George F. Riley, O.S.A.
St. Thomas Monastery
Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
The year 1809 was a part of a period of history not greatly different from our own time. Military might was the dominant theme of the day. Napoleon and his armies held the upper hand and seemed destined to rule the world. Battles and victories made newspaper headlines. And most people thought that these were the truly important events of the day. This was naturally so because the armies were enormous and the battles were cataclysmic. This size and intensity fooled the world.
But other things took place in the year 1809, events that did not find a place in newspaper headlines or society conversations. In that year, Charles Darwin was born. As a result of his research, the thinking of the entire scientific world was reshaped. In that year Abraham Lincoln was born, and we are familiar with his courage, which lead the United States in the darkest moments of its history. In that year William Gladstone was born, and history proved him to be one of the brightest statesman of the British empire. In that year Alfred Tennyson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Oliver Wendell Holmes were born, and their writings still educate and inspire. In that year, Cyrus McCormick was born, and his invention changed the way the world harvested its crops.
In a word, the true importance of the year of our Lord 1809 was not its grand and deadly battles, but its babies. What seemed most significant was not so. Napoleon’s empire is gone; but the achievements of the babies of 1809 endure.
It was the same 1800 years before Napoleon, when the armies of Caesar marched and the people trembled, never dreaming that it was not on the battlefields of Rome, but in the quiet hills of Judea, that a new and lasting order was being established. Soon Elizabeth would give birth to a child and call him John. Mary would give birth to a child and call him Jesus. And those two men would reshape the entire world.
In the history of the world there was only one woman who was completely pleasing to God: not an earthly queen like Cleopatra or Marie Antoinette, but the Blessed Mother. This was declared by the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation. For he greets Our Lady with the words: “Hail, Mary, full of grace.” Note the words “full of grace.” If sanctifying grace makes us pleasing to God, and if Mary has this grace in all its fullness, then she must have been completely pleasing to God. And so Christians have always taken Mary as a model of discipleship.
In Advent, the entire Church seeks to cultivate an attitude of hopeful obedience, a waiting which places us at the disposal of God’s plan, attentive to His word, confident in His mercy. Mary is the exemplar of this hopeful obedience. Mary made no reservations when she answered Gabriel. Her word was final, her commitment was absolute. She made no side-commitments and sought no escape clauses; she did not bargain for contingency plans; she did not insist on first hearing all the details and consequences of the plan in which she was asked to share. The virgin of Nazareth did not try to haggle with the Lord God of heaven and earth. She heard His call, and accepted His will completely.
Likewise, when the angel appeared to Joseph and told him to go back to the land of Israel following the death of Herod, Mary offered no word of complaint about the friends she had to leave, or the hardships of the road. It was her duty to follow Joseph. Mary knew what her son would teach his disciples: obedience to God’s will.
But this is not the obedience of a slave, which seeks no more than to curry favor and avoid punishment. This is an obedience full of hope. From the time she was a girl, Mary heard in the Scriptures about God’s mighty deeds for His people, and the promises of His mercy. She believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled, and her heart stretched forth in hope to touch that which no one could yet see: God’s mercy and justice poured upon the earth like water, in and through her holy son.
Obedient to God’s command we gather here to worship Him, to accept the great gift of His Son as our savior, and to find the wisdom and strength of Christ in the silence of our waiting hearts. Mary and Elizabeth waited. Tonight the world waits. We wait for the Savior of the world to be reborn in the minds and hearts of mankind. We know that waiting can be boring. But as the anticipation gets nearer, the excitement begins to mount. Let that excitement turn to hopeful obedience in the joyful days that stand before us. We know the Lord’s commands: love the neighbor, comfort the widow, shelter the orphan, guide the lost, be faithful to our vows, receive his body and blood, be not afraid. Through our obedience to these, Christ can take on new flesh. Through us, the promise of salvation can become real to people. Let us go forth to do Christ’s will. Is there an Elizabeth in our lives, who needs a visit? A soldier, far from home, who needs a word of good cheer? A brother or sister who has turned away from the sacraments? In this season, mighty angels stoop with joy to sing for lowly shepherds. Like Mary, let us obey the command to go from where we are to those who need us, knowing that in our obedience the hope of ages becomes real for those who seek Christ’s comfort and protection.