For the record, it is only 268 days until Christmas, so today we consider the Annunciation.
After the presentation of Jesus in the temple, Mary and Joseph encounter the prophet Simeon. Simeon blesses God for allowing him to see the Savior and from his words we have the Song of Simeon, which begins: “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.” Following this, Simeon speaks directly to Mary, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
“… and a sword will pierce through your own heart.” Your own soul. We see Mary kneeling at the foot of the cross while watching her son die and we understand that this is what Simeon was speaking. Yet this sword piercing her heart is also speaking of the great faith that Mary must have.
At the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary and told her that she would bear the Son of God, her response was simple, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Through her great faith Mary continued to repeat these words for each step the Lord called her to: “Yes, Lord, let it be done to me. Let your Son be conceived in me. Let them hate me because they think I’m an adulteress. Let me go to Bethlehem. Let me flee to Egypt. Let me return to Galilee and raise Him. Let the sword pierce my soul as I watch him die.”
Mary had faith that allowed the sword to pierce her own heart because she realized that the claims of God on her Son were far greater than any other human claim or attachment. That piercing would be the pain that her motherly love had to experience in order to surrender to God.
Karl Rhaner, a 20th century German theologian, writes that the piercing sword is the way of faith. He says, “Faith is like a sword that pierces and divides as it penetrates to the center of the believer’s heart. Faith is the enduring of this sword. Faith is the readiness to live on in hope when conflict threatens and allows us to entrust ourselves unconditionally to God. It is faith when we accept the blow of the sword in our existence, the sword of the question that finds no answer; the sword that all life in pain ends in death; the sword that not even love dissolves all contradictions in this life; the sword of the leave-takings, disappointments, sickness and isolation.”
And it was this sword, this faith that Mary demonstrated while she knelt at the foot of the cross and watched her son die. What is this faith? There really is no simple definition, because it involves many things. It is the beginning our of salvation. It is that internal light that guides us to God. Faith requires understanding – we must deepen our knowledge in order to deepen our faith.
Faith is also a human act – not only is our intellect involved, but so is our will. A free will that decides to conform to the life God has chosen for us.
Finally, and more importantly than any of these, faith is a grace given to us by God. Before the internal light first shines. Before we begin to seek understanding. Before we study, act, or choose, God through the power of the Holy Spirit must be moving in us. Before any of it, God’s grace must be born in us. And grace incarnate, grace in human form came in the person of Jesus Christ.
We live out this faith when we stand alongside Mary at the Annunciation and declare with her, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” because in those words we take our life and hand it to God as Mary did.