Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Mt 1:23)
God With Us
Of all the souls that exist or existed on earth, the one that most fully comprehended the name Emmanuel was the Blessed Virgin Mary. In these last few days before Christmas let us reflect for a few moments upon that which was given to Our Lady, that which made her the greatest of creatures: THE PRESENCE OF GOD WITHIN HER.
Presence of God in all creatures
All creatures have God present in them:
- by the fact that they exist, by their essence (participating in God’s existence, per essentiam),
- by the fact that they act according to their nature (participating in God’s power, per potentiam) and
- by the fact that they are known by God (participating in God’s knowledge, per presentiam).
Corporeal presence of God in the Blessed Virgin Mary
But in Mary, there was a presence of God that no other creature has ever experienced. For nine months she had carried He whom the world, the entire universe, cannot hold. As she prepared for the journey to Bethlehem, imagine her folding clothes and blankets, baking biscuits of flour and oil, tidying the house and all the other mundane tasks that one would expect before a departure. What were her thoughts as she felt her child move within her? How profound must have been her interior life. What things did she ponder in her heart?
She knew full well the “great things” that were taking place within: her. Her sublime canticle, the Magnificant, is evidence of this:
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
God never gave Himself to any creature more fully than he did to Mary. No one ever understood better than her the grandeur of the “Gift” that she had received; no one could have been a more faithful guardian of it; no one could have been a more ardent adorer of it.
Spiritual presence of God in the Blessed Virgin Mary
But, my dear brethren, it was not the presence of the Word in her womb that made the Blessed Virgin Mary the greatest of creatures, neither was it by reason of the natural dependence of the Word made flesh (flesh of her flesh) on her body. It was by reason of a presence more intimate than this, it was a presence that suffused her entire being, elevated it above the natural order: IT WAS THE PRESENCE OF GOD BY GRACE IN HER SOUL.
What animated by grace means
Again and again we return to the notion of grace, but if we can understand what it is to be in a state of grace, we can understand why the Blessed Virgin Mary is the greatest of creatures. Animated by grace to the most intense degree, possessing the fullness, the plenitude of grace, Our Lady participated most fully in the Divine Life. Her thoughts and her actions were so much in harmony with God’s will that her will coincided with, was identical with, was one with God’s will.
But it was not only when she prayed, when she contemplated, when she adored Him Whom she carried that she was united to God. It was by her very life, by living the Divine Life, by participating in the Divine Life so fully that every deed, every act, however trivial and common place, was an action of God.
Emmanuel means “God with us”. Mary through her possession of God by grace was most fully in the presence of God. She saw most clearly He Who was living a human life in her and He Whose divine life she was living.
Lesson for us
As we eagerly anticipate the feast of Emmanuel, the feast of the birth of God made man, let us ask Our Blessed Mother that we too may have a full understanding of the name Emmanuel and that He too may be born within us by grace by means of a well-prepared confession, a fervent Holy Communion and prayerful meditation of the liturgy and sacred scripture surrounding this beautiful feast.
There is prayer by Father Vincent McNabb OP that most admirably expresses this desire for the spiritual presence of God by grace in the soul which serves as a fitting conclusion to this sermon:
There was no room for them in the Inn. (Lk 2:7)
O, I hope,my dear Master, I am not giving thee tonight the stable of my soul, putting thee amongst the very cattle that I have. Let me offer thee the best that I have, so that, as life goes on, thou mayst have entrance to every room in my heart. No part of my thought is rich without thee. No part of my desire is rich unless touched by the desire for thee. So come into my soul and find there an abode—not just a night or a day's lodging, but an abode. Come into every room of my soul that I may love thee more and more, with all my mind and strength and soul and heart.