December 8, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Carlo Maria Martini, a deceased Italian Jesuit cardinal and former Archbishop of Milan, once described grace as knowing that “you have been loved for a very long time.” Cardinal Martini, who died in 2012, defined grace in this beautiful way: knowing that “you have been loved for a very long time.” So, take your age plus nine months and then add in eternity— that is how long you have been loved by God. Grace is knowing this everlasting love of God and living out of that love.
St. Paul states the same truth in a different way, saying that God the Father chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. From the beginning of Creation, God knew each one of us and intended us to be born. So that we are loved not so much for what we do, but for who we are, because we have been chosen in by the Father in His Son.
Pope Francis teaches that each one of us “is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody…the Gospel”
Being chosen by God also means God has a plan and a purpose for our life. You matter, I matter, and so does our mission in this life. Pope Francis teaches that each one of us “is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody…the Gospel” (On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World, #19 ).
Since Mary was chosen from the beginning of time to be the Mother of the Son of God, Mary’s Mission is a unique one. So much so that God prepared her to be the Mother of the Son of God by freeing her from sin and the effects of sin from the very first moment of her existence in the womb of her mother, Anne. Mary is full of grace, free to allow God who is love to take her flesh, to say a complete and full Yes to God’s plan to live in her womb and be born into the world through her.
The archangel Gabriel’s greeting is our greeting as well to Mary on this great Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception: “Hail Mary, full of grace.” For this humble virgin from the backwoods town of Nazareth was indeed full of grace. To be full of grace is to be filled with life and love and light. To be full of grace is to live out the marks of holiness described by St. Paul VI in his great encyclical, “Evangelization in the Modern World.” This saintly pope said: “The world calls for and expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice.”
To be full of grace is to yearn for peace in the world, to do acts of kindness every day, to have an inclusive heart, to be able to laugh and cry, to feel deeply the sorrows and joys of the world. To be full of grace is to accept what God gives and to give what God takes, a lesson that St. Teresa of Calcutta taught her sisters and the world.
But you and I are not full of grace. Something blocks us from completely embracing the mystery of God’s love and mercy in Jesus. Call it pride, call it ignorance, call it fear, something holds us back from uttering the fully obedient “YES” that Mary proclaimed the Annunciation.
From the beginning, our first parents chose not to believe in God’s love for them. Instead of saying “YES” in obedience to all that God offered them, they disobeyed, failing to trust in God’s goodness, trusting only in themselves and their desire to be God. Thus sin and the affects of sin entered the world. Instead of standing erect and raising their heads to bask in the light of God’s love, our first parents hid in their shame and passed the blame.
We, too, still wrestle with sin and the affects of sin in our lives, but by Mary’s “YES” which reversed the “NO” of our first parents, we have been given a Savior who frees us from the obstacles in our lives which prevent us from living out of the love of God for us. So, one of the cries of Advent is, “Come O Lord and set us free.” Set us free from the sin which binds us, the fear which enslaves us, heal us of our blindness.
When we embrace the truth which Mary knew, that we have been loved for a very long time, our lives are transformed. Knowing how much we are loved by God sets us free to give love away.
In the giving away of God’s love, more space is created for a new influx of divine grace.
It is this rhythm that defines the life of discipleship. It is this rhythm of receiving and sharing God’s love that Mary, the 1st disciple, teaches us.