Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mary, the Immaculate Conception, Points the Way

Jennifer Hartline at Advent 2009

Here is my final word on the Immaculate Conception, our Spiritual Mother, The Blessed Virgin Mary. Well, it's not really my final word, it is the words of Jennifer Hartline, one of my favourite Catholic authors. Over at Advent 2009, she has this column for today. Her blockbuster introduction is the following:
You and I may have to struggle to see through this glass darkly for now, but we can learn from Mary how to keep one eye on eternity.
Now read what else she has to day for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of our Dear Mother:
December 8th has been on my mind for many weeks now. I don’t think this feast day has ever been on my radar screen so intensely before, but this year I am joyfully anticipating Mary’s special day. Perhaps the greatest blessing of my Christian life in recent years is the ever-deepening devotion to the Blessed Mother that I am experiencing. It is really an amazing gift.

While thinking one day about Mary, the Immaculate Conception, I heard from a dear friend of mine that she had just lost her mother. Joanne is a faith-filled woman and she knows that her mother is with the Lord, yet I know she is hurting terribly. I cannot imagine her pain. I don’t even want to think about the day I might have to bury my parents. I’m not ready to lose them and I never, ever will be. I’m certain Joanne feels the same.

Yet I know that days of grief, sadness, loss and loneliness are inevitable. They will come for all of us in one way or another. We won’t escape this life without pain; sometimes terrible, unspeakable pain. This is a subject of great consternation with me and one I go round and round with God over. I often have trouble finding mercy and grace in the midst of horrible suffering, and I can’t stand the empty platitudes and greeting card remedies because they just don’t cut it.

I ask, “Why?” I ask, “How could You allow this?” I ask, “Where are You?” I ask, “Where were You?” I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an answer that really satisfies. I’m simply drawn back again and again to the scenes of that terrible Friday we call “Good” to dwell on the agony of Jesus – and the anguish of His Mother. And I wonder – how did she do it? How did she remain perfectly, completely faithful, trusting and obedient?

She must’ve had a participation in the eternal vision. From the moment Gabriel said “Hail” til the moment Jesus ascended to heaven, Mary somehow saw what her own physical eyes alone could never have revealed to her. With no sin to cloud her view, her spirit saw God in everything, in all times and places and events.

Somehow amidst all the evil that day in Jerusalem, evil so thick and tangible she could probably taste it, she never wavered. Did her obedience serve to keep her faith suspended above the turmoil, separate from the anguish in her heart, protected from despair? I wonder… did the curtain become transparent for her? Was it as though the bloody scene she was witnessing was painted on a window, and she was able to look through it and see the purpose? Jesus went like a lamb to the slaughter and Mary quietly walked beside, the willing companion to His sufferings.

Were Simeon’s words from long ago suddenly coming back to her like a thunderbolt? “A sword shall pierce your own soul, too.” After a lifetime spent treasuring these things in her heart, pondering what they meant, was it all becoming clear to her? “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Here finally is what her obedience has reaped. This is what her faith has helped secure. As Jesus paid our ransom with His blood, she joined her tears of humble assent. The sweetest of all women, most pure and mild, showed the fortitude of the strongest steel because she’d so lovingly and freely offered her will entirely to the Father’s. Again, she found herself saying, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.”

This is how it’s meant to be for each of us. Strength to withstand our trials comes from uttering a humble, “Thy will be done.” By opening our hands to accept even the bitterest tokens of grace, we are given the peace the world cannot give and the power to remain faithful.

It means learning to see with spiritual eyes; seeing our lives, our pains, our losses, our tragedies with an eternal perspective. Everything here is fleeting. All trials, all troubles, all heartaches, sacrifices, grief and burden here are but a moment in the light of eternity. Though it feels so permanent and never-ending, it will not last forever. The trouble is, that doesn’t seem to lessen our grief and it doesn’t make it easier to accept the horrible things that happen that should never happen.

We rightly recoil from such pain and horror. Our instinct is to run and kick and scream and rage, not to bow our heads and open our hands to receive God’s severe will. This is why it is the most priceless gift to have our Lord’s own Mother as our helper and refuge. She knows what it means to be pierced by a sword in her very soul. She has endured the very worst pain hell can dish out.

Yet she did not resist or refuse, but gave herself over completely to God’s purposes. We are the beneficiaries of her faith and love and surrender. Her obedience then was part of God’s plan of salvation for all of us; her unmatched example of humility and faith is the standard we strive for; her Motherly love and care now is our sweet comfort. We do not endure alone; she has done it before us and walks beside us now in our need.

You and I may have to struggle to see through this glass darkly for now, but we can learn from Mary how to keep one eye on eternity. Weeping may endure for this very long night, but joy comes in the morning! Mary shows us how to see eternity through the now, and how to triumph over evil – “Do whatever He tells you.”

Thank you, gracious Mother, Immaculate Conception! Give us your faith filled and eternal vision!

Jennifer Hartline is a Catholic Army wife and stay-at-home mother of three precious kids who writes frequently on topics of Catholic faith and daily living. She is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.

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