On this Sunday, the Catholic Church remembers the faith of Mary, the woman who bore God for our salvation. What we recall matters, for, as the Fathers’ preaching tells us, Mary conceived the Lord in her heart before she conceived him in her womb. What is more, our memory offers both astounding good news, and a formidable challenge.
In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, St. Ambrose says that both John the Baptist and Jesus do in their mothers’ wombs what they will do at the Jordan, in Galilee, and in Jerusalem. So the meeting between Elizabeth and Mary unfolds “the mystery of love.” For Elizabeth echoes David’s cry of joy at God’s coming down on the Ark of the Covenant. Then she anticipates two themes in Luke’s Gospel, for she says what a woman in the crowd will in praise of Jesus; and she anticipates his reply about true beatitude.
It is the latter word that most gets our attention. With Mary’s faith, a faith made active in loving cooperation with the plans of God for Israel and the Gentiles, and with her welcome of the Spirit who has overshadowed her, she has conceived and borne the Son of God into the heart of the world. She goes on to give God praise for his mighty works—as Saint Ambrose also observes.
Now Mary’s faith and love come at a cost. Her mission to give birth to the Sign of Contradiction is not so much about her as a single individual, as it is about offering herself out of love for the Father through her Son for people. Only after a sword pierces her soul will she stand among the community of Jesus’ followers who await Pentecost.
Naturally, this is where we SCJs are challenged. Mary is, after all, an exemplar of our religious life, as our Constitutions testify. We are meant to hear Jesus’ word and keep it; to welcome the Spirit; to answer love with love, to live in communion with divine love, and to offer ourselves “with and as Christ” as we testify to the thoughts of his heart, bringing him into the heart of the world through our common life and ministry. Oblation and Reparation mean a sword will pierce our very being too.