Living Christmas with Mary
In these last few days before Christmas, I’ve been reflecting a lot on Our Lady. She is really one to stick with spiritually at Christmas time. Why? She embodies the wholly fulfilled humanity that Jesus wants to form in each one of us. We could reflect for a long time on the attractiveness and beauty of her personality – after all, she is “full of grace”. But here, I’ve chosen my ‘top three’ aspects of her character, because I think, at this time of Christmas, we could use them too. One way of growing in a virtue is to meditate on that virtue present in the life of Christ, and that of Mary. Studying them gives us courage and inspiration to let grace reign in our hearts, too.
1. Trust – To me, it seems that trust is at the root of all the other virtues. If we trust in God and his extraordinary love for us, it means we are 100% sure he’s “got our back”. Why do I need to insist on things going my way if he’s caring and providing for me? If God has poured out his life for me, if he loves me that much, it means I can be free from worrying about myself and my own needs, and look out to those around me. Nowhere do we see this more beautifully than in Mary. Her story is certainly one of trust, from the moment the angel appeared to her, through giving birth in a stable, through losing her Son in the Temple, through watching the unfolding of his adult ministry with all the manipulation and distortion that ended in her Son’s death. Her trust was utterly profound. Any day we are tempted to stop trusting God’s plan and to take things into our own hands – let’s think of Our Lady.
2. Humility – When we grow in any virtue, it means that the opposite vice loses its grip on us – a vice deforms us rather than making us whole. So, why is humility such a good virtue to pick out from Mary’s character? Because it’s opposite number – pride – is the root of all sin. Like, when we’ve done something wrong, and we are more concerned about what people will think of us for this, than about the act itself. That is pride. Or when we are accused of something – which might be more or less correct – and yet we defend and justify our position. That is pride. Or we put down others’ ideas or projects just because they are not our own. That’s pride, too.
Humility, on the other hand, means knowing the truth about ourselves. It means knowing how great God is, and how little and weak we are. Some of the best advice I ever heard was, “Repent every day.” If we do this, having a good grasp on our own sinfulness, we are likely to be humble. Being humble means pointing attention towards God and away from yourself. Not because we have a low image of ourselves, but because we have an awesome image of God. Mary is the epitome of this. She is present in the Gospels, in the background, always gesturing towards her Son.
At Christmas, there’s a risk of becoming obsessed with what we want, how we would like things to be… Let’s join our hearts to Mary and ask for the grace to “decrease”, while her Son increases.
3. Obedience – This is a word we don’t like to use too much… Yet there is only one message Our Lady tells us explicitly, verbally in the Gospels, and it is this: “Do whatever he tells you.” We often think and pray about doing God’s will in major, life-changing decisions. And that is good. But moment to moment, every day, we can respond to the will of God. It is countless little “yeses” that enable us to give the big “yes” at life-changing moments.
At Christmas, there will be endless “yeses” for us each day… looking out for the needs of others before our own, holding back the cutting remark, going easy with the over-indulgence…! One of the hardest things we might need to say “yes” to is daily prayer. This is somehow more of a challenge at holiday time when we’re away from our usual routine, and there’s endless, far more fun distractions to tempt us away… I always find that daily prayer is a necessity when at home with my family… One Christmas, a priest gave me some brilliant advice. He said, “Be a gift to your family this Christmas.” And I find that happens best when I make time to get away from all the noise and fun for a short time every day – and pray. Virtues are just not going to happen without prayer.
If you want to read more about the virtues and how our freedom and grace work together, I know a great book for you 😉 Have a look at Chapter 18 – Living the Virtues in the Transformed in Christ Confirmation Programme.