On this Fourth Sunday of Advent and the last Sunday before Christmas, the Church focuses attention on a young pregnant woman about to deliver a baby. Her name appears in different forms today as Mary, Maria, Miriam, Marian or Mariah; a name that has been translated and used in many languages, showing how popular and important Mary is in our life.
Yet, not everyone is comfortable with Mary. The story is told of a priest invited to give a talk to an Evangelical Protestant group having their Life in the Spirit seminar (You must have heard of that seminar where some groups learn to speak in tongues). The topic given him was: “The Role of the Holy Spirit in Christian Discipleship.” He was forewarned to base his talk on the Bible only and avoid superstitions. The priest assured them that his talk would be based on the Bible, specifically on Lk 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”
To begin his talk, Father requested for all to bring out their Bibles. But they already had their KJVs in their hands. You know the Protestant dogma, “If it ain’t King James Bible, it ain’t Bible at all.” [Pastor Ryan, an evangelical missionary working in Cambodia was startled at the response he got from his congregation in America when he requested for funds to get the Bible translated and printed in the Cambodian language—Khmar. His American congregation sent words back to him that there was no need for a Cambodian Bible, that they could send trucks of KJVs to him. If King James Bible was good enough for Paul, it should be good enough for the Cambodians]. Sorry for the digression.
Back to our story. With their Bibles in hands, Father requested that they search out Lk 1:28. He invited everyone to read with him, and they all read: “Hail (Mary), full of grace! The Lord is with thee.” He proceeded to ask them to turn to Lk 1:42 (which was read at the Gospel today) and they read: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The priest paused, looked at the bemused congregation who couldn’t believe what they just said. He then told them, “Congratulation! You have now prayed the first half of the ‘superstitious’ prayer, ‘Hail Mary.’” He went on to encourage the congregation that in order to be Spirit-filled disciples, we need to imitate Mary, whom the angel told: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Elizabeth too, at her encounter with Mary became filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed, “Blessed are you among women…” For that Evangelical group, it was a Life in the Spirit seminar gone awry. Some Evangelical Protestants seem so poised to resist Mary that they would be willing to let go of the Holy Spirit if Mary was necessarily connected with Him, and if she would be a model for discipleship.
The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit, not Joseph, was the true spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary (I’m sure that there are those who would think that an abomination). The Archangel Gabriel first announced Mary’s mystical union with the Holy Spirit, whose overshadowing caused her to become pregnant. Filled with the Holy Spirit, a Christian, like Mary, conceives Jesus in his/her heart and brings forth the Good News. The Holy Spirit hastens the disciple’s steps to carry on the news, share it, and rejoice in it. Hence, Mary travelled in haste to visit her sister Elizabeth who had also conceived mysteriously. Nothing demands speed as much as the needs of others, to share their joys and sorrows, and to bring them comfort: that unction of the Spirit. Elizabeth was infected by Mary’s favor, for as soon as she heard Mary’s greeting, the infant in her womb leapt for joy and she was, in turn, filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Of all women you are the most blessed.” Mary would then sing her song of gladness, which we call the Magnificat. We can learn to rejoice with others at the favors done to them, and like Mary fill this season with songs of inspiration and joy.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo