Wednesday 7 December 2011
I propose below the text of a meditation held on December 8, 1988 by Don Divo Barsotti on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin.
December 8, 1988 Rome Retreat
God has not wanted the incarnation for himself but for us
Before stopping to meditate on the mystery that the Church today celebrates, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, it will be appropriate to say a few words in general on the mystery of Mary.
Pius IX says in the Ineffabilis Bull by which he proclaims the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that God from all eternity, before any other thing, wanted the incarnation of the Word, and the blessed Virgin. Why has God wanted to associate in such a way from all eternity Mary to the Son in the mystery of the incarnation that was to be the fulfillment of all the works of God ad extra? It seems pretty clear the answer, if we think of what the Church proclaims in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan symbol.
In this symbol, it is said that God descended from heaven and was made man propter nos et propter salutem nostram. God has not willed the incarnation for himself but for us. This means that the divine design from eternity, was only one: the ineffable union of the creation with God. Therefore, not only the incarnation as the assumption of the human nature, but the assumption of the human nature in order of the gift of self, that the divine Word was willing to do to each person created. The incarnation could lift to God our nature but it has not established yet a relationship between the person of the Verb and the created persons.
This we can explain if we consider who God is. God is one, but exists in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God is not one in his nature, but he is triune in the persons. And he is triune in the persons because he is love. When Saint John tells us that God is love, in this expression we want to emphasize the essential and constitutive attribute of the godhead: he is essentially love. But it could not be love if he were to be a lonely God, if he were only one also as a person. If one loves, there must be in God himself, a lover and a beloved; therefore in God there must be the distinction of the persons.
Therefore, as God reveals himself to us in this ineffable and infinite communion of love that goes from the Father to the Son, and from the Son to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, so in the works ad extra, God did not want as much the unity of the whole of the human nature assumed by the Word, as the assumption of this human nature, because the Verb could then communicate himself with every person created. In other words, God wanted the covenant, has wanted this mystery of love by which he enters into a relationship with the man, and the man now enters into a relationship with God.
God wanted to say: “You are my Mother”
I have repeatedly said that the greatest thing in the incarnation of the Word is not so much the incarnation in itself, as what that through this incarnation God had to say – think about it, he had to say! Of course, because He has chosen this way to become a man – then he had to say to a girl of sixteen years, to a girl that no one knew: “You are my mother”. And this girl could tell to her God: “Thou art my son”. That is, the eternal dialogue, and the infinite love that goes from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father in the bosom of the divine Trinity, it now becomes the dialogue of a divine person with a person created, the Virgin. They are the same words. “You are the my Son,” says Father; “You are my son,” says Maria. “You are my Father,” says the divine Word to the first person of the Trinity; “Thou art the my mother”, says the Word incarnate in Mary.
It is the same thing, but we need to agree on. All God in the Word is the relationship of love to the Father; all God in the Father is the relation of love to the Verb. The Father in and for himself is not; it is all in the Son and through the Son. And he is in the Father and for the Father. Each divine person is pure, absolute and the infinite relation of love to the other person whom it is in correlation with. It is also true, and this is a thing that is shaking heaven and earth, between the incarnated Word and the Virgin, between the Virgin and the Word incarnated.
Mary also is all for Jesus in such a way that Jesus is not the son of a mother and father, but of the mother only. As in his divine nature he is the son only of the Father, so in his human nature, is the son the mother only. In his human nature he is totally dependent on her, because only by her he got to be a man. In his incarnation the Word is all relationship of love to the mother. For this reason, the person of the Virgin is associated in the most intimate, the most personal, the most total way to the divine Word made flesh. Not to the Word in his divine nature, but to the Word of God made man for us. And all for her. But it is also true that the Blessed Mary is in a whole relationship of love with her Son. This is so true that the Blessed virgin Mary cannot be the mother but of only one son, as the Father is. Because, as the Father runs out the infinite fruitfulness of the divine being in the generation of the Word, so the Virgin runs out the fruitfulness of all creation in the generation of the Christ.
