By Emily Kling
Hello, Dear Reader!
In my first post, I thought I would share with you the insights I gleaned from this recent Lenten season.
This year, I decided to again pray a daily rosary. Admittedly, on a few occasions, I forgot to pray or while in a tired stupor rattled off a few “Hail Mary-Our Father” mash-ups before inevitably falling asleep mid-prayer. Although my offering has indeed proved far from perfect, Mary interwove many graces into my life throughout these 40 days.
Particularly, the Annunciation unto Mary taught me about the receptive posture of divine-human communion and the way in which I may receive the divine life he offers, praying, as Our Blessed Mother did, that it will become fruitful in and through me.
This Lent and that of last year both had this similar devotion to Mary through the rosary, but contained many staggering differences when compared. For instance, I remember sitting in a feminist theology class this time last year, reading texts that critically misread Mary, in some instances profaning her image of immaculate maternity and undermining her unparalleled role as the Mother of God and one who changed the course of our salvation history. From this purely naturalist lens, Mary becomes an impossible ideal to resemble, one imposed upon women because, to put it simply, no one else can be both virgin and mother.
Although I knew all the great falsehoods contained in this uncharacteristic representation of Mary as a woman portrayed of seemingly dubious perfection, it didn’t stop the assumptions from percolating within me. These assertions spurred a dissonance in my mind and soul, as this misrepresentation of Blessed Mary was a far cry from the gentle, approachable way in which she greeted me in daily prayer and cloaked me in her tender mantle during times of distress.
But it wasn’t until this Lenten season that I could articulate the truth of who I knew Blessed Mary to be, a stark opposition to her portrayal in the post-modern feminist theology conjecture I had been exposed to. I found that these varying states of Mary’s life, virgin and mother, are not meant to be witnessed as mutually exclusive events, but as a symbol of the interconnection, the twofold telos (end, purpose) of our human response with the divine.
This deeper mediation was incited by my visit to the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in March, where I began to ponder and witness this parallel between Our Blessed Mother and our supreme calling as human beings.
During the Angelus prayer said at noon, the Sisters would kneel, hands outstretched, their palms shown to the gilded tabernacle before them in the otherwise humble pine-clad chapel. I watched, transfixed in awe; this posture of free and complete abandon deeply resonated with me. In a moment of clarity, I understood that these women resembled the essence of Mary’s true character and identity.
After pondering the unprecedented event before her — making the once invisible, visible — the Annunciation reaches its apex with Mary’s humble yet resounding fiat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to thy word.” These words, too, delicately echoed in each Handmaid like Mary’s affirmative response to divine grace and to welcoming the inner metamorphosis it would bring.
Like in the humbly expressed gesture and utterance of these Sisters, Blessed Mary bestows the image of receptivity of which all humankind possesses the capacity and to which we are beckoned. Mary not only lives in this space of total surrender to the will of God, but she is the embodiment of Christian devotion – to be a self-gift in total love. In her roles of virgin and mother, Mary reveals the twofold nature of humankind – to be the reception of divine grace and the fertile soil through and in which Christ can indwell.
In the fitting words of early 20th-century author and Catholic convert Gertrud von le Fort on her meditation of Mary, “Surrender to God is the only absolute power that creature possesses.” In harmony with von le Fort’s words and with our Blessed Mother, are the parting words of Handmaid Sister Mary Joseph to me: “Receptivity is the most fruitful thing one can do in response to God’s divine call.”
Therefore, let us grow in virtue with the knowledge that the Annunciation is the message to not only women but to every human creature: to realize that in our receptivity lies our freedom to be subsumed by the love of God, to be inwardly transformed, and to allow that love to become fecundity itself. Thus, the aim of every Christian should be a willingness to enter into Mary’s glorious fiat – to draw upon her exercise of profound and complete trust, making it our own.
Therefore, our Virgin Mother does not impose an impossible standard upon women; she invites us to respond to an accessible message: for all humankind to be holy and dynamic icons who continually gesture to the world beyond the veil.
My prayer for you, Dear Reader, is that while on this earthly pilgrimage to heaven, you will freely assume the receptive expression of Mary’s fiat with eyes remaining fixed on the gaze of Christ.