Bishop Gruss reflects on how Mary can teach us how to develop a 'listening heart' during second week of Advent

Greetings and blessings to you all. Last week we began reflecting upon the life of St. Joseph, one of the most important people in the role of salvation history, and how his “listening heart” – his interior disposition before the Lord – allowed him to say “Yes” to what God was asking of him as he faced the many challenging decisions in his own life. His listening heart is the posture to which all of us are invited to this Advent season. 

This second week of Advent, we reflect upon another person who had one of the most important roles in salvation history, and that is Mary, our Blessed Mother. I would suspect that Mary would have never imagined what God was asking her to do at the Annunciation. In her encounter with the Angel Gabriel, God’s messenger, Mary’s heart is also revealed to us. Like her spouse St. Joseph, she too has a listening heart.

In this moment of the Annunciation, one can only imagine what must have been going through her mind and heart. Luke tells us that when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you,” she was “deeply troubled by his words.”

What can this greeting mean? Was it fear? Was it trepidation?  She heard that she was favored….so perhaps she questioned “But why?” Any of these could be normal human reactions, especially for those who have not developed an interior disposition before the Lord.  

God's Invitation

But something great and unbelievable was going to happen to Mary. Imagine being asked to bring the Savior into the world!  She said, “How can this be?” Perhaps at the heart of this question for Mary is a deep sense of wonder...and a deep sense of awe…..a deep sense of marvel….at God’s power and love...a deep knowing that this is all about God.  A “listening heart” allows one to hear, to discern, to know at a deeper level God’s invitation. And because God is love, his invitations are always into a life of love. 

God does not impose himself. He doesn’t simply predetermine the part that Mary will play in his plan for our salvation: God first seeks her consent. And Mary said, “I am a maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.”  Based upon Mary’s response, in her wonder and awe, there must have been a deep sense of surrender…..and trust…and honor….and hope…and dependence…and faith.

Because of her relationship with God, in faith she surrendered her heart, her will and her body to God’s invitation. It was God’s initiative and Mary’s response. In other words, this is all about God!  God never forces a person’s will into surrender, and He never begs. He patiently waits until that person willingly yields to Him.  As I mentioned last week, a listening heart yields to obedience.

As I said last week, at the heart of true obedience is love.  There is only one proof of love, and that proof is obedience.  Mary was obedient to the message of the angel because of her love for God.

A Holy Disposition

How did Mary develop such a holy disposition? She must have spent much time in prayer, meditating on the holy words of God. The Holy Spirit began preparing her from the moment of her conception for this moment.  By giving her consent to the Incarnation, Mary was collaborating in the work of salvation history. Through studying the word of God as revealed to the prophets, she began to gain wisdom coupled with a profound humility and acceptance that led to her obedient surrender. Through her faithful disposition toward the Lord, the Lord also prepared her heart for the suffering she would have to endure as she witnessed the suffering of her Son.

The Lord is continually seeking after us. But we can so easily look away. We become engrossed in our own desires. We are often afraid of God, his love, and what he might ask of us. “To look at Mary, is to see God’s original plan for humanity.” “In Mary, we see the way God wanted us to be. Mary shows us how to receive the marvelous gift of God’s love, and how to respond to God’s redemptive action in our lives.”1

But it does require from each of us that “listening heart” – that quiet disposition toward the Lord.  We must leave the noisiness of the world and enter into the quiet of our hearts daily in order to ponder the things in our own lives. Because the Lord is speaking to us through them.

This is what the season of Advent is about. Unlike Mary, you and I can be forgetful in coming to the Lord, with open hands and heart to receive the Father’s love and goodness.   But like Mary, the more we ponder these things in our hearts, the more we realize that we are not the source and summit of our happiness. The more we ponder these things in our hearts, the more we realize the need for a Savior in our own lives and our world.

Before he was born in her body, Christ Jesus was born in Mary’s heart as she said “yes” to be a partner in the mystery of salvation. Before he was born in her body, Jesus was born in Mary’s heart from her own longing for a Messiah, for a Savior.  And for those who seek a listening heart, Jesus will be born anew in this season of Advent.

Perhaps during this season of Advent, we can ask Mary to teach us how to develop a listening heart. As a wonderful mother, Mary cares deeply about each of us.  Like all wonderful mothers, Mary listens to her children.  Communication with parents plays a great part in the development of a child’s personality. Mary can play an important role in helping us, her children, to develop a heart that receives the Lord with such openness and humility.  

Like Joseph, Mary can also teach us how to cultivate a listening heart that leads to obedient love.  Mary can teach us how to prepare our hearts for Christmas. All we have to do is ask.

Bishop Robert Gruss

from journal of Father Henri Nouwen

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