The month of May is dedicated to Mary. In my community, we pray the rosary together and during this special month, as we contemplate the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary, we offer Mary flowers, candles, incense, and perfume (a Mexican tradition). However, we should be inviting Mary into our lives throughout the year! She is our Mother, and like any mother, she has a lot to teach us.
Mary is the model of contemplation. The object of this contemplation is God. But what exactly is contemplation? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines contemplation as,
… the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery (2724).
Let us turn to a well known passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke and see how Mary gives us the example of contemplation (some sections are bolded for emphasis) :
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”*And the angel said to her in reply, “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. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived* a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:26-38
Hans Urs von Balthasar uses this passage to point out 3 stages of Mary’s contemplation that we can all imitate:
- Mary’s initial reaction of alarm as she wonders what sort of greeting this might be
- She asks what practical steps she must take to render the obedience expected of her
- In response to the revelation of the Spirit who will overshadow her, she consents to God’s perfect Word which is to take effect in her
When we are in a disposition of receptivity, God can ask some pretty big things of us. These “big things” can give us initial reactions of fear, apprehension, alarm, etc. much like Mary’s initial reaction to Gabriel’s greeting. This is normal and it is good advice to discern where this is coming from (see 1 John 4:1-6). If we are certain that God is behind this dialogue, then we should also take Mary’s lead in asking how to accomplish whatever mission God has entrusted to us! After asking, remember to take time to listen and to continue to be receptive. This is often very difficult for us to do.
I have worked with many students who more or less think of God as a magical vending machine in the sky where if they insert “prayers,” they should receive what they asked for instantly! Imagine what the world would be like if we got everything we wanted on a whim. God is generous and He will give us what we need. Remember that God is the object of contemplation, which is an expression of love. This love is a relationship between you and God. There is not much of a relationship if we are just constantly demanding things from God and treating Him like a magical vending machine!
Each of us has a specific calling, or vocation, to fulfill. Mary’s vocation was to become the Mother of God! God did not demand this from her. He asked her through one of his messengers. After she discerned this call and asked “how this can be,” she consented to God’s will. Mary’s “yes” to God allowed God to become Incarnate! This 3rd step, responding/consenting to God’s will, is also difficult for us…..but never impossible!
I encourage you to incorporate contemplative prayer into your life and ask Mary to help you to fulfill the special mission God has for you. She understands completely.
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