for the fourth Sunday of Advent
Is 7:10-16 - Rom 1:1-7 - Mt 1:18-24
by Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
Virginity and Maternity
14, The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15, He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
Christmas is approaching and the readings proposed to us invite us to penetrate ever deeper into this great Mystery! This is especially true today, when the Prophecy of Isaiah concerning the Virgin mother is read twice, both in the first reading and in the gospel: "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." We will see that it also appears, hidden, in the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.
The Virgin will conceive a son! What a Mystery! How can a Virgin conceive, when her intention is precisely something completely different? As is true for every mystery, the answer to this question can be found in Faith, and nowhere else. Indeed, we must remember that any mystery can be described with rigor and precision, but it cannot be fully understood by the human spirit. We can understand a mystery when looking at it according to one or another of its aspects, but we can fully grasp it only through and in faith: a mystery must be believed!
When we speak of the Virgin Mary conceiving the Child Jesus, sometimes certain people think that this is the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, a mystery that we have just celebrated on December 8. But nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that the idea of conception appears in both cases: the Virgin who "conceives" the Child Jesus, and the Immaculate "Conception". And the word "Immaculate" might lead one to think of a conception that is out of the ordinary, such as that of the Child Jesus conceived by a Virgin...
Both are Mysteries: the Immaculate Conception is a Mystery, and the Virgin Mary conceiving the Child Jesus is a Mystery. But they are two different Mysteries. Indeed, the Immaculate Conception concerns Mary, who was conceived by her parents Joachim and Anne while being preserved from the stain of original sin. The Virgin Mary conceiving the Child Jesus concerns Christ, who was conceived virginally, not through sexual relations with a man, but solely through the intervention of God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
The two Mysteries are closely linked: Mary had to be Immaculate in her soul, free of any sin, no matter how small, in order for her to be able to give herself to God, body and soul, in a truly sublime and perfect manner: Mary is the Immaculate Conception in order to be the Virgin, pure and holy, turned entirely towards God and totally devoted to his service: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Lk 1:38) Mary was conceived without sin, in order for Christ to be conceived virginally.
Let us remember that the Church teaches and has always taught that Mary remained a Virgin "ante partum, in partum, et post partum", that is to say: before, during, and after childbirth. So it is useless to speak of brothers and sisters (cf. Mk 6:3) of Jesus, who in reality are but cousins: it would be a denial of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, from which flows her perpetual Virginity!
1, Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. 2, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4, and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Like the Virgin Mary, Paul was called by God into his service: "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." Paul is called to collaborate with God to promote the diffusion and comprehension of the Word of God incarnate in Christ. Like Mary, Paul delivers himself entirely to the action of God in him: he devotes himself body and soul to spreading the Good News, the Gospel of God! Even though he had been a persecutor of Christians, Paul has henceforth entirely turned himself towards God, towards the dead and risen Christ, in order to be able to spread the Good News to the hearts of men of every language and race!
Paul is not a virgin like Mary. But he tends toward that virginity, he wants to consecrate himself to God body and soul. For he has but one love: Christ, who is God and Man. It is useless to speak to Paul of the marriage of priests, or of the ordination of married men: he would reply that it is folly! Certainly, in order for the Gospel to be proclaimed in an effective and true manner, Paul would tell you that one must have but a single love: God, in Christ and in his Church! For, then, God performs in us and through us true miracles, as He did for the Virgin Mary: He causes this Great Mystery of Christ and the Church to grow! Did Paul not write: "I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (1 Cor 4:15)?
18, Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19, and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away. 20, But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, «Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21, she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.» 22, All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23, «Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel» (Is 7:14) - which means, God with us. 24, When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife.
The prophecy of Isaiah has been realized! Two thousand years ago, the Virgin conceived and gave birth to a Son, Emmanuel, that is to say, God with us! Like Adam in the terrestrial Paradise, like several other people throughout history, such as Jacob, Joseph, who would soon wed Mary, was plunged into a mysterious sleep, mysterious not in itself, but in what would take place during that same sleep. In sum, sleep is the most mysterious part of our life: we live, and yet we act as if we were dead... Is this not what brings us closest to God? For God is the active Being par excellence, and yet is established in a rest that is absolute, eternal...
Let us ask the Virgin Mary to prepare us for today's communion: may our love of Christ and of the Church grow without cease, for the Glory of God!