In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
In the Gospel, we have just heard the greeting of the angel to Mary: “Rejoice, full of grace. The Lord is with you” [cf. Luke 1:28]. Rejoice, Mary, rejoice. Upon hearing this greeting, Mary was confused and asked herself what it could mean. She did not fully understand what was happening. But she knew that the angel came from God, and so she said yes. Mary is the “Mother of Yes.” Yes to God’s dream, yes to God’s care, yes to God’s will.
It was a yes that, as we know, was not easy to live. A yes that bestowed no privileges or distinctions. Simeon told her in his prophecy, “A sword will pierce your heart” (cf. Luke 2:35), and indeed it did. That is why we love her so much. We find in her a true mother, one who helps us to keep faith and hope alive in the midst of complicated situations. Pondering Simeon’s prophecy, we would do well to reflect briefly on three difficult moments in Mary’s life.
1. The first moment: the birth of Jesus. There was no room for them. They had no house, no dwelling to receive her son. There was no place where she could give birth. They had no family close by; they were alone. The only place available was a stall of animals. Surely she remembered the words of the angel: “Rejoice, Mary, the Lord is with you.” She might well have asked herself, “Where is he now?”
2. The second moment: the flight to Egypt. They had to leave, to go into exile. Not only was there no room for them, no family nearby, but their lives were also in danger. They had to depart to a foreign land. They were persecuted migrants on account of the envy and greed of the king. There, too, she might well have asked, “What happened to all those things promised by the angel?”
3. The third moment: Jesus’ death on the cross. There can be no more difficult experience for a mother than to witness the death of her child. It is heartrending. We see Mary there, at the foot of the cross, like every mother, strong, faithful, staying with her child even to his death, death on the cross. There, too, she might well have asked, “What happened to all those things promised to me by the angel?” Then we see her encouraging and supporting the disciples.
We contemplate her life, and we feel understood, we feel heard. We can sit down to pray with her and use a common language in the face of the countless situations we encounter each day. We can identify with many situations in her life. We can tell her what is happening in our lives because she understands.
Mary is the woman of faith; she is the Mother of the Church; she believed. Her life testifies that God does not deceive us, that God does not abandon his people, even in moments or situations when it might seem that he is not there. Mary was the first of her son’s disciples, and in moments of difficulty she kept alive the hope of the apostles. With probably more than one key, they were locked in the upper room, due to fear. A woman attentive to the needs of others, she could say—when it seemed like the feast and joy were at an end—“See, they have no wine” (cf. John 2:3). She was the woman who went to stay with her cousin “about three months” (Luke 1:56), so that Elizabeth would not be alone as she prepared to give birth. That is our Mother, so good and so kind, she who accompanies us in our lives.
—Homily, Marian Shrine of Caacupé, Paraguay, July 11, 2015
This is a selection from The Infinite Tenderness of God, Meditations on the Gospels, by Pope Francis (The Word Among Us Press, 2016). Available online at wau.org/books