Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. Hebrews 10:7
23 December 2018, 4th Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:1–4, Psalm 79(80):2–3,15–16,18–19, Hebrews 10:5–10, Luke 1:39–44
These are among the most important words in the Scriptures. They encapsulate the life and mission of Jesus sent to redeem and save us, and they encapsulate the life and mission of every Christian: to conform our human will to the divine will of God—from which everything else flows.
Echoing King David’s words (cf. Psalm 40:6–8), the author of Hebrews explains how it is not our offerings and sacrifices—as good and necessary as these are to help deepen our interior life of prayer and holiness—that are most pleasing to God, but our desire to do God’s Will and our obedience in following it. This is also one of the hardest things for the Christian to do, but paradoxically, only in doing so do we find our true happiness and lasting peace.
It is also why, as today’s Gospel reminds us, that Mary is blessed. She believed that the promise made to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. She conformed her will to his, even when she did not understand it, and therein, discovered true blessedness. Before she could conceive Jesus in flesh in her womb, she first had to conceive him in faith in her heart. We, too, must first believe in faith even when we do not understand, before we can believe that Jesus, the man, is truly God—the only Saviour of the world.
Mary, our Mother, help us to believe as you did, that the promise made to us by the Lord will be fulfilled. Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see in you—the tiny, vulnerable Babe of Bethlehem—the true God and Saviour of the world who holds my life in your hands. Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. Amen.
Fr Christopher G Sarkis
The Virgin Annunciate – Antonello da Messina (1430–1479)
“The Virgin Annunciate”, c. 1476. Oil on wood, 45cm × 34.5cm. Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo, Italy. Public Domain.
By any stretch of the imagination, this is a most remarkable painting. You could almost say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” in that, like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, you can put almost any interpretation you want into this face. And, isn’t that the genius of true art? The image says something to the beholder.
The Virgin Annunciate was painted about A.D. 1476 by Antonello da Messina, and now hangs in the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo. Messina was one of the most groundbreaking and influential painters of the 15th century. It is said that he charmed Jan van Eyck to reveal to him the secret of the newly-discovered medium of oil painting. It allowed the artist a new freedom of expression.
Messina’s masterpiece shows Mary interrupted in her reading by the angel of the Annunciation. The painting, one of the most enigmatic ever, is considered “mysterious”—it is up to the viewer to discover the “mystery”. The most striking element, of course, is that there is no angel. So, we can only infer what is happening by Mary’s attitude. We can see that she has been interrupted in her reading, probably the Scriptures. She looks up and turns slightly towards the object of her distraction. With her right hand, she almost seems to greet whoever is talking to her. But, perhaps she is delicately, yet firmly, expressing consent to the request she has just received.
Yes, she seems to be hesitating, not in doubt as Zachary, but in careful consideration of the divine destiny offered her. She is aware of the gravity of the situation. On her response hangs the world’s destiny. Recorded time will date from this decision—before and after. Heaven will be wedded to earth. The life of the New Testament Church will begin from her assent. In the famous words of Fr Hugo Rahner SJ (brother of Fr Karl SJ): “Mary’s ‘yes’ was the first word of the Church.” The Church’s vocation and destiny is to keep repeating that “yes”. The enigma of the painting we are considering is that the artist seems to capture that final moment as Mary is about to answer the angel. The masterpiece of this composition is that we are viewing Our Blessed Lady exactly as the angel saw her. It is almost as if Gabriel is inviting us into this most intimate moment. We are almost compelled to say “yes” with her.
The Second Vatican Council had more to say about Mary than any other council. The Council Fathers wisely decided, following contemporary thought, to place their teaching about Our Lady within their teaching about the Church. For Mary is not apart from the Church, she is a part of the Church—her most exalted member.
The early Fathers of the Church had very simple and compelling ideas of Mary’s relationship with the Church. Mary brought Christ physically once into the world. The Church brings Christ sacramentally into the world each day on the altar. And we are like Mary, says St Ambrose and St Augustine, when we bring Christ to birth in the heart of others. The Church’s doctrines are dead if they stay in books. Each of us must be a living catechism. This is brought out beautifully, and well worth reflecting on, by the 14th century Dominican monk, Meister Eckhart:
“What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and I am not full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.”
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer
With thanks to the of Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2018 reflections from their publication, Saviour—Daily Advent and Christmas Reflections 2018. You can read the reflections as they are published here.