15 August 2009

The Remembrance of His Mercy

Here, then, is how the Lord comes to you and deals with you: in grace, mercy and peace; in humility and meekness. By His Word and Holy Spirit, He greets you and embraces you in love. The Father gives to you His own beloved Son, in flesh and blood like yours, for the forgiveness of all your sins, for the resurrection of your body, and for the life everlasting in both body and soul.

He sends His messenger to you, to go before His face, to prepare His way by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; to point to Him who is the Lamb of God, and even to give you that Lamb in the flesh. He preaches Christ into your ears, into your mouth, into your body.

Believe the Word that He speaks to you, and the promises He gives to you, that all of these things are fulfilled for you in Christ; and they shall be fulfilled and accomplished in you, also, forever and ever.

In St. Elizabeth and St. Mary you are given beautiful examples of such faith in Christ, the Lord. They hear His Word, and they trust it. They rejoice in it gladly, with both humility and confidence, even though it remains hidden under frailty and weakness.

But there is more in these women than example. St. Elizabeth is a new Sarah, who conceives a promised son in her barren old age, as the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Better still, St. Mary is the new and greater Eve, the Mother of all the living, because she conceives and bears the very Son of God in her womb, the Seed of the Woman who crushes Satan under His heel.

St. Mary is a daughter of Eve. So, too, she is a true and twofold daughter of Abraham, for he is the father of all who believe and trust the Lord, as she does. She is also a faithful daughter of Judah and of David; and now, in her, all the promises of God the Lord to those ancient patriarchs have come to pass. For as her father David once brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, where the Lord caused His Name and His Glory to dwell among His people, so now has St. Mary herself become a new and better Ark of the New Covenant in the flesh and blood of her Son. She carries in herself, not signs or types of good things to come, nor simply shadows and promises, but the reality, the true God Himself.

It is in this way — and by the means of this dear woman, who is blessed above all others — that the Lord not only comes to you, to visit you in peace, but He has become like you in every way, save only without sin.

He comes in this way to save you from your sin, to redeem you from death and from the tyranny of the devil, to reconcile you to God and bring you to Him as a dear child to your dear Father in heaven forever. Thus, by His Spirit, you pray: "Abba, Father." Has Jesus not taught you to pray in precisely this way? "Our Father, who art in heaven." With these words, He tenderly invites you to believe that God is your true Father, and you are His true child, so that you may come to Him and pray to Him as a little child asks her dear father on earth.

For this reason, in flesh and blood like yours, conceived and born of St. Mary, the Son of God has taken all your sins upon Himself — and the sins of the whole world — and He has borne those sins in His own body to the Cross. There, by the shedding of His holy, precious blood, He has made propitiation and atoned for all those sins of the world, including yours.

Having thus atoned for sin, His death is surely not defeat but His great victory. Therefore is He raised; and in His Resurrection, those who have been burdened and put to death by sin are also raised to newness of life. For just as He became like you, so do you become like Him, in His Resurrection from the dead, through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

This forgiveness and new life He grants to you, and to His whole Church on earth, by the Ministry of the Gospel. By the preaching of His messengers, as Gabriel announced the Word of the Lord to St. Mary, and as St. John the Baptist, even while yet in the womb, proclaimed the Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise, by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of Christ, which is the new birth of Holy Baptism, you are given new life. Indeed, as St. Mary once conceived and gave birth to the Son of God, by His grace, so does the Church give birth to the sons of God in Christ by the same Word and the same Holy Spirit.

And He gives to you, also, the same body and blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ — into your body — which were conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which were crucified under Pontius Pilate, which were dead and buried, but are now risen and ascended, alive forevermore.

As He unites His flesh to yours in this Holy Sacrament, so are you bound up with Him and united with Him, both body and soul, in His Cross and in His Resurrection and His Life everlasting.

This is most certainly true. But, in truth, it is now hidden in the secret place, in the womb of the Church, in the theology of the Cross.

It is only perceived by faith in the Word of Christ, in the midst of hardship and sorrow, gossip and slander, persecution and death. You cling to it in the hope of the Resurrection, which is not yet seen.

St. Elizabeth did not see it. When she greeted her young cousin as the Mother of the Lord, and she praised that same Lord God concealed in the womb of St. Mary, that girl was barely in her first trimester, not even showing. Nor do we have any indication or reason to believe that St. Elizabeth ever saw the Christ Child, as Simeon and Anna would see Him in the Temple. She did not live to see her own son, St. John the Baptist, grow up to fulfill his calling as the Forerunner of the Lord. She and her husband Zacharias were already well advanced in years when St. John was conceived. But had she lived, she would have seen him imprisoned and beheaded by Herod.

St. Mary did live to see her own dear Son, Christ Jesus, crucified under Pontius Pilate. There, at the foot of the Cross, she saw Him suffer and die, and the great sword of sorrow pierced her soul. She was a witness of His Resurrection and of His outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, but so did she also see the Church on earth suffer persecution, as she herself suffered in her life under the Cross. As she was taken into the home of St. John the Apostle, she would have seen the martyrdom of his elder brother, St. James, who was put to death by Herod.

Already long before, St. Mary had suffered for her faith and for the very reason of her great blessedness. When she returned from visiting St. Elizabeth, she was at first suspected by St. Joseph, who would have divorced her quietly for her presumed unfaithfulness; and though he took her to be his wife, by faith in the Word of the Lord, one can well imagine what the rest of Nazareth would have thought and said concerning her and her condition. She had to flee the murderous threats and violence of Herod, who would have destroyed her Son from the start; she had to live in a foreign land, a stranger and alien on earth, though she was highly favored by God and blessed among women.

The great reversal of which St. Mary sings — the humbling of the proud and the exaltation of the poor and lowly and despised — is accomplished by God through the Cross and Passion of His Son and hers. It is fully realized only in the Resurrection of the dead, which you do not yet see. For now, what you see and experience is persecution, suffering and death.

Now you live under the Cross: that is, the very Cross of Christ, which saves you. Therefore, live in the hope of His Resurrection, in the faith and confidence of His mercy. That hope will not disappoint you; nor will His mercy ever fail you.

Even now, there is the remembrance of His mercy. Not simply your remembering of His mercy in the past and of what He has said and promised, but His remembrance of you, and of His promises to you, and His remembrance of His holy Covenant in the flesh and blood of Christ.

Here, indeed, is where and how He remembers you in mercy: Here is the Body of Christ, born of St. Mary, given to you. Here is the Blood of Christ, shed for you upon the Cross, now poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Where there is this forgiveness, there is life and salvation. Therefore, you also shall be saved and raised from death to the life everlasting in both body and soul.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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