Uniting Earth to Heaven: On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
“Do you want to be daring in a holy way, so that God may act through you? Have recourse to Mary, and she will accompany you along the path of humility, so that, when faced by what to the human mind is impossible, you may be able to answer with a fiat!— be it done!, which unites the earth to Heaven.”
St. Josemaria Escriva
Furrow, no. 124
In the Epistle reading for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Paul assures us of this fact: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rm 8:28). That they work for good, we know. How all things cooperate for good, we do not always know.
This mysterious cooperation of all things unfolds to perfection in the genealogy of Christ: we see saints and sinners together “collaborating” over the course of centuries to form the family tree of the Messiah (cf. Mt 1:1-16). This assorted, human panorama includes both those whom we recognize and others about whom we know almost nothing except their names. Yet each contributes to the ancestry that leads to the birth of our Savior, whose mother’s name is Mary (cf. Lk 1:27).
Some of them were willing instruments in the hands of God, others hardly cooperated at all. But those who, like Abraham, still stand as models of faith for us not only understood that all things work together in God’s hands, but also accepted that they would not necessarily understand how. Their “yes” or fiat to God did not depend upon their ability to see into the future. They put their trust in Him and surrendered themselves in faith, allowing God’s plan to unfold in His time.
Before the “fullness of time” had come, before God sent His only Son into the world, it was to aged parents that He gave the power to conceive the Mother of the Redeemer. In keeping with patterns already well established in salvation history, God chose parents from whom the fruit of married love had been withheld for decades, to prepare them for the grace of an extraordinary child. For Saints Joachim and Anne it was to bring forth nothing less than the Immaculate Virgin herself.
To make it clear that a particular work is from God, the human foundation has to be stripped of many, if not all, human means of support. It has to look unlikely to succeed, so that when it succeeds, God alone may be exalted. It was prophesied that the Messiah, like a tender branch, would grow from the cut down tree (the family tree) of the House of David: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Is 11:1). No one expects a tree stump to produce new life, but by the same prophet the Lord promises to bring it about: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:19).
From the sin of Adam and Eve to the Immaculate Conception, from the Birth of Mary to the birth of Jesus Christ, God regularly works through unlikely and humanly impossible means to bring about something beautiful: “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Eccl 3:11). As the Lord’s genealogy demonstrates, He will use very diverse things, from adultery to virginity, to show that His goodness cannot be measured by our limited standards of success and failure.
God works out our salvation in a fallen world, and in order for us to be saved in a fallen world, parts of that fallen world have to be used in the process: sickness, moral failure, financial troubles, mental and emotional trials, family problems, childlessness—difficulties that people would not naturally choose for themselves. But when the choice is God’s, that must make us pause and pray—and pray like Abraham, Hannah, or Saints Joachim and Anne.
To cooperate with God means putting yourself in a position of weakness and vulnerability, to see your foundation often shaken or even ruined, and apparently necessary things taken away. No true servant of God sees himself or anything he possesses as being “necessary” to Him. Rather, God makes use of our free assent to His plan to extend grace and salvation further into the world and into our own lives. As St Josemaria indicates, the human “yes” or Marian “fiat” unites earth to heaven.
A maxim of the spiritual life teaches that Happiness does not consist in getting what I want, but in wanting what I have, what God has placed squarely in my life—in other words, the ability to see Providence behind things in our lives that seem out-of-place, or that are absent altogether. Our Lord Himself assures us that our every hair is numbered, that no sparrow falls to the earth without the Father’s permission, so that nothing He allows into our lives, or withholds from them, falls outside the scope of His providence (cf. Mt 10:29-30).
Our Lady’s parents lived most of their married life with a conspicuous absence. But being childless only intensified their turning to God, only increased their confidence in His wisdom and providence. They knew that the absence of something good was the preparation for something better. The absence of the expected, normal good was the preparation for the extraordinary. And so God works, from the beginning until the end of time, in salvation history as in our lives.
The grace of the fulfillment justifies an entire lifetime of waiting, of hoping: “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies” (Is 30:15). If, in the meantime, we fill our lives with intermediate compensations for our hope in God, we become too full of lesser things to receive the greater gift.
Seldom can we tell with any precision what God has in store for us in life. But we learn from the example of holy patriarchs, prophets, and parents that our consent to His will opens the door to unknown graces. When we choose what God chooses for us, then we are free to collaborate with Him, free to be guided by the only eyes that can see where we must go.
Through the most inconspicuous people and events God does the most important things. The birth of the sinless maiden to an older couple was the dawn of our salvation. That same Virgin’s fiat to the angel’s annunciation would bring the Author of that salvation into the world. Her painful consent to His death would complete the unique collaboration that began