In the first issue of this reflection on the attitudes of Mary in the Annunciation, we said that Mary was open to the plans of God, ready to listen to His Word which came through the angel, open to the future, even though that future was quite uncertain.
In this second reflection, I want to point out another attitude of Mary: piety. Today, when we hear this word, we think it means to go to Mass frequently, to pray the rosary, or to practise different devotions. Those are pious practices and they are important. They may be a good means of living in the presence of God and improve one’s life of faith. But “piety” has a much deeper and richer meaning.
Mary probably grew up in a normal Jewish family of that period, surrounded by a certain amount of piety. She was accustomed to listening to the Torah in the Synagogue; she was familiar with the stories and devotions of the Jewish tradition. In other words, she knew the language of faith. That is why, when the angel communicated all those strange sounding plans from God and foretold all those strange titles (He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; He will reign over the house of Jacob), Mary was surprised, amazed, and even astonished. However, she was able to answer the angel. She remembered the promise, the hope of her people. She understood the language of faith.
As we did in the first reflection, we can now take a look at our reality as believers. Once again Mary appears to us as “mystagogue,” that is, the one who introduces us into the mystery of faith, the real master of faith. Many times we do not understand the language of God. We do not take notice of God’s signs, of what He is trying to tell us. We live in a “culture of noises” where it is quite difficult to hear and understand what He is trying to tell us. We even feel disappointed. We are tempted to feel thwarted. We believe God has become mute. In our families, in our lives, in our relationships, God has become a “foreigner”, someone strange and distant.
Nevertheless, we proclaim every Sunday at Mass that our God became flesh, and that He is Word (Verbum, Logos), that He spoke (and speaks!) our language. We do not believe in a distant God who does not care to know anything of this world. We believe in a God that wants to be near His people, near all those who suffer, and near all those who look for sense in their lives.
God is talking but we do not hear His voice. So what is happening? Perhaps Mary, in the Annunciation, can lead us to an answer. We have to learn the language of faith. We have to practise the language of God. For a believer who takes his faith seriously and honestly, God cannot be an unknown. Even being careful with His transcendence, even recognising from the very beginning of our experience of faith that our language, our images, our representations will always be inadequate, that God is always more, bigger, higher than any human representation or word. We have to speak of the Mystery of our faith with our inadequate language, with our little words. Humbly and respectfully we can share our faith and our hope with men and women of our time. We can train ourselves in this language. We can use it with our relatives and friends. It does not mean we have to try to convince or prove God as if He is a mathematical or logical fact. Perhaps the best language of God we can use to speak about Him is our silence, our attitudes, our friendships, our hospitality, our honest piety, our interior life, our sensibility to perceive that our neighbours need us and our generous commitment to the needs of all those who live near us.
This is why it is very important for a Christian family, a Christian group, or a religious community to pray together. It is not just to “say prayers,” to repeat words or a pre-established formula, but to pray. At times, we don’t know why it is hard and difficult to pray together; we feel a kind of shame, we feel embarrassed, or we are not familiar with the language of faith.
If a new Gabriel came to visit us, perhaps we could not hear him. The voice of God is quite tender and we are surrounded by so many deafening noises (TV, radio, compact disc, computers, etc). The prophet Elijah did not find God in a strong wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the still, small voice (I Kings 19). But, even if God’s voice were able to be heard over the noises, perhaps we would not be able to understand His message. We might not be able to make contact with Him, to dialogue, or to understand His will. The language of God is not the language we use every day. In order to be understood, it needs to be practised. It needs openness. Above all, it requires on-going conversion.
Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word, assist us and teach us to listen to His Word. Help us and teach us to proclaim that Word to our brothers and sisters.
Fernando Millán Romeral, O Carm, Spanish Province of Baetica