Salt + Light presents a series of blogs reflecting on Advent and Christmas by Bishop William McGrattan, Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto, and S+L CEO Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB. The series will look at Mary, Joseph, the Word Made Flesh, and the Magi, and will be spread over the next two weeks. We begin by Remembering Mary.
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Bishop William McGrattan's reflection:
The Season of Advent helps us to prepare for Christmas where we recall in faith Christ’s coming among us. It is also a time in which we look at our present lives and reflect on the second coming of Christ in our own lives and at the end of the ages.
It is definitely a season of joyous expectation in light of the Feast of Christmas. However it is also a time of preparation in which we are invited to renew our Christian faith. We can become more attentive to the gift of our faith and to explore the implications of what it means to believe in the person of Christ and above all to become more grateful for the presence of God’s love which is fully manifest in the person of Christ.
On the very First Sunday of Advent these very themes we addressed in the Opening Prayer at Mass:
Father in Heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in His presence and welcome the Light of his Truth.
Notice that in this prayer we acknowledge Advent as a time in which our hearts are to become more aware of the warmth of God’s love.
It is also a time for our minds to receive in new ways the Word of God through the Scriptures and thus to welcome the light of his Truth.
Finally it is a time to grow in the strength of Christ’s love, so that as we prepare to celebrate the dawn of his coming at Christmas he may find us rejoicing in His presence more fully each day.
In the Office of Readings St. Charles Borromeo also echoes the importance of this Advent season:
Each year the Church recalls this mystery and she urges us to renew the memory of the great love God has shown us.
He also goes on to state:
This holy season of Advent teaches us that Christ’s coming was not only for the benefit of his contemporaries (in history) but that the power of his coming has to be communicated to us all ( most especially in our present day).
As Christians we are called to share in this power of His coming through faith.
The Church proclaims this faith in Christ’s coming through the prayers we express, the Scriptures we read, the songs and hymns we sing, in the very rituals and Sacraments we celebrate during this time of preparation.
One important gift of faith which we can receive in Advent and Christmas is a profound sense of gratitude for his presence and thus the need to prepare our hearts for the power of such an event in our lives today. This Christian attitude and disposition to gratitude is most vividly reflected in the role of Mary- the Mother of our Lord.
In the early Church we know that there was a progressive discovery through faith to see the fullness of Mary’s role in God’s plan of salvation history.
Scripture records her role in God’s plan of salvation from the outset as the Mother of our Lord.
In the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel he records the infancy of Christ but what is most interesting is that Mary is only named and speaks no words. The birth of our Lord is recorded almost exclusively from the viewpoint and experience of Joseph.
In contrast, Luke’s gospel portrays Mary in a much more prominent role.
And thus it is through this inspired narrative that we see the outline of her vocation from God, the Annunciation – the greeting and the message from the angel Gabriel. The stirrings of Mary’s heart and her initial response in faith is that of a question "How can this be?" … then "Let it be done unto me according to your Word."
The progress of her belief in God’s promises and her confidence to say “ Let it be done according to your Word” is truly inspiring for each Christian who has struggled to answer their vocation call.
Then through prayer and the reflection upon God’s grace at work in her life we see the ultimate response of gratitude: “Mary treasured all of these things and pondered them in her heart.”
In a homily given by John Paul II on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God he made the following statement: “Mary was the memory of the Church.”
From the beginning she was fixed on the mystery of this newborn child, that she was attentive to this experience as the mystery of God’s salvation, and that her “fiat,” her yes, progressively unfolded in her life and that thus her memory played an important role in the faith of the Church.
In the Advent season the Church’s memory becomes reflected through the memory of Mary.
To identify with Mary in faith during this season of Advent is to be open to receive what she received.
The first gift was that of a profound sense of gratitude for the warmth of God’s love given to her in Christ. His birth, his coming into this world was to reveal the fullness of God’s love and Mary was the first to believe in this love and to experience it in her life.
In my years of experience as a priest I have always been inspired and humbled by the stories that people have shared with me concerning their lives of faith, which I have encountered countless time through ministry. This sense of profound gratitude for how they have come to experience Christ has been a gift to me. Each story is unique but it is inspiring to see how they have come to the faith through family, parents and grandparents, through teachers at school, in the pastoral care of a parish community, the meeting with a priest or the impact and witness of individuals who live their life with joy because of faith. This gratitude is very evident in those men and women who are moved to inquire about the faith and enter the process of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) through our parishes. If you have ever been involved in this process of inquiry and catechesis in the faith you will see this expression of gratitude. The RCIA program is a process of birth in the Church; it is a symbol and sign of the Incarnation; it is a “Christ event,” a birth of faith.
The second gift that Mary received was the grace of being ready and attentive, of being open to God and the power of this event in her life. This coming of Christ would disrupt her plans, it would challenge her life, the relationships of family and friends, yet through her yes she would begin to see how God had chosen to reveal the Incarnate vision of His Son through her life. This is the grace that each of us receives to respond in truth and freedom to our vocation and calling in life. We are called to model our response of Mary in accepting and choosing our life’s vocation.
I witnessed this vocational gift in my ministry of seminary formation, in the accompaniment of those discerning their call to the priesthood. In a spiritual and communal way it was very evident when the men came together to pray the Rosary at night in the chapel. It was an expression of their devotion to our Blessed Mother but it was a daily time in which they entered into the mystery and the memory of Mary. I could not help but think in my prayer with them that Mary’s model and disposition of accepting her own vocation was being received as grace in such moments.
As Advent unfolds it is my hope that the gifts Mary received may be part of our own preparation and reflection of the coming of Christ in our lives: a gratitude for our faith and an openness to live our vocations in Christ with greater fidelity.
Most Rev. William McGrattan
Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto
Fr. Thomas Rosica's reflection:
Listen to this beautiful text from the prophet Zephaniah 3:14-18:
Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.
The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
“I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.
The reading from the Prophet Zephaniah speaks of the Daughter of Zion, the personification of the city of Jerusalem. Let us reflect on the significance of this title of the holy city of Jerusalem and see how and why the Church appropriated the title for Mary, Mother of the Lord.
Daughter of Zion is the personification of the city of Jerusalem. Zion was the name of the Jebusite citadel that later became the City of David. In the many texts of the Old Testament that speak of the Daughter of Zion, there is no real distinction to be made between a daughter of Zion and the city of Jerusalem itself.
In the Old Testament, the title Virgin of Israel is the same as the Daughter of Zion. The image of the bride of the Lord is found in Hosea, Chapters 1-3: It reflects the infidelity of the people to their God.
Jeremiah 3:3-4 speaks of prostitution and the infidelity of the bride. Virginity in the Old Testament is fidelity to the Covenant. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul speaks of the Church as a pure virgin. Here, virginity is the purity of faith.
Throughout the Old Testament, it is in Zion-Jerusalem that God shall gather together all of his people. In Isaiah 35:10, the tribes of Israel shall gather in Zion. In Ezekiel 22:17-22, the prophet describes God's purification of his people that shall take place "within" the walls of the city, in the midst of Jerusalem.
The Second Vatican Council formally called Mary "Daughter of Zion" in the dogmatic constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (No. 52). The Church's appropriation of this title for the Mother of the Lord has a rich Scriptural foundation. The title “Daughter of Zion” evokes the great biblical symbolism of the Messianic Zion. Mary illustrates the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures which ascribed value to the eschatological role of woman as mother both of the Messiah and of the new people of God: the individual person and the whole people being very closely united, in line with the cultural structures of Israel.
For the prophets, the Daughter of Zion was the spouse of the Lord when she observed the covenant. Mary's role as Daughter of Zion, or for that matter any of her roles in the life of God's people, can never be understood independently of Christ and of the Spirit, which he bestows upon all humanity in dying on the cross.
Lumen Gentium says that all theology and Marian piety belong to the mystery of Christ and to the mystery of the Church.
Mary, Daughter of Zion, is the archetype of the Church as Bride, Virgin and Mother. It is not only biological virginity, but also spiritual virginity, which means fidelity to the Scriptures, openness toward others, and purity in faith.
Mary's words to the servants at the wedding banquet in Cana (John 2:1-12) are an invitation to all peoples to become part of the new people of God. Mary is the new "Daughter of Zion" because she has invited the servants to perfectly obey Jesus the Lord. At Cana this new Daughter of Zion has given voice to all people.
Both at Cana and at Calvary (in John's Gospel), Mary represents not only her maternity and physical relationship with her son, but also her highly symbolic role of Woman and Mother of God's people. At Calvary, more than any other place in the fourth Gospel, Mary is "Mother Zion": her spiritual maternity begins at the foot of the cross.
As "Mother Zion," she not only welcomes and represents Israel, but the Church, the People of God of the New Covenant. At the foot of the cross, Mary is the mother of the new messianic people, of all of those who are one in Christ.
She who bore Jesus in her womb now takes her place in the assembly of God's holy people. She is the new Jerusalem: In her own womb was the Temple, and all peoples shall be gathered back to the Temple, which is her Son. The Mother of Jesus is indeed the Mother of all of God's scattered children. She is Mother of the Church. Mary is the first Daughter of Zion, leading all of God's people on the journey toward the Kingdom.
Let me leave you with the words of the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI, in his apostolic exhortation on Christian joy, Gaudete in Domino:
[Mary] has grasped, better than all other creatures, that God accomplishes wonderful things: His name is holy, He shows His mercy, He raises up the humble, He is faithful to His promises. Not that the apparent course of her life in any way departs from the ordinary, but she meditates on the least signs of God, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19; 51).
Not that she is in any way spared sufferings: she stands, the mother of sorrows, at the foot of the cross, associated in an eminent way with the sacrifice of the innocent Servant. But she is also open in an unlimited degree to the joy of the resurrection; and she is also taken up, body and soul, into the glory of heaven.
The first of the redeemed, immaculate from the moment of her conception, the incomparable dwelling-place of the Spirit, the pure abode of the Redeemer of mankind, she is at the same time the beloved Daughter of God and, in Christ, the Mother of all. She is the perfect model of the Church both on earth and in glory.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Television Network
1st Photo: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic
Middle photo: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec
Bottom photo: CNS photo/courtesy of Vatican Museums