Is fear keeping you and me from a sense of peace?
We imagine that there was a great sense of peace in the Virgin Mary’s heart when she reflected upon the wonders and mystery of the birth of her son and Lord. Surely, she experienced a sense of holy awe and sacred wonder when the shepherds told her what they had heard proclaimed by a host of angels — but did she also have a sense of being overwhelmed with frightful ignorance in the presence of mysteries beyond any human understanding?
Probably. After all, when the angel Gabriel had first come to her in Nazareth to announce God’s will for her to conceive and bear the Son of the Most High, he hailed her as highly favored and full of grace, and she was deeply troubled, perplexed by the meaning. God’s messenger was patient and forbearing, and sought to calm her fears — for, according to the angel’s own words, Mary was afraid.
We all experience fear in our lives. The fear that Mary experienced, however, would probably not have been the specific kind of fear that we feel when we are confused and feeling helpless in the face of something bigger than ourselves. I say this because I imagine that Mary did not feel helpless. Powerless, yes. But not helpless.
I imagine that she felt powerless because she was truly humble, she understood in both an intellectual way and, more importantly, a wordless, spiritual way that God is infinitely powerful and that she is but a finite creature who is nothing without God. Understanding her abject dependency upon God and the frightful futility of her mere human ways, she did not feel, however, that she was helpless. Mary had true faith in God — both in God’s presence and in God’s loving help for those who fear Him, helping them toward union with Him. Her human mind desired knowledge of how God would bring about His Word, but she did not doubt that God would do it, and she did not question why God would want to do it.
The angelic answer to her question of how was mysterious, shrouded in the power of God that is beyond human comprehension. Mary recognized this necessary mystery, however, and bowed low before it. She knew who God is: Creator. And she knew who she is: beloved creature. In true humility, then, she could let go of curiosity, perplexity, and desire to control and rest entirely in the truth of her being, saying,
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
There is great peace in that surrender, in that willingness to be and to do whatever God Most High desires, placing all trust in the One who is the Creator and Sustainer and Master of all. This peace is the recognition, acknowledgment, and praise of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness. This peace comes from the realized union of our souls with the communion of Divine Love, which is the Trinitarian Majesty of God.
That’s the peace that the Virgin Mary had. Perhaps, this peace came naturally and easily to her because she had been miraculously kept free from the stain of original sin, and so was not bereft of the spiritually innate knowledge of God’s intimate presence and loving will. She was still very human, however, living in this world of confusion, temptation, and misery, and, so, would have needed her human will to keep continually cultivated the ground of humility, through faith, hope, and love, in order to experience true peace.
Mary certainly would experience much misery in her life, so sorrowful and painful that it would be like a sword piercing through her. Not long after becoming a mother, she fled with her husband and little child to a foreign land to live as refugees, because Herod wanted her child dead. She truly worried when her son, at twelve years old, disappeared on her and went missing for two nights, as she and Joseph looked everywhere. And when Jesus was arrested, falsely condemned, tortured, and killed, the sword of love pierced her heart, as she acutely grieved and felt the injustice, cruelty, and excruciating pain that her child endured.
We surround our image of the Nativity of Christ with Mary’s peacefulness and joy, yet we know that even then she could not have been overjoyed to give birth far from home in an animal stall. This would not have been her ideal. However, in that moment — as in the time before the Word was made flesh in her womb, as well as throughout her earthly life, even when her heart broke at the foot of the Cross — she believed. Her faith, not her intellectual assent or practiced tradition but her faith, her faith in the reality of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness brought her into beloved and blessed union with the essence of her being, the source of all life, the ultimate and eternal truth: boundless and all-consuming Divine Love.
Full of Grace
It’s not that Our Blessed Mother couldn’t fear — the Bible certainly tells us that she was troubled, worried, and afraid — but her human fears found their proper home: the hands of God. Into God’s will and word and way, she let her fears flow and fall, guided by God’s love for her and her own willingness to love God, no matter what. Her fears may not have been exactly transformed into comfort, certainly not earthly comfort, the kind of comfort that we humanly desire in the flesh. But her natural fears were received by God and taken into His Sacred Heart, the Sacred Heart of her own son and Lord, and transformed into courage, into bravery, into persistent trust and loving faith, into knowledge of her essence in the fullness of being … into peace.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me!
Pray for us all, so that we will not expect true peace to fall on to us from the sky, but that we will receive peace from God when we, in true humility and faith, give our fears, concerns, and all of ourselves in trust to Him, seeking only loving union with God’s will, word, and way.
© 2020 Christina Chase
“God’s power, wisdom, and goodness” is an homage to St. Julian of Norwich’s work, Revelations of Divine Love
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.