Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Mary anchored her faith in the promise God made to Abraham; faith is a response to a "Thou" who calls us by name.

Holy Name of Mary 2012

Lumen Fidei

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" 35 And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible." 38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

There is no better model for our accepting and practicing faith than this maiden of Galilee, the Mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary. So the Church gives us, once each year, a special day to honor her name. One of the least-used rubrics of the Mass is the one asking the clergy to bow at the name of Jesus, but also at the name of Mary. You may notice that I do so in the canon of the Mass, right after the consecration. Mary is the model of faith because, unlike her Son, she was only human. Her faith was strong in the midst of difficult times. Her country was occupied by an oppressive, foreign power. Their soldiers killed Jews with impunity. Their tax collectors stripped the land of its wealth even more than the IRS does. So, when the angel came to her, the only question she had was procedural: pos estai touto epei andra ou ginosko: How can this be, since I know not man. The Fathers tell us that she had made a vow to remain a virgin, and that Joseph had acquiesced in that vow. The translation in the RSV–which is always so faithful to the original–is wrong here: “since I have no husband.” Joseph was her betrothed, her husband, though they had not yet begun to live under the same roof. Actually, when you visit Nazareth, you see that Mary’s home was more like a cave cut into the hill. So Mary heard the Word of God, and believed, and complied, and she conceived the Word of God for us.

When Mary first comments on the miracle that had begun in her–to her cousin Elizabeth–she anchors her faith in the promise God first made to Abraham. The One she conceived was the offspring promised to the Patriarchs, who would save all of us from the evil of sin: The Popes tell us:

1. Faith opens the way before us and accompanies our steps through time. Hence, if we want to understand what faith is, we need to follow the route it has taken, the path trodden by believers, as witnessed first in the Old Testament. Here a unique place belongs to Abraham, our father in faith. Something disturbing takes place in his life: God speaks to him; he reveals himself as a God who speaks and calls his name. Faith is linked to hearing. Abraham does not see God, but hears his voice. Faith thus takes on a personal aspect. God is not the god of a particular place, or a deity linked to specific sacred time, but the God of a person, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, capable of interacting with man and establishing a covenant with him. Faith is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a “Thou” who calls us by name.

2. 9. The word spoken to Abraham contains both a call and a promise. First, it is a call to leave his own land, a summons to a new life, the beginning of an exodus which points him towards an unforeseen future. The sight which faith would give to Abraham would always be linked to the need to take this step forward: faith “sees” to the extent that it journeys, to the extent that it chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God’s word. This word also contains a promise: Your descendants will be great in number, you will be the father of a great nation (cf. Gen 13:16; 15:5; 22:17). As a response to a word which preceded it, Abraham’s faith would always be an act of remembrance. Yet this remembrance is not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken. We see how faith, as remembrance of the future, memoria futuri, is thus closely bound up with hope.

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