Holey Heart

Full of Grace

I’m not sure how I’ve missed it all of these years, but this Sunday at Mass for the fourth Sunday of Advent, I heard it – the one word that embodies the holiday season for so many people, especially moms.

The word is “haste.”

It’s right there in Luke’s gospel. “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah …”

Haste is not a word I associate with Mary. Meek, mild, graceful – these are Mary words. How could the woman who is literally the mother of peace possibly be hasty?

Well, she had just found out she was expecting an unplanned pregnancy, which for an unwed mother at that time meant possibly being stoned to death. It’s no wonder she left town as quickly as she did.

We put Mary up on a pedestal, especially us Catholics. And rightly so; she is the mother of God. But in so doing, we forget that she, like Jesus, was also human. She experienced human emotions and reacted to situations in very human ways. Consider the story of young Jesus going missing in Jerusalem, or the wedding at Cana. Or the crucifixion of her Son. Being full of grace did not exempt Mary from the fullness of being human.

There is an excellent commentary here on the sinless state of Mary, definitely worth the read whether you are Catholic or not: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/immaculate-conception-and-assumption

My “reader’s digest” version is that Mary did not become “full of grace” simply because the angel announced her pregnancy. She was full of grace from the time she was conceived. Being full of grace means that she was born without the stain or consequences of “original sin.”

To backtrack a little, it is pretty standard belief in all Christian churches that because Adam and Eve (who were also created without original sin) sinned and made themselves separate from God, every generation to follow would also be separate from God. It was this separateness that Jesus was born to heal through His sacrifice on the cross. Many christian faiths believe we humans access this healing through the sacrament of baptism, which Christ established to wash away the stain of original sin and initiate us on the lifelong journey toward union with God. Evangelicals may not believe in sacraments per se, but believe in “asking Jesus into your heart.”

Mary was neither baptized nor did she ask Jesus into her heart, but God blessed her with the state of grace conferred at Baptism from the moment she was conceived in her own mother’s womb. To put it in evangelical terms, she was born with Jesus in her heart. She was born saved.

Mary is not full of grace because she said yes to the angel. She said yes because she was full of grace.

But apparently, grace does not prevent haste.

I imagine young Mary traveling to her cousin Elizabeth feeling tremendous anxiety and uncertainty. Would her betrothed, Joseph, still have her? What would become of her? She did what many an uncertain young woman has done – turned to an older, wiser woman for reassurance.

And what reassurance it was: “”Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

If Mary had to be reminded of her grace, she who was grace, then how much more do the rest of us need that reminder?

Because we who have been through the waters are full of grace, just like Mary. We are still human. We get caught up in the haste of the season trying to make sure everything gets done and often forgetting the most important part of the season.

So here’s the reminder, for you and for me too: blessed are you. Blessed are you who have been adopted by the Father. Blessed are all who celebrate the birth of our brother this night. Our souls proclaim the greatness of God who saves us in our haste.

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