Advent: Mary favored but not free from difficulties

By Regis Flaherty | Contributor
Sunday, November 30, 2014

When we read that an angel addressed Mary as favored — full of grace — we should keep in mind the life that was ahead of her. She would know many sorrows from the nativity in a stable to standing at the foot of the cross. God’s favor did not translate into a life free from sorrow, difficul ties and trials. Quite the opposite.

It brings to mind the famous prayer that was uttered by St. Teresa of Avila when she was thrown from her horse on a journey to a monastery: “Dear Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!”

Put yourself into Mary’s position. Being the favored one and saying yes to God’s request did not result in a trouble-free life. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that I would be ask ing God, “What’s up?” I would be tempted to anger, depression, doubt. I think we all would.

When life doesn’t seem “fair,” many will say, “I have a right to be angry.” We do not see this in Mary. I am sure she was tempted. Just because she was born without the consequences of original sin, including concupiscence, doesn’t mean she was not subject to temptations.

The only other woman born without sin was Eve, who lived in an idyllic world. Nonetheless, Satan successfully tempted her by sowing seeds of dissatisfaction in her mind. In essence, he tells her, “You know God isn’t really that good to you. He will not let you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He’s denying this to you in order to keep you from being more like Him.” Eve bought the lie and sinned.

Mary could have done the same in the circumstances in which she found herself. She could have doubted God’s favor due to all those situations of hardship — situations that did not confront Eve. But her response was different from Eve. Mary did not sin.

What was her secret and how can we learn it as we reflect during Advent? Consider the second sentence uttered by the angel. After calling her the favored one, he says, “The Lord is with you.” That is the key. That is the essence of favor.

Mary knew that God was with her and she placed her trust in him. No matter what the exter nal circumstances, Mary’s unshakable faith in God gave her perspective and strength. In this we should imitate her.

Consider the Catechism of the Catholic Church where we read: “By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity” (967). Adherence to God’s will, obedience to God’s directives, trust in his plan and in his love for her were the means through which Mary met the difficulties of life.

The source of Mary’s unshakable faith in all circumstances and trials was the presence of the Lord with her. It should be the same with us. In baptism we became children in the divine family — children of the Father in heaven and brother to Him who died on the cross for us. Baptism has made an indelible mark on us.

Incorporated into Christ by baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, baptism cannot be repeated. (CCC 1272)

No one can take away our divine filiation. We are children of God — period. Even when we seriously sin, the arms of our Father are always open to receive us, and we can repent and be forgiven through the sacrament of reconciliation. Mary’s example calls us to embrace our status as a son or daughter of God. Indeed, we are favored ones.

When struggles come upon us, we must remember that God is with us. He is with you. He is with me. I am a favored one. You are favored ones. Seek Him! Trust Him! Take your eyes from the cir - cumstances that plague you, look beyond the perceived realities of your life and see the greater reality.

If you are struggling with your spiritual vision, turn to Mary and see through her eyes and from her example that God is with you.

Surely, Mary knew the story of Job who lost everything — fam - ily, possessions, health, friends. He lost everything except God’s favor. Job was able to say, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21)

Job’s friends said that his suffering was due to his sin. But Job learned that suffering is part of the human condition. And, what is more, suffering can be redemptive. What we do when we suffer, whom we believe, and how we respond make the difference. What do we do in the midst of trials? We turn our eyes to our Savior. Whom do we believe? Our Lord. How do we respond? We trust.

Love leads us to bear trials that we would otherwise avoid. Think of the sacrifices that a wife and mother will make for her husband and children. She dies to self to love and serve them. In fact, all of us must die to self in small matters so that we are ready to die in great matters — including martyrdom.

Mary was a daily martyr, dying to self and embracing God’s will in everything, no matter how difficult. She was able to make those choices because she entrusted herself to God. Moreover, bearing those daily difficulties prepared her for the martyrdom that she shared with her son as she stood at the foot of his cross. Self-sacrifice and the love we call charity were the essences of Mary’s Advent, her preparation for the birth, life, and death of the Christ, who was her son.

We encounter difficulties in our lives (illnesses, financial set backs, a child abandons the faith, death of a loved one, etc.). How will we respond? Like Mary? Will we entrust all that we encounter into God’s hands and follow Him? Are we willing to work through all situations with God or will we try to handle everything with only natural lights and strength?

St. Teresa of Avila who wrote, “We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials,” also tells us: “Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing; God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who possesses God lacks nothing: God alone suffices.”

Advent is our opportunity, as we reflect on Mary, to follow her example. Trust and love our Lord Jesus.

This article is adapted from “Jesus Is the Gift: The Spirituality of Advent and Christmas” by Regis Flaherty.