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~ Following the Virgin Mary ~

The Virgin Mary was between twelve and fourteen years old when she engaged Joseph in marriage. In her day and culture, that was the typical age. (It still is in many cultures today.) In our modern eyes, Mary was a child. The angelic messenger, Gabriel, appeared to her with the news she was chosen to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and incubate the Savior of the world in her body. The child Mary was called to feed the Child Christ from her breasts, keep Him warm with her body, and nourish His Spirit with her love. Jesus declared the kingdom of heaven belongs to one such as these, the children. “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2). From the affirming lips of the child Mary came the Savior that silences the foe and avenger.

The incarnation of the Creator of all in a human body is so extraordinary, and teaches us volumes about who indeed our God is and what He is like. Yet, this event was so utterly ordinary…a young maiden giving birth to a child in the hills of a nearby city too crowded to accommodate her and her husband.

With so many people on the road in response to a Roman decree for a census, the chances that many mothers were giving birth to babies, or nursing newly born ones, are pretty good. This was quite ordinary in a time when families walked for days and weeks, individually or in community caravans for safety, to destinations of business, worship or family gatherings.

While the prophecies were proclaimed loudly and definitively throughout the previous thousand years, the actual event was almost a secret. God chose only very ordinary people to which to announce the event, the shepherds nearby, people with no power, no money, no clout or respect, no voice, just people who could worship in spirit and simplicity.

Gabriel did not call Mary to do anything except say “yes” to God. She was not called to pray and fast day and night in the temple in preparation. She was not called to proclaim this news to the people in the countryside, on the journey back to Nazareth, in the Jerusalem temple or local synagogues, or in her home village.

Mary and Joseph were told to marry and carry on with their very ordinary life. Mary visited her relative, Elizabeth, for several months, who was pregnant with John, the preparer of the way for Jesus. Elizabeth was beyond childbearing years, so her pregnancy was considered a miracle. The teenaged Mary helped the old woman Elizabeth with daily chores. Such an ordinary life for one carrying the Christ in her body!

Mary was asked to do nothing, to continue on with her plans to be a mother and wife. She was asked to let something be done to her. Mary trusted God and God trusted her. Out of mutual and self-releasing trust, and her fiat, her affirmation to let something be done to her instead of by her, God was incarnated.

The Christ asks for our fiat as well, to let His redemptive act be done to us, not by us. Few of us are called to do great things that would be noted in the annals of history. Perhaps the greatest thing to which to aspire is following Mary’s example. Let the Christ incarnate in us. Let us be content with an ordinary life nurturing the Christ within us.

Like Mary, meditate on these mysteries in our hearts. Like Mary, look for Him everywhere then find Him in His Father’s house, the temple of our beings in which He astoundingly chooses to make His home. Like Mary, follow Him through His passion, kneeling at His feet by the cross, greeting Him in His resurrection, exulting in His ascension, waiting for the Pentecost of His Holy Spirit, and then joining Him in the heavenly realm.

That’s one of the things I love about Jesus and Christmas, and life itself. He chooses the ordinary to gift us with the extraordinary. That is a distinction that resides in our human minds only. So Jesus chides us with paradoxical teasers like, “The least is the greatest,” “The last is the first,” “Loose your life to gain it,” and, “Experience the extraordinary through the ordinary.”

That’s what the Virgin Mary did. Shall we aspire to anything greater?

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.

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