By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As this Christmas season unfolds with the proclamation of the Incarnation we can savor once again the joy of our salvation. It is the way of the disciple, faithfully following the Way, The Truth, and the Life, Jesus Christ, the Lord. The Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of the Lord, the praise of the Heavenly Host, the visit of the Shepherds, the Star that guided the Magi, all are moments of grace that direct us to God’s glory. As we gaze heavenward during these majestic days, we are at the same time planted on the earth where we incarnate the joy of the gospel into the flesh and blood of our lives. Let us look to the Blessed Mother, the Lord’s first disciple who models for us the way of a disciple.
Her encounter with the Angel Gabriel reveals a mind and heart open to God that set her on course as the first evangelist, the one who joyfully carried the Savior in her heart and in her body. From three minutes to three days after the encounter with the Archangel Gabriel she was likely to be fixed in place taking this great mystery to heart. From three days to three month, she was experiencing the growth of the new life within, and making plans with Joseph to build their lives together. Three months later she was bounding along in the mountains of Judea en route to assist her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was further along in her pregnancy with John the Baptist.
With the scene of this Visitation before him, Pope Francis lovingly calls Mary our Lady of Promptness. She is a woman at peace with the Lord’s call in her life, and inspired to serve. Her radiance was so palpable that the baby John leapt for joy in his mother’s womb. We can sense the heart of evangelization in this encounter with Mary and Elizabeth. She embodied a joyful promptness to serve, because she carried the Lord within her, the one who came not to be served, but to serve. Elizabeth and her unborn son could easily sense this and rejoiced in the presence of the Lord. Joy is contagious. Mary in turn rejoices: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
What a gift for all of us to cherish as the Lord’s disciples. Peace and joy are fruits, or living signs, of the Holy Spirit alive in us through faith. Consider the profound joy of Mary as she held the child Jesus in her arms during and after the visit of the Shepherds who saw the glory of God on the face of the child in the stable. The evangelist Luke tells us that once the Shepherds encountered the Lord they too became evangelists. Meanwhile, “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Not all of our days and experience leave us feeling happy, but the joy of the gospel runs much deeper than happiness. It’s the abiding sense of God’s presence even when the clouds of darkness and doubt, sadness and suffering envelop us. In these times we need to recall that Emanuel, God with us, is the Lord who is always near, assuring us of God’s loving presence. Even when the clouds of death had darkened Jesus last night on earth, he could still pray that His joy may be in his disciples so that their joy may be complete.
We can never minimize the horror of the Lord’s suffering and death through crucifixion, because it devastated his disciples. The Blessed Mother who had cuddled the infant Jesus in her arms, now held the broken body of her Son at the foot of the Cross. In this same sense we can never minimize the power of sin and shame to ravage the life of God within us. However, we can never underestimate the power of the resurrection through which the risen Lord healed and empowered his disciples for the mission to evangelize the nations. When they were huddled in fear and shame behind locked doors he came into their midst to grant them forgiveness and peace. His suffering and theirs, those bloody wounds of body and soul became the source of new life.
“The disciples rejoiced when the scales fell from their hearts in receiving the Lord’s peace, and their mission began when he breathed into them the life of the Holy Spirit saying that “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This was the Pentecost moment in John’s gospel.
The final biblical image that I want to recall is the day of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. Here we have Mary again, but this time not in solitary prayer receiving the Angel’s greeting, or cuddling her newborn child in a stable, nor holding a broken, lifeless body, but with a community of faith waiting in joyful hope for the power that would come from on high. This was the second birth for her, for the Church, and for us, when the Holy Spirit empowers us to know the unfathomable riches of God’s love. They were not disappointed, and when the driving wind of the Spirit and the burning flames of God’s love embraced them. Nor are we disappointed as we take up the torch of evangelization in our generation.
The words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta take up the mandate of Jesus, “you are the light of the world; a city on a hill cannot be hid.” “You cannot hide your Christian character. Love cannot be hidden anymore than the sun in the sky. When you exercise yourself in a labor of love, in any kind of good work, you are observed. We may as well try to hide a city as to hide a Christian. Every Christian should be in open view according to God’ purpose to give light in the house.”
Throughout the Christmas season Mary teaches us that the work of evangelization can be a steady state in our lives. Each time we gather to celebrate the sacred mysteries, we bask in the glory of God, the power from on high, and we pray that we, like Mary, can be prompt to proclaim the greatness of the Lord, and prompt to live, love, and serve as disciples on the path of salvation. Merry Christmas!
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz