The CGB Saints posts are back! The last Saints post I did was on Saint Rose of Lima and now that I’m off from school until February, why not kick off 2016 with the triumphant return of CGB Saints posts?! 🙂
I decided to reopen this segment with a Super Saiyan Saint, the Queen of Heaven and Earth herself…
Once upon a time, in the Galilean town of Nazareth, there was a girl named Mary. She was the only child of Anne and Joachim. We can assume that she lived the typical life of a Nazarene girl. She said her prayers every night, carried water from the local well, tended to her father’s animals, helped her mother clean up after dinner, and so on. When we meet Mary in the New Testament, she is betrothed to Joseph, the carpenter who everyone respected. By all accounts, everything was going well in Mary’s life. Her parents adored her, her fiancée was a hard-working gentleman, and she had a squeaky-clean reputation among her fellow Nazarenes as being Anne and Joachim’s sweet, polite daughter.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my twenty-four years of life, it’s that God likes to make a grand entrance on our lives when everything is a little too steady and certain.
Meet Gabriel the Archangel. He is the messenger chosen by God to deliver a very important message to the Nazarene girl. This is how I imagine that conversation went:
GOD: Everything is in motion, Gabriel. Mary’s engaged to Joseph, she’s just the right age–she is ready.
GABRIEL: Okay, my Lord, do you believe she will accept?
GOD: (smiles) Go to Nazareth, Gabriel. It is time.
Mary is home alone. Anne and Joachim have gone into town to run some errands. Luckily, Joseph is just down the road if Mary needs anything.
She wipes the last dirty dish with an old rag. She looks up at the window, relishing the warmth of the sunlight as it pours onto the walls of her humble abode. She turns around and freezes.
“Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” Gabriel announces. A trembling Mary stares at the mighty angel. An angel? Here in Nazareth? What does he trying to tell me? she wonders.
Sensing her troubled thoughts, Gabriel lowers himself just inches above the ground, “Do not fear, Mary. You have found favor with God. You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name JESUS. He will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and His reign will be without end.”
Mary shakes her head in disbelief, “How can this be since I do not know man?”
Gabriel smiles gently, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God. Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman [cousin] has conceived a son in her old age; she who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary is assumed to have been thirteen or fourteen when the Annunciation took place. She was old enough to have an understanding of what was being asked of her, but was also still a young girl with her whole life ahead of her. To have an angel basically tell her that God has chosen her to carry His child had the potential of derailing her life plans. Would her parents believe her? Would Joseph stand by her and take her as his wife? How would the other Nazarenes react?
There were no crisis pregnancy centers in Mary’s day. Outreach efforts to pregnant teenagers was nonexistent. Everyone would assume that Mary had relations with another man and she could find herself in the town square, having stones hurled at her from angry townspeople.
Mary may be the mother of God, but she was still human. It is possible that these consequences raised her levels of anxiety.
However, Mary also knew of God from her parents. She had learned that God was wise and righteous. Within her heart, Mary had the grace to realize that to find favor with God meant that whatever He wanted her to do, He would help her accomplish it. She had a feeling that God did not want to destroy her, but to invite her to take part in something greater than herself.
This is the best explanation as to why Mary, a teenage girl, would so readily say to Gabriel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to Your word.” Gabriel left her, his task complete.
Shortly after accepting her mission, Mary took a trip to the town of Judah. Mind you, there was no Uber ride service in her day. Also, Elizabeth and Zechariah had no way of knowing that Mary was on her way. To quote my mentor Fr. Dave, “She couldn’t send a text. She couldn’t send an email or a message on Facebook. She couldn’t call Elizabeth and say, ‘Oh, hey, cousin, I’ve heard that you’re pregnant. I’m on my way!'”
It is not clear how long it took Mary to get from Nazareth to the city of Judah. It has been approximated that the journey was about 130 km or 80 miles.
What matters is that she got there and so begins the Visitation, the event in which Mary meets with her cousin Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant with a son. When Elizabeth saw Mary, she exclaimed, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” In that moment, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. The unborn child, who we know to be John the Baptist, knew that the Son of God was in their midst.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth until John was born. By this time, Mary was three months along in her own pregnancy. She returned home to her mother, her father, and Joseph.
Yes, Joseph did learn of Mary’s pregnancy. While I do go into detail about this in my Saint Joseph post last year, I will briefly summarize Joseph’s turmoil.
As we can imagine, the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy were hard for even Joseph, a man of steadfast devotion, to believe. He loved Mary and figured that the best way to protect her would be to divorce her quietly.
One night, as Joseph slept, an angel appeared to him in a dream. This angel told the carpenter, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” If there’s one thing Joseph knew for sure, it is that when an angel tells you something is true, then it’s best to take their word for it.
Joseph and Mary were wed soon after. For all everyone knew, the child in her womb was his and all seemed well.
Roman Emperor Augustus issued a decree that forced Joseph to return to Bethlehem, his hometown, in order to register for a Roman census. By this point, it has been five months since Mary visited Elizabeth and she is beginning to show. Joseph and Mary set off for Bethlehem, with Joseph leading his family on foot while Mary sat on their donkey (which can’t be comfortable for a pregnant woman). According to Fr. Oscar Lukefahr, author of “Christ’s Mother and Ours: a Catholic Guide to Mary” it was a three day journey, approximately 70-80 miles.
Mary lifted her veil to her face, trying to keep the wind and rainwater from her eyes. As they entered into Bethlehem, mild discomfort turned to pain. The time for Mary’s child to be brought into the world was drawing near.
Joseph sprinted to every house, the mud sticking to his sandals. “Help, help! Please, we need shelter!” he pleaded to every person who opened their door.
No one would take them in. All doors were closed to the Holy Family.
An inn keeper offered to let them stay in the manger where the animals resided. As Mary’s contractions grew stronger, Joseph rushed his wife into the manger.
On that cold winter’s night, the Son of God was born.
While Mary’s story certainly doesn’t end here, the purpose of this piece was to humanize this woman who fearlessly accepted a great calling from God. Mary was not afraid to be inconvenienced, to have her typical Nazarene life turned upside down. She knew the risks that would come with her “Yes.” She knew that her world would never be the same.
If she could do it all over again, Mary would say “Yes” in a heartbeat.
Saint Mary of Nazareth, pray for us.