And as the Virgin is pure, total love relationship to the incarnated Word, so the incarnated Word is pure, as total relationship of his self to the Virgin, his mother. All of this is well expressed by that patristic text that says: Totius gratiae plenitudo, quae in Christo est, venit in Mariam, quamquam aliter. All the grace that is in Christ is communicated to Mary. Not all of the grace that is in Christ because, as he is the son of God, the infinite holiness of God is incommunicable. Here we speak of the holiness of the divine Word as he becomes man, and all his holiness as head of the Church, the whole of which is communicated to the Virgin. Here it is because she can be the mother of the whole Church.
We do not participate in the holiness of Mary. Not because she has an original holiness, because she herself receives that holiness from the Word divine, but because he receives it all. And all of us, therefore, live in the bosom of the Virgin, all of us we live in the heart of Mary, we share in her holiness. Then, the divine Word, in his assumed human nature, as the head of the Church, is wholly given to the Virgin, it’s all for her. And you understand why God, from eternity, wanted Christ before all else and the Virgin: because the Holy Virgin runs out in itself, all the mystery of God who communicates himself to the world. She is really the new creation of God, she is truly the one who, in herself, understands the universe.
The greatness of Mary This is a point we will have to meditate deeply for what those who do not believe blame on us, is that there seems to be no proportion between what history wants to tell us and what theology really teaches us.
How is it possible to think that perhaps a sixteen-year-old girl, born in a township unknown to the same Jews; that little girl who did not have any human significance and who lived in darkness, should then be, according to what theology tells us, the Mother of God? She who in herself collects the whole grace? She who, as Mother of the whole Church, can communicate to each of us part of that grace that in her is only full? How to unite these two things? The humility of her human condition, of her historical vicissitude, with the ineffable and almost infinite greatness of her holiness and her dignity of Mother?
And here is the mystery of Christianity itself, my dear brothers. It may be here among us a person who is worth more than the whole universe for the Lord. There it may be; It depends on us since we believe in his love. Because in the end, the sanctity of every soul is nothing but God’s holiness communicated to each one. And the measurement of the communication that God can do of himself to each one of us, is the faith that opens us to receive the divine gift. We cannot offer anything to God; we can only receive from Him. Our holiness is nothing but a participation into his holiness. To God, we can only offer but our sins; he cannot receive anything else from us. All that instead is positive, we receive from him. We have nothing but this to give: our poverty, our indigence and unfortunately, even our sins. This he wants from us! But he wants us to give ourselves to him, In an act of absolute faith in his love, in order to welcome this infinite love of his, that has no other measure than our faith. The measure of the divine gift can not be in God, for God is infinite. The measure of the gift of God lies in the faith we have in his love.
Mary’s greatness is all here; There is no other greatness in the Madonna.
Saint Elisabeth proclaims it when Mary comes to her: “Blessed be thou that thou hast believed!”. All the greatness of Mary is in the faith for which she totally opens herself up to welcome God, even though he is a very poor daughter. Her greatness is the greatness of her faith. All of Mary’s greatness is in this faith by which she abandons herself totally to the inconceivable and immense love of God.
Jesus and Mary associated from eternity. The Heavenly Father did not want Christ without wanting Mary; He wanted Christ for Mary and Mary for Christ, because he wanted the alliance. He wanted that the creature, the Human being, was associated with God’s very life and for this reason he had to become a man. However, even in becoming a man, no created person could have lived this communion of love; but in becoming man from a woman, in the same incarnation, he lives a love relationship. God is not relation with creation. Regardless of his will, absolutely free, God lives an infinite, eternal loneliness. His infinite transcendence in himself, requires the absolute solitude of God. No creature can violate this solitude. But God Himself wants to love us and for this he becomes a man and does it through a woman.
