It’s not easy to keep Christ in Christmas. Even the faithful find it difficult to focus on Christ amidst a season bombarded with consumerism and the never-ending quest for “the best Holiday deal ever!” But when we consider the tests of faith that Our Lady confronted, our search for the sacred in this holiday season won’t seem nearly as difficult.
As Father Emile Neubert, SM, teaches in his book, Mary’s Apostolic Mission and Ours, the Blessed Virgin Mary didn’t have it easy.
“She had to believe that she would become a mother while still remaining a virgin; that her Son would not only be the ‘super-man’ whom His contemporaries, the Jews, awaited as the Messiah, but the very Son of God and that, consequently, she would have the same Son in common with the Heavenly Father,” Father Neubert writes.
If that isn’t enough of a test of faith, consider that she also had to believe that since she was conceiving Jesus through a miracle of the Spirit, which she herself did not understand, she would have to leave it to God to reveal her mysterious maternity to her fiancé. Whether or not this would work out and she would be spared a death by stoning was also up to God.
When Jesus was about to be born, Mary had to believe that her Son would be seated on the throne of David even though she could find no where to lay His head in the city of his royal ancestor, Bethlehem.
No sooner did she confront this test of faith than another quickly followed.
“She had to be believe that He would be obliged to flee at night from the menacing usurper of His throne, and that He would have to work as a common laborer in a little town of Galilee,” Father continues. “She had to believe, above all, that when He died, tortured on a gibbet, He would reign without end.”
It was not until Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven that Mary realized just how marvelously the prophecy of Gabriel came about.
But through it all, Mary did not hesitate. “She only asked what God desired of her and she simply embraced His will,” Father writes. “When the events appear to contradict the promises so brutally, she does not complain; she does not object. She accepts the facts without understanding them . . .”
How many events in our life were we forced to accept without understanding? The death of a loved one, the child who abandons the faith in spite of being raised Catholic, the loss of economic security, an unexpected injury or medical condition? What was our response? “Why me?” “God, why did you let this happen?”
If so, we can all agree that it would be quite normal. As the spiritual masters tell us, it’s what we do after this initial reaction that reveals just how strong is our faith.
We don’t know exactly how Mary reacted in these moments of testing because she “kept all these things hidden in her heart” but most agree that she probably didn’t throw things or shake her fist at the sky in frustration.
“Of course not,” we may be tempted to think. “Mary was born without sin! She was unlike any other human being!”
True, but it’s obvious that Mary didn’t exactly lead a charmed life because of her sinlessness. Rather, God allowed her to live out her faith amid a fully human life, that of an ordinary woman – just like us.
“[God] did not spare her pain, exhaustion in her work or trials of her faith,” wrote St. Jose Marie Escriva in Christ is Passing By. “She lived it sincerely, unstintingly, fulfilling its every consequence, but never amid fanfare, rather in the hidden and silent sacrifice of each day.”
Thinking Mary’s sinlessness makes her beyond our reach also overlooks the fact that she was “full of grace.”
So are we! Although not to the degree that Mary was, by virtue of our baptism, we all have access to an overflowing fountain of grace that can enable us to pull off impossible feats – including standing firm in our faith in an culture of unbelief. All we need to do is ask – something that too many of us forget to do because we’re too busy gritting our teeth and trying to “handle it” ourselves.
Mary was not only full of grace, but she was humble enough to rely on it!.How else could she give birth on a stable floor and stand so firm and faithful at the foot of a cross bearing the mutilated body of her Son?
But even the weakness of our self-reliance is not an obstacle to grace. As this wonderful Opus Dei article states, “God takes it into account, which is why he has given us a mother.”
“In the struggle which the disciples must confront—all of us, all the disciples of Jesus, we must face this struggle—Mary does not leave them alone: the Mother of Christ and of the Church is always with us. She walks with us always, she is with us . . . Mary accompanies us, struggles with us, sustains Christians in their fight against the forces of evil.”
There is no reason for any of us to submit to the forces of evil who want to strip Christmas of what it truly is – the birthday of Jesus Christ. We have every right to light our Advent wreaths, decorate our lawns with nativity scenes, keep our Christmas lights up until the Baptism of the Lord, and say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays.
This is our right. This is our faith. Because this is the reason for the season.
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