By Bernadette Moore
Sunday, March 25th, 2018
A Palm Sunday Fiat!
March 25th generally celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation, but when it falls during Holy Week, the feast is transferred to the first day after the Easter Octave. That said, in my opinion Palm Sunday is a fitting place for the feast to fall. The Annunciation celebrates a deeper truth of the Incarnation which was a direct result of Mary’s Fiat, of her “Yes”. Christ became incarnate specifically so that the Resurrection could happen which is why having the Annunciation fall on Palm Sunday, in my opinion, is so poetic.
I have always been moved, and intrigued, by the faith of the Blessed Mother. Mary’s fiat captures both her faith and her mystery. The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger – in which her whole life is changed, and she remains there alone, with a task that truly surpasses all human capacity. She must continue along the path that leads to many dark moments – from her fiancé Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy, to many long days following her son in his ministry, right up to the night of the cross. How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God’s angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: “Rejoice, full of grace!” And the consoling words: “Do not be afraid!”
The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God, a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch Jesus. Scriptures, present Mary as a woman of great faith, but one who has to walk by faith and not by perfect sight, just as all of us do. She ponders Gabriel’s greeting, is troubled, and does not understand how it will all work out. I have prayed about how close Jesus and Mary must have become as she accompanied her son in his ministry. One story that has always touched my heart is the parable of the wedding feast at Cana. Although the text omits many of the details, there must have been something in Mary’s look to her child, something of the look that only a mother can give to a son. By now, Mary’s understanding of her son has surely deepened; she has known Him and pondered and reflected in her heart over Him for more than thirty years. She simply looks at Him, and He at her – a look that only the two would have known. Something passed between them, a look of understanding. Whatever it was remains wrapped in silence, something that only she and her Son could know. Whatever it was, it prompts her to turn and with confidence, knowing the situation will be well-handled, says to the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” This parable has always touched my heart. I like to think that Mary and Jesus shaped each other in their relationship on their mutual faith journeys to Easter.
As we enter Holy Week we will encounter Mary again gently and compassionately present at the foot of the Cross. The sword that Simeon had prophesied is thrust through her heart. More than thirty years earlier she could only wonder what Simeon meant when he said that her child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her heart. In the intervening years her faith had surely deepened; now, here she is at the foot of the Cross. It is her darkest hour, but surely all those years of pondering and reflecting on these things in her heart helps to sustain her. She says little, silently standing by, silently supportive of Jesus in his suffering. Yes, this is the Mary, this is the Mother that I know: a woman of faith but also a human being like you and me who had to make a journey of faith without knowing how everything will work out.
Perhaps I celebrate Mary’s faith journey today because of the stories that Mary highlights in the special role of women in the divine plan. Perhaps I celebrate someone whom many believers hope to emulate: humble, obedient, loving, trusting. But I think that the Annunciation draws me in for a different reason. For it seemed that in this gospel story Mary wonderfully exemplifies and perfectly describes the growth of a personal relationship with God. Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday because it commemorates the beginning of Holy Week and Jesus’ final agonizing journey to the cross. And who had more compassion for Jesus than his mother. And so today, I will celebrate the conversation of and angel and a young woman, that the gospel of Luke perfectly describes of the arc of the spiritual life: God initiates the conversation; we are initially hesitant and fearful; we seek to understand God’s word in our life; God reminds us of our experience, and, we are free to choose. If we say “yes” to God, we like Mary, are able to bring new life into the world. Mary was therefore able to completely surrender herself in love, to Love. Her initial assent to the Angel Gabriel´s announcement reveals the very meaning of another Biblical word, “holy”. Holiness is not about being pious. It is about being selfless. Mary was holy, and she shows us the way to become holy, too. Like Mary, may our Holy Week be one of compassionate presence and prayer as we walk toward Easter.
Bernadette Gibson is the Director of Pastoral Care at Old Saint Patrick’s Church.