His incarnation already assumes a love relationship because he chooses a young girl to be born from her. And look, it’s not just He who chooses this little girl, but this girl gives him all her flesh and her blood. There is indeed a mutual relationship already in the incarnation. And this is the greatest mystery, mystery that then for us supposes the death on a cross. Also for Mary Most Holy it supposes the death of a cross, for she should also have suffered at least the original sin. As the Ineffabilis Bolla says, Maria is preserved by sin intuitu meritorum Christidebitum also for her: she too had to undergo original sin and with it maybe even to other sins, like all of us. God has preserved her in view of the death on the cross of his Son; but he has preserved her from her conception, so that no sin ever could touch her. And in this she is different from us.
What a difference between us and Mary?
We, on the other hand, live the relationship with Christ, not so much for the incarnation of the Word, though this is a condition for there being a relationship between God and us. Our relationship of love with Christ has been established by him with his death on the cross. This explaines why for us, he must take on our sins, while for Mary Most Holy he does not assume them.
Christ lives with her, already in the very act of his incarnation, one ineffable relationship of love. For us, instead, Christ had to assume, not our human nature only, but also ours sins. And by assuming the responsibility of our sins, He has become the one who as a friend, as a bridegroom, has given us his Blood, has given us his life, and has given us his holiness. But with Mary Most Holy, it is from the very first moment of the Incarnation of the Word that a real and personal relationship was established between the second person of the Most Holy Trinity and a created person, a little girl: and between a little girl and the Word of God.
Then if the mystery of the association of Christ to the Virgin and the Virgin to Christ concludes and embraces all the mystery of the economy of salvation, all the mystery for which God has worked outside of himself, it comes from it that Mary is the beginning, the center, and the end of all the story of salvation.
And at beginning, because God has wanted her with Christ since eternity. This the pope said in the Bolla by which he proclaimed her Immaculate Conception. The pope says that God has wanted Mary and Christ with an act which precedes any of his designs in the world.
Mary is at the center, because at the center of all there is the incarnation of the Word; and without Mary this incarnation is not there. God chose to become a man assuming human nature from her; and she gave it to him. It’s not like Adam. Adam was created directly by God, but Jesus did not. Jesus is Son of Mary. It is only because of her that he is a man; only because of her! No other creature is involved. Only because of the Virgin!
Mary is at the end of all the Christian mystery because, like the thought of God from eternity embraces all creation to make it part of his holiness, so the assumption of Mary and her glorification are the sure promise, the real anticipation of what will be the Glorification of all creation.
Why does Christ resurrect?
What role, then, is the resurrection of Jesus? It is the glorification of the human nature of the Divine Word. It was impossible that the Divine Word should not be glorified. It was almost inconceivable that God could assume the human nature, and that it would not immediately be glorified. How is it possible that God could take human nature and this human nature should know hunger, fatigue, pain, insult, death? For us this is the supreme mystery.
It is explained by the fact that there is sin, and Jesus since His birth assumes a human nature, that because of sin is subject to death, for he wants to be the savior of it. But for Itself the assumption of the human nature implied necessarily and in the most absolute way the glorification of this nature. In fact, it’s never possible that one throws himself into a furnace and does not burn? And is it possible that human nature, absorbed the fire of the divinity, immediately may not burn? That is, not to be glorified at once by God?
Therefore, the glorification of Jesus still does not tell me about my glorification because I am distinct from the divine Word. And in human nature assumed by Christ, it is the divine Word that lives; so it was absolutely necessary that this nature be glorified.
Most Holy Mary is instead a human person like me; therefore Mary’s glorification is truly a promise and an anticipation of a glorification that invests all of us. As her holiness implies our holiness, because our is a participation of her holiness, so her glorification anticipates and gives me the sure hope of a future glorification of mine. It is true that I am a poor man because I am a created person but Mary’s glorification is the sure promise of my glorification.
In Jesus it is God who communicates himself; In Mary it is God who communicated himself.
So Mary is at the beginning, the center, and at the end of all things. Not regardless of the Word, because from the eternity God has always wanted to associate the divine Word with the Virgin. The Word as a source before all the supernatural life; Mary, like the one who received from him all this life. In Jesus it is God who communicates himself; In Mary it is God who communicated himself.
Then we can understand the truth in the words of Saint Andrew of Crete, the one who among all the Fathers of the Church has most glorified Mary.
He states, “After God you are God”; A second god! And it is true, like It is true that we all must become God by grace. The Virgin is not God by nature, but in the incarnate Word, God gives everything of himself to the Virgin and the Virgin welcomes him completely as his son. So she is truly God after God, as Saint Andrew of Crete says. For this the patristic can say that she is a second God: not God by nature, but God communicated. God who communicates to himself is the Christ, God communicated is the Virgin. Now we, being people, are the ones we need to welcome the gift of God.
Reality is a sign of mystery. How can we overcome the scandal (which for many who have no faith constitutes an unsurpassed obstacle) of such poor signs, on the visible plane which instead on the theological level have a scope of an immense magnitude? For us Catholics, the thing is very simple and clear. We believe that under the species of bread and wine, there is the Son of God; yet is there a more disappointing sign of these species in which we believe present the one who is immense, the one who is infinite? If we can believe in the real presence of Christ in the eucharistic mysyery, we can also believe that all that is visible is nothing but a sign of an immense mystery overwhelming it. This is not true only for Our Lady, it is true also for Jesus. Think of the death of Jesus: all humanity that has lived since perhaps 600,000 years, depends on this death! The salvation of every man as that of all peoples and of all creation, even the elevation of angels to the supernatural state, according to most theologians, depends on this man whom we know very little about on the historical level. About him we know only that he was crucified and died in Jerusalem; even if all that the gospels tell us is true, from the gospels we cannot rebuild Jesus’ life in its true sense. Of all his existence, before the beginning of public life, we are told only some pieces, but so divided among them that we can not reconstruct the story of his childhood, his youth and even his own mature age until he starts the public life. With two words the evangelist solves it: Et erat subditus illis, and was subject to them.
Of our Lord we know very little about his human life down here. So the history of Christ and the more the story of Mary, looks like something insignificant, as well as insignificant is the kind of bread if we want to proportion the sign to the meant reality.
Let us remember a fundamental law of religious life: as God is infinite, the sign makes him as much more present as it almost disappears. And the opposite, the more the sign is expressive, the less God is made known. We see it in the cosmic revelation, where God’s sign is all creation. Also today most of men live a religious life more in relation to the creation than in relationship with Jesus and the Church. The immensity of the sea, the majesty of the mountains fill us with amazement. This is so true, and the thing is to demonstrate how our faith has diminished, that even the small holy pictures, those little pictures that can be found in stores dealing with religious items, mainly depict mountains, seas or natural phenomena.
And do you know why? Because God today is felt more through the creation that not through the higher revelations of God himself. Creation gives the sense of the immensity of God, but does it tell you that God loves you? When you see a river, do you have the perception that there is a God who loves you? So if you contemplate the immensity of the sea, do you think there is a God who loves you? No.
Because it is not yet a personal God that the cosmic revelation gives us.
Christianity is a personal relationship with God.
When God becomes personal, he becomes involved with man: with Abraham, with the Judean people. But this too is not a fully personal relationship; It is the relationship with God that creates the history of a people. It is only on the eve of Christianity that the prayer in Judaism becomes a personal prayer. But even then it is not a prayer that implies a full personal relationship of God with man. Christianity stays in this: God loves me! For me he is dead! Dilexit me et tradidit semet ipsum pro me. Therefore, for God I am worth more than the whole universe; I am more for God more than the whole creation; He loves me!
If God’s love is a personal love, it implies that God commands himself to each of us; and because he is infinite he can not love me by part, because God has no parts, being simple.
Therefore He loves me with all of himself; each one of us is an object of his infinite love. Each of us! Here it is Christianity. The sign is very poor, it is Jesus. And after him, there will be the Eucharistic species.
It is me, poor man as I am, the sign of this immense love.
And yet what does God do by loving us? Did he make me maybe younger? No(,) because I’m aging the same, even though God loves me. God loves me and I can have sore throat, I can get a cold. God leaves us in our nothingness. There seems to be no proof of this infinite love that he brings us. For this reason, many times men rebel: “God is not fair because he let my husband die,” “Because he let my wife die”.
We rebel because we want to proportion God’s love to human, historical things, while on this plane
God is like absent. The faith we must have in him transcends absolutely all the manifestations that he can give us of himself. Do you believe that maybe God loves me less than he loves the pope? God loves all with his eternal love. The measure depends on the faith I have in his love, the faith that the pope has in his love. It all depends on this faith, because the measure of God’s love is not in God who loves us, as I told you at first, but it is in us who open ourselves up to welcome this love.
That is why the most difficult thing for us Christians is not so much the exercise of virtues. Virtues are also exercised in the other religions. If you know Buddhist ethics, you can not deny that those are great and noble moral principles. If you know stoicism, you cannot deny the nobility of those ethical principles, even of pagans as Seneca and Epictetus. This is so true that we wanted to make of Senecaalmost a Christian, so noble it is all that he teaches. But what is lacking in these people is faith, that faith that opens the creature to welcome God. As long as we exercise virtues, virtues which are part of human morality because, even independently of faith, one must be honest and honest. It will be harder to be honest and righteous, but we must be the same. Morality is part of human nature as such. But it is in the faith that we open ourselves to welcome God. Let us be understood! Faith is not enough; But with faith, if we live God’s love, we will have the virtues that are the natural consequence of having welcomed God in us because the Gospel says that “One is only is good, God”. But God lives in each one
our. Therefore, we must participate in the goodness of God, but we participate in it to the extent that we welcome God into us and God lives in us his same life.
Mary, sign of God
Then what is the relationship there between what theology says about Mary and the story of this humble woman we know so little about? About this woman who is living in the biggest hideout? That did not have any importance I do not say for Judaism, but not even for her native country? What is the relationship? There is ratio of the sign with the meant reality.
The reality meant in Mary was God Himself because, in her faith, she had welcomed him. From this, we can understand why the High Pontiff in the encyclical on Our Lady, which is an encyclical among the most beautiful that the pope has written, insists so much on Mary’s; because Mary’s greatness is equal to the faith she has had in God. It is the faith that opens us to accept his omnipotence: it is the faith that opens us to welcome especially his love.
With this first meditation we wanted to focus on what Our Lady is, and we have said: Our Lady is in the divine plan ahe who summarizes the whole mystery of the economy, that is, all that God accomplished outside of himself. Our Lady all that fulfils in herself; not without Christ, because without Christ the Madonna is nothing but the Madonna with Christ, Christ and Our Lady. So Pope Pius IX’s words in the Ineffabilis Bolla are completely true. Not only with what regards God’s greatest intention: as the first pope says, he longed from eternity Christ and the Virgin. But what he wanted from eternity was accomplished in time and the whole story is summed up in the Incarnation of the Word, in which
Christ and the Virgin are associated in the most intimate way: neither Jesus without Mary, or Mary without Jesus.
Center of all the mystery of the economy. But Maria is also in the end, because even in the end I cannot think of Jesus alone. As I cannot think of Jesus only because of his incarnation, so I cannot think of Jesus alone, in his final glorification, because the glorification of our Lord is necessary; It is not a free fact, it is not a gratuitous fact. He must be glorified because he is God. It is true that has assumed a human nature exposed to suffering because he has become one with all sinners though, like God, he could not be left without glorification.
And indeed it is a great mystery the fact that this glorification was postponed at the end of his life. In the moment in which he assumed human nature, this human nature had to be glorified and divinized. It is what happens to us when we are totally liberated from any imperfection, we will be immediately transformed into God. Even before death, according to St. John of the Cross; in my opinion not, because once identified with Christ, much more then we must still live for the redemption of the world. We cannot dissociate ourselves from the whole creation. It is the teaching that gave us Santa Teresa of the Child Jesus correcting St. John of the Cross. For St. John of the Cross once the soul is purified, it immediately goes to heaven in a blessed ecstasy. No, Santa Teresa of the Child Jesus says; I want to die like Jesus indesolation and abandonment. Because? Because she wants to be the board to which sinners cling to be saved. This is one of the fundamental themes of the spirituality of St. Teresa.
We cannot dissociate ourselves from our brothers. The more we will be Saints, the more we will have to resemble Jesus who freely, gratis, wanted to take on the weight of the whole universal sin and to bring it over the cross to redeem the world. So we should do too.
But in itself, once we are free from all sin, like Jesus, we too should be glorified right away. Instead our glorification is postponed, but, however, it has a sure promise, a real anticipation in the Assumption of Mary.
The three Great Celebrations of Our Lady.
And here are the three great celebrations of Our Lady, all of three of obligation: the Immaculate Conception, the Motherhood of Mary and the Assumption. Why do we celebrate the Immaculate Conception in the advent season, at the beginning of the liturgical year? Because it is the first thing God wanted.
The advent begins with the will of God to associate the Virgin and Christ. Why then is Mary’s Motherhood celebrated with Christmas? Because it’s impossible to celebrate Christmas without thinking of the Virgin Mary. Jesus cannot be born unless he does not originate from Our Lady. And why at the end of the liturgical year, after all the celebrations that contemplate God’s salvific events, why after Pentecost, there is the Assumption of Mary?
Because it is the end of everything. Assumption that anticipates and it is the promise of the glorification of all of us in Mary and with Mary.
Here, then, is who the Madonna is. Then we understand how we cannot deny anything to the Virgin without compromising the Christian mystery. In fact, it is the mystery of a God who communicates himself to the world and Who is all welcomed by the pure Virgin. That is why I cannot think of Christ without her; and I cannot think of her without the Christ. No one is so associated with the Word as Mary; and no one is associated with Mary as Christ.
“… by the work of the Holy Spirit”.
We said at the beginning: as the Father is totally, eternally, and infinitely in a love relationship with the Son, so the Son is to the Father.
And it must be said equally: as in the incarnate Word everything is conform to man, so in Mary, the whole man tends to conform himself to Christ. It repeats itself in the mystery of the economy, in the mystery of the creation, what is the mystery of God’s intimate life. As in God’s intimate life the relationship of the Father to the Son and the Son with the Father is consumed in the unity of the Holy Spirit, so it is consumed the union of Christ with the Virgin and of the Virgin to Christ in the Holy Spirit: ” the Spirit of the Lord will descend upon you”.
It is the Holy Spirit who inevitably unites Mary to Jesus because Mary becomes the Mother of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. And it is for the Holy Spirit that the Son of God communicates to the world, because he communicates in that act of love by which he gives himself as a gift.
The Christian mystery repeats analogously the mystery of the Trinity, with the difference that in Trinity everything is necessary, essential, eternal; while everything is free in the mystery of the economy, that is, of God’s extra work.
The total reference to Christ is just a created person: the pure Virgin. That is why totius gratiae quae in Christo est plenitudo venit in Mariam, quamquam aliter. The fullness of the the grace that is in Christ, everything came to Mary, but in a different way, because in Christ there is as the source, while in Mary there is like a lake that collects all the waters of grace.
Here it is what the Holy Virgin is. We will never overdo her greatness. It is a totally free greatness, which depends on the love of God; but it is a real greatness. She really is greater than of all creation.
(to be continued)
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