25 March 2009

The One and Only

It has been suggested by some creative (and, no doubt, thought provoking) preachers that the mystery of the Annunciation wherein Mary said, "Yes" to Gabriel's message was the last in a line of "askings." Mary was not the first to be asked, but the first to say, "Yes." For Catholics, this poses both a problem of logic and a problem of faith. (If, dear reader, you are so fortunate never to have heard such a suggestion it sounds like this: "Who knows how many other young women Gabriel asked ... and how many women said 'No' before he got to Mary, who said, 'Yes?'" ... the real answer to the question is: "We all know. Zero." But for argument's sake, we'll suggest a gentle response to this well-intentioned -- but problematic -- suggestion.)

First, a problem of faith. If Mary was not, in the heart of God, the chosen vessel of His only son, then the Immaculate Conception -- we would have to agree -- was not the "singular privilege and grace" that we believe it is. To follow the faulty path of this suggestion, we would have to believe that Mary was one of a number of immaculate "conceptions" and that God -- in some way -- awaited news from Gabriel as to which of these handmaids said "yes" to the heavenly message. This is hardly fits the pattern of the God of Israel and His passionate engagement with his people throughout history. The God who chose Joseph to save the tribes of Judah, Moses to be the liberator of His people, David to lead His chosen people does not act with detachment toward the descendants of Israel. The God who sent His only Son to die for our sins is passionately in love with and intimately involved with His creation.

Second, a problem of logic. To conjecture that Mary was last in a line of women who were approached by Gabriel is to defy probability with respect to Jesus' heritage. It would have to have been a great stroke of luck for salvation history for Mary to have been one of "several contenders" -- young women born without the stain of original sin -- who were betrothed to a man from the House of David and whose cousin was in her last trimester, about to give birth to a prophet -- the very prophet to announce the coming of the Messiah. To the contrary, Mary, filled with the grace of God, was chosen by God to be the earthly tabernacle, the privileged dwelling of the Messiah. She was no accidental choice; this, "new Eve" was destined from her Immaculate Conception to bear the Son of God.

"Oh, how supremely did this young maiden, Our Lady, love the Divine Spouse! And how supremely was she loved by Him, for at the same time that she gave herself to Him . . . immediately He descended into her chaste womb and became the Son of her who called herself His servant."
St. Francis de Sales

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