“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths” (Is 2:3).
By F. K. Bartels
26 November 2011
As we enter into the sacred season of Advent, one of preparation for the arrival of the Christ Child, it is the Virgin Mary who beckons us to set our eyes firmly upon the Lord’s mountain and to walk in her Son’s paths.
In The Acts of The Apostles, St. Luke speaks of Saul’s persecution of those whom he found “belonging to the Way” (9:2). The term, “the Way,” appears elsewhere in Acts as a kind of code name for the early Christian movement. The life of the Christians was an identifiable one, one in which the Person of Jesus Christ was encountered, embraced, and incorporated into one’s way of life so as to make it his or her own.
“The Way” then became the principal driving force of the Christians as they walked in the mystery of Christ’s life, and thus was not simply an ideal adopted intellectually, but rather something to which they gave of themselves without reserve. The “Way” is thus a life given freely in abandonment to Jesus, who is himself “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). This abandonment to Christ is one which burns away disordered attachment for the material and the worldly; it is a “new way” in the Spirit in which misplaced desires are dislodged, supplanting what is mundane with what is beautiful and pure; it is a death to self in favor of an eternal share in the supernatural and superabundant life of God.
And it is the sweet Virgin who both reveals “the Way” and urges us along in it, by the example of her life and by her unceasing prayers for her children, which pour lovingly forth from her maternal lips. Blessed John Paul II reminds us that it is Mary who provides us with the supreme human example of trust, abandonment, openness to the impulses of the Holy Spirit, and submission to the salvific will of the Father:
“Indeed, at the Annunciation Mary entrusted herself to God completely, with the ‘full submission of intellect and will,’ manifesting ‘the obedience of faith’ to him who spoke to her through his messenger. She responded, therefore, with all her human and feminine ‘I,’ and this response of faith included both perfect cooperation with ‘the grace of God that precedes and assists’ and perfect openness to the action of the Holy Spirit, who ‘constantly brings faith to completion by his gifts’” (Redemptoris Mater 13 § 2).
Mary Opens the Way of Advent
It is the Virgin Mary who, in accordance with the Father’s eternal plan of salvation, is chosen to lead us into this “Way.” For Mary is known and loved by the Father from the very conception of his plan of love for humanity as the sinless mother who would carry the Child—the Father’s own Son—in her holy womb (cf. CCC 488). Immaculately conceived without sin, redeemed from the moment of her conception and “enriched by God with gifts appropriate” (CCC 490-491) to her role as the Mother of the Lord, the feet of the Virgin Mary trod the path of perfection without fault from her earliest days, always fulfilling the Father’s will in complete submission to the divine prompts of the Holy Spirit.
We might reflect on her innocent and tender childhood, seeing her quickly dash about the paths of Jerusalem toward a destination of quiet prayer in the Temple. We might imagine her bright, joy-infused eyes which deeply gazed into God’s creation, recognizing there, in the work of the Father’s hands, the sacred and the sublime. And always Mary’s life was a life of beauty and preparation in anticipation of her singular calling as the Mother of God. For Mary is the Immaculate Conception from the beginning of her existence in her own mother’s womb to the Annunciation to the Cross and beyond into eternity.
Mary opens the way of Advent. If we look into Mary’s eyes, she smiles, then turns her gaze toward her Son in order that our own eyes are led in the best and most proper direction, that we look upon “the Way” and then rise up and enter into it. Always she unveils the meaning of our life by directing us along her Son’s path: we are to give our lives to the Child who sacrificed his life for us.
Mary Beckons Us to Make Christ’s Story Our Own
In fact, Mary is not only an example of perfect self-giving but reveals with unparalleled clarity and in every detail what it means to follow her Son. She urges us to enter into the life of her Son, to make Christ’s story our story; to become as “little Christs.” Indeed, there is nothing in the virtuous Christian life that cannot be found in the life of Mary, since she is not only the first Christian but the Christian par excellence. Mary is the perfect and sinless Virgin who gave birth to “the Way,” the Person of Jesus the Christ, and is therefore raised above all the angels and saints as Theotokos—the Mother of God.
Since Advent is the season of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child, if we desire to enter into this sacred time as fruitfully as possible, it is important to turn to Mary with love, to cultivate and nourish a relationship with her as our spiritual mother, since it is Mary who brought the Child into the world. Consequently, it is difficult—perhaps impossible—to know the Child as intimately as we ought if we neglect his tender Mother.
Who would dare bypass Mary yet enter the quiet place of the Child’s birth and lift the newborn Babe from the manger? Is it not more appropriate to first greet Mary? Is it not best to first ask the Virgin, who gave her life for her Son, if we might touch and hold and kiss the Child?
However, though we might treat Mary with neglect, the sweet Virgin nevertheless takes us by the hand, guides us to the manger, and beckons us to pick up the Wonder-Child who is destined to redeem humankind. For our spiritual mother knows not selfishness. She invites us to take the Child in our arms, look into his eyes, and exchange our heart with his—not for a moment, but for all eternity. We need only look into Mary’s eyes in silence to understand.
Mary: Look at My Son
Ultimately, Advent calls us to trust in Christ, for we could not prepare for the coming of the Child if not for the gift of faith which can only be fully realized in trust. As Pope Benedict pointed out to the youth in Rome before the opening of the twenty-first World Youth Day, there is a certain amount of courage involved:
“What does the Lord want of me? Of course, this is always a great adventure, but life can be successful only if we have the courage to be adventurous, trusting that the Lord will never leave me alone, that the Lord will go with me and help me.”
Is not this what Mary herself clearly demonstrated at the Annunciation? Is not her fiat the greatest example of a trustful and courageous faith? Hear the words of Blessed John Paul II:
“Mary uttered this fiat in faith. In faith she entrusted herself to God without reserve and ‘devoted herself totally as the handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son.’ And as the Fathers of the Church teach — she conceived this Son in her mind before she conceived him in her womb: precisely in faith! Rightly therefore does Elizabeth praise Mary: ‘And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord’” (Redemptoris Mater 13 § 4).
Advent calls us to prepare, to strengthen our faith with the help of the Holy Spirit, to enter into that quiet place with the Child—there we find true meaning in our life. It is a place where all that we are is revealed; it is a place in which the Day Star rises in the East, driving out the darkness, replacing it with an ineffable light of Love which can never be forgotten nor extinguished.
Mary urges us to enter into Advent, into “the Way.” As we gaze with the eyes of faith upon that mystery which is anticipated in Advent, looking ahead toward the Child who lay in the manger, Mary whispers: look at my Son. “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).
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Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.