Readings: Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38
Sometimes we finish a drink, say a favorite drink like a cup of coffee or tea, and we want more to drink. We didn’t quite have our fill, at least not yet. It’s almost too obvious to state, but we couldn’t get another cup of coffee or tea or whatever unless the cup was first empty. Keep this image in mind: an empty, hollow cup. It captures something of the mystery of Mary the Immaculate Conception.
God chose Mary to be born without sin, “full of grace.” She is the empty cup fully open to God’s gift of the divine self. Today we celebrate God choosing Mary to be the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. We celebrate Mary’s consent, her saying “yes” to God. In this way, she is our model. Each one of us has to say “yes” to God in our daily lives through prayer, service, and mercy.
An ancient saint and hermit, Romuald of Ravenna once said, “Realize above all that you are in God’s presence…Empty yourself completely.” Mary, from the first moment of her conception, has been empty of all shreds of selfishness to be totally open to God. She is the empty cup God fills to overflowing with the divine mercy.
Spiritual emptiness means being free of self-preoccupation. When Mary responds to the angel Gabriel’s message from God with, “Let it be done to me as you say,” she shows us what spiritual emptiness looks like. It looks like consenting to God and letting go of what we want. We empty ourselves when we remain in the silence of God’s presence within, without necessarily feeling anything good. We empty ourselves when we choose the good of another without paying attention to how it might benefit us.
An empty cup: Mary is this always. To follow her example we must empty ourselves by consenting to God – in the silence of contemplative prayer, in being faithful to our commitments, and in doing what the moment requires of us. Consent to God deepens when uncomfortable things happen. Inconveniences and interruptions that come our way challenge us. Here, especially, Mary shows us the joy of emptying ourselves and accepting God. So, the next time you get inconvenienced or annoyed or interrupted, say “yes” to God; go within yourself and accept God in spiritual emptiness.
Still more deeply, Mary’s “Let it be” dares us to surrender to God when we discover our own selfishness, weakness, and failure. These are times for giving up our idealized self-images, our awful notions of perfection, and needs to prove our worthiness. Often, we appear shackled to the idea that we are not worthy, that we are somehow not good enough. We tend to fill up our cup with so much garbage! Ideas like “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t need anyone,” or “I can’t believe he did that” prevent God from filling up our inner cups. The only remedy is let go of all these false ideas and surrender to God. Consent to the infinite mercy of God precisely in these experiences of failure and sin.
In being “full of grace,” Mary is assured that God is with her. This is the assurance we need to surrender, to trust that everything will be ok if only we practice this surrender of self to God. Grace is the Divine Presence with us, within us, and one with us. We discover this intimate Presence within us when we empty ourselves through consent and surrender.
December 8 is the beginning of an extraordinary jubilee year, which Pope Francis has declared a Holy Year of Mercy. A jubilee year is one in which the Church encourages us to grow in holiness. Pope Francis names mercy as the center of this extraordinary jubilee year. He says, “From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends.” This is the God to whom Mary the empty cup consents and surrenders; this is the God to whom the Gospel calls us to consent and surrender. This God is totally on our side, neither judging nor condemning us. God is for us. God loves us even when we feel like we are unlovable. God accepts us as we are, not as we should be but as we are. This is mercy!