December 16, 2010

Our Lady of the New Advent and Contemplation

As an advocate for contemplative prayer, Elisabeth of the Trinity invites us to identify with Mary, the Virgin Mother.  Mary, in fact, becomes a dominate figure in the liturgies of the Church in this part of Advent as we draw near to Christmas.  In Denver, there is even devotion to Our Lady of the New Advent - because we believe she continues to prepare the Church and the world for the coming of the Lord.

In the Gospels, Mary is identified as the one who fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah to King Ahaz (Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14).  In a desperate attempt to gain mastery over nature and history, Ahaz had sacrificed his son to Baal only to discover that what he believed about the world was a dehumanizing myth (2 Kings 16:2-4).  (Some of the stories out there make it difficult not to see abortion in this same light.)  He despaired of having more children until Isaiah reassured him that despite his rash unfaithfulness and distrust of the one true God, the living God would be faithful to him and his dynasty.  

As a sign of God's faithfulness to the Sons of David, Isaiah foretold a virgin maiden would be with child, and he child's name would be "Emmanuel - God is with us".  At the time, many might have thought that this prophecy was fulfilled with the birth of Hezekiah, who was a good king (2 Kings 18:1-6).  In fact, his birth and reign foreshadowed the coming of a messiah who would surpass all expectation, who is "God is with us" in a manner that no one could have anticipated.   

Yet this is exactly the way the Lord works with us in faith - always surpassing our limited understanding and imagination, always opening us to something greater beyond our feeble expectations.  To do this, the Lord needs our obedience and trust.  But so often we are like Ahaz, trying to grasp for control by any means, even if it destroys those we most love.  This is why the prophecy to Ahaz is also a prophecy for us, especially in this time of Advent, a time of making straight our pathways and preparing the way of the Lord. 

On this point, the message of Elisabeth of the Trinity is helpful.  She advocates that there is another way, a pathway to hope.  To travel down this pathway, the pathway of our Advent journey, we must identify with Mary.  Mary, by her example, teaches how to pray and this prayerfulness is the source of her generous obedience to God.  Her prayer is so simple, so straightforward, so trusting.  When we pray like her, we find ourselves freed from our limited expectations and  imagination. Enchanting myths have no power over us for we are freed from our own big fat ego, free for Someone greater:

When I read the Gospel "that Mary went in haste to the hill country of Judea" to perform her loving service for her cousin Elisabeth, I imagine her passing by so beautiful, so calm and so majestic, so absorbed in recollection of the Word of God within her.  Like Him, her prayer was always this: "Ecce, here I am!"  Who? "The servant of the Lord," the lowliest of His creatures: she, His Mother!  Her humility was so real for she was always forgetful, unaware, freed from self.  And she could sing: "The Almighty has done great things for me, henceforth all peoples will call me blessed."  Elisabeth of the Trinity, Last Retreat #40 as translated by Aletheia Kane, O.C.D. in Complete Works, vol. I, Washington D.C.: ICS (1984) p. 160.