Friday, September 08, 2006

Ever Ancient, Ever New

St Augustine spoke of the mystery of God as something “ever ancient, ever new,” and I think that this can be applied in its own way to the mystery of the Mother of God. For God, “ever ancient” means eternal, though it cannot mean that personally for Our Lady, except perhaps in the plan of God for our salvation—for St Paul says that we were chosen by God “before the foundation of the world.” But the Mother of God, if not eternal, is over 2000 years old—though she doesn’t look a day over 25—and that is quite ancient indeed!

The ancient part is the historical event that we celebrate today—the holy nativity of Mary. At a certain time and in a certain place, long ago and far away, a little girl was born, the daughter of an old and infertile couple who had prayed long for the gift of a child, whom they promised to give over to the Lord’s service if He would hear their prayer. Little did they know just what God had in mind for their little bundle of joy!

She is described with several biblical images in the liturgy: she is the eastern gate of the temple through which the High Priest enters; she is the scroll on which the eternal Word of God is written; she is the tree of life bearing the immortal fruit that is our Savior and Lord. All of this, which is the result of reflection upon her role in the mystery of the Incarnation, would have been wholly incomprehensible to her parents because, even though they were expecting the Messiah, they had no idea that this Messiah would actually be the Most High God assuming human nature in the womb of their little girl.

As historical event, this is ancient history. But this mystery is also “ever new,” and as such it enters and influences our lives today, and every day. That means, in the context of this particular mystery, that Mary of Nazareth, who was God’s chosen instrument to give to the world the Son of God in the flesh, is still God’s instrument for bringing the grace of the Son of God to all who implore her intercession and assistance. God doesn’t merely use people to accomplish certain tasks, after which He discards or ignores them as useless, but, as St Paul wrote, God’s gifts and call are irrevocable. So if He chose Our Lady for a unique and utterly marvelous mission at a particular period of time, it would be just like Him to continue to work through her for all time and even for all eternity.

A few days ago at Matins we prayed this prayer to her: “…scatter the countless dark mists oppressing my soul, that I may see the rays of the Sun which rose from you, and that in your light, I may welcome the never-fading Light.” Because in ancient times the flesh of Jesus was revealed through the flesh of Mary, today she reveals Him to us in spirit, through her prayers, through her maternal and mystical presence in our lives, and we see the Light of Christ in her face, we receive the grace of Christ through her heart of love. Not that there is any metaphysical necessity for Christ to manifest or communicate his grace through his Mother, for God is sovereign and free, and as we read in the psalms, He does whatever He wills. If He blesses us through Our Lady, it is simply because that is his will, his delight, and so people shouldn’t rack their brains trying to prove—or deny—that this must be so, but simply rejoice that it is!

Human beings can comprehend so little of the infinite mysteries of God, but somehow people think they can judge divine mysteries by their own reason, experience, research, or even theology. But we always have to return to God’s word that says: “My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts” (Is. 55:8). One of our liturgical texts for this feast reads: “The barren and sterile Anne did not appear so before God, for she was predestined from the ages to become the mother of the pure Virgin who would give birth to the Creator in the form of a servant.” She knew she was sterile; she had the evidence. She knew that sterile women cannot bear children; that is a fact. But from God’s perspective all that was irrelevant, because He was about to change it miraculously so that his plan could be fulfilled. His thoughts and ways are not ours, so we shouldn’t try to project ours onto Him.

This situation of St Anne before God ought to tell us something about trust. That which appears a certain way to us—even supported by reason or evidence—may not appear so before God, who just may be about to inaugurate a superior plan that leaps lightly over all our insurmountable obstacles. Remember the psalm I already mentioned, which we often use on feastday Vespers: “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He wills.” And, as Abraham’s mysterious Visitors said, upon prophesying the birth of Isaac: “Is anything too hard [or, wonderful] for the Lord to do?” (Gen. 18:14). After God overcame the obstacles for Joachim and Anne, and when at length the miracle-baby Mary had reaching child-bearing age, another reminder concerning a much more astounding miracle was given by the Archangel Gabriel to the awestruck Virgin when he said: “Nothing shall be impossible with God.” So if nothing is beyond the power of God, and if, as the song goes, Love is Lord of heaven and earth, well, how can we keep from singing, how can we not trust Him who works all things for the good for those who love Him and live according to his word?

Ever ancient, ever new: the eternal plan of God to send us his Son as our Savior, realized in time over 2000 years ago, beginning with the birth of the Birth-giver, whose presence and intercession are with us today, as a gift from the inexhaustible treasury of grace of Him who was born of her—all this will continue to unfold until the end of time and will be celebrated with boundless joy in the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven. This is why we celebrate today the Theotokos, the “Birth-giver of God,” that is, of God the Son who assumed human nature from her and was born in Bethlehem, whom St Joseph named Jesus at the command of the Angel, for He would save us from our sins. And so, with the obedience of faith, all manner of things shall be well.