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Blessed Are You Among Women

August 15, 2021

A reflection for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The readings are Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10a; Psalm 45; 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 and Luke 1:39-56.

Assumption of the Virgin by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo  (1617–1682)   

“Blessed are you among women…”

How many times have we said those words? Thousands of times. And maybe not even thinking about what we’re saying.

I grew up in Latin America, as you know, where there is a huge cultural devotion to Mary, as is the case in a lot of the countries where many of you come from. I think that for that reason I actually did not grow up with a great devotion to Mary because it seemed a little superstitious to me and it also didn’t make any sense because I thought, why should I go to Mary, why should I pray to Mary, when I can just go straight to Jesus? So it didn’t make sense to me. I thought that we called Mary blessed – blessed are you among women – because she’s a saint. All the saints are blessed. I mean she is the saint of all saints; she was chosen to be the mother the Son of God, but I still thought she’s blessed because she’s a saint. Why does Elizabeth greet her and say that she is blessed? Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb? And then later on Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you who believed that the promise that was spoken to you would be fulfilled.” And then later on, Mary herself, in the Magnificat, the prayer that she prays as a response to Elizabeth’s greeting, says, “from this day all generations will call me blessed.” And it’s true: Up to this generation we still call her blessed. But why?

I didn’t understand that the reason why we call Mary blessed has to do with those other few words that we also say all the time when we say that prayer: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.” How many times have we said those words? The angelic salutation, we call it. Why does the angel Gabriel greet Mary with those words? “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.” Hail, full of grace. He calls her full of grace, almost as if that was her name:  “Hail. Greetings, full of grace. The Lord is with you.” Why is Mary full of grace?

We have to ask ourselves, who else was full of grace – other than Jesus – who else? Who were the other two people, who at one point, were full of grace? Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were created full of grace, before original sin. The Lord was with them before original sin, and so we can say with confidence that if Mary is also full of grace, then Mary was also conceived, created, almost as if she was created, before original sin.  She was conceived without sin. That’s why we call her the Immaculate Conception. We can say that she was immaculately conceived because it’s almost as she has conceived before original sin.  She is conceived without sin. That’s what it means that she is full of grace. And because she is full of grace the Lord can be with her. The Lord can be completely united with her. She can be completely full of the Lord so much so that she is, literally pregnant with God. That’s what it means that the Lord is with her: that she is so completely united with God that she becomes the spouse of God, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit can conceive within her the Son of God, who is God.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

And because Mary is conceived without sin; because she is full of grace; because she is the Immaculate Conception, she does not suffer the consequences of sin. Saint Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  Death does not enter the world until original sin enters the world, until the fall of Adam and Eve, and so Mary, conceived without sin, full of grace, does not suffer the consequences of sin. So we can say with confidence, that Mary did not suffer death but instead, at the end of her earthly existence she was assumed, body and soul, into heaven where God, as we heard in the first reading from the Book of Revelation, “where god has prepared a place for her”, where she shares in the glory with Jesus Christ.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. 

The fact that Mary is blessed doesn’t mean that she is set apart from us. She is blessed, because God has chosen her to lead the way for us to where we are meant to go as well. Mary shares in the Glory of the Resurrection, body and soul, because that’s also where we are going.  In the second reading today, Paul tells the Corinthians that Jesus Christ is the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” That is because he is the first one to be risen. But then Paul continues to say that Jesus is the first one, the first fruits, and the rest will follow. We are the rest who will follow. We also will rise at the end of time with the second coming when death is no more. Mary was the second one. She doesn’t have to wait until the end of time and she didn’t have to be risen because she didn’t die, but she already shares in that glory, so that she can show us the way. She is the example of the fulfillment of that promise that is made to all of us: that we too can share in that same glory, body and soul. That’s why when we pray the creed we say that we believe in the resurrection of the body. We will be resurrected with our bodies. Maybe not these earthly bodies, but with perfected bodies. Jesus and Mary are in heaven, body and soul, not just soul. We will be in heaven with our completed bodies. Our bodies are not deleted in heaven; they are completed in heaven. And so Mary is blessed because she gets to be the second one to share in that glory. And she gets to show us the way. She is blessed because she gets to be our guide.

And who best to be our guide than a woman, a mother, a human being who’s been through many of the same struggles that you have been through and that you are going through? When Mary prays the Magnificat and she extols all the great things that God has done: “He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation; He has shown the strength of his arm. He has scattered the proud in their conceit; He has lifted up the lowly he has cast down the mighty from their thrones”; she’s not just talking about some things that God has done in the past.  She’s talking about her own experience. She lived it: “for the almighty has done great things for me,” she says. She was an unwed teenage mother. She was a pregnant teenager. She went through a difficult birth, under very difficult circumstances, subjected to the to an oppressive regime that demanded that they travel to some little town and go through a census and then she had to escape a massacre of children with her husband and her child and lived as a refugee in a foreign country and then lived in lowliness and obscurity in a small town. She survived the death of her husband – probably while she was still young – and then she lived through the unjust treatment of her son; his unjust arrest and trial. And she survived the death of her own son. If any of you are going through anything remotely close to any of those situations, go to Mary because she knows what it’s like. If you are feeling alone or you’re feeling abandoned; you’re feeling persecuted or you’re feeling lost. If you’re feeling imprisoned, go to Mary because she is your mother, your tender mother who knows what you’re going through and who wants nothing more than to bring you to her son, Jesus. If you want to go to Jesus, go through Mary, because the quickest way to get to Jesus is through Mary, his mother, who wants nothing more than to bring you to her son Jesus.

And it is as simple as starting with those words that we say all the time; sometimes, not even thinking about what we’re saying. It doesn’t matter. Say them often.

Hail Mary. Full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death.

From → English, Reflections

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