Dear Family in Christ,
If I’m not mistaken, this gets published around 6pm on Friday, December 8. In that case, I wish you a most beautiful Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hopefully you’re celebrating with meat, ice cream, a cigar, and/or a glass of whatever most appropriately honours our Blessed Mother. And if you’re reading this a few days later, happy belated.
One of the most legendary homilies I’ve ever heard of was given on this day many years ago. It wasn’t long- in fact it was only 5 words- but it was powerful. After the proclamation of the Annunciation from the Gospel of Luke,the priest asked a single question:
“What if Mary said no?”
Then he sat down. It took a while to sink in, and many had to ask their neighbour what had just happened, but the point was made. Mary was free to say ‘no’. She was not forced to be the Mother of God, and as such the creator of the universe depended upon the freedom of a young girl for His plan to save the world. Consider the drama of that moment:
‘After the error of our first parents, the whole world was shrouded in darkness, under the dominion of death. Now God seeks to enter the world anew. He knocks at Mary’s door. He needs human freedom. The only way He can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of a free ‘yes’ to His will. In creating freedom, He made Himself in a certain sense dependent upon man. His power is tied to the unenforceable ‘yes’ of a human being. St. Bernard portrays heaven and earth as it were ‘holding its breath’ at the moment of the question addressed to Mary. Will she say yes? She hesitates… will her humility hold her back? Just this once… do not be humble but daring! Give us your ‘yes’! This is the crucial moment when, from her lips, from her heart, the answer comes: “Let it be with me according to your word.” It is the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made.’
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
So what if Mary said ‘no’? Would God have found some other way to give us a Saviour? We’ll never know, but thanks be to God we don’t even have to ask- because she didn’t say no. She said yes, and because of that yes, you and I have a Saviour. She said yes, and because of that, you and I have something to celebrate at Christmas. She said yes, and because of that, you and I have something worth waiting for, preparing for, during Advent.
Like Mary, we are free. We are not forced to be Christians; to persevere in suffering, to repent, to confess our sins, to follow Jesus, to be faithful to our vows, to pray every day, to worship God at Mass on Sunday, to love the Lord our God with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves... In all this and more, you and I are free to say ‘no’.
But what if we said yes?