaze of her eyes, with every sound she heard, everything she tasted, felt.

At the moment the angel arrived to greet her, Mary’s soul rested in perfect stillness. She liked to read. She didn’t watch t.v.

“What does this mean, that a glorious angel would visit me, go down on one knee before me, make such a proposal to me? Let me inquire, let me seek the truth…”

Continue reading “Rambo Virgin Mary (non-superficial Christmas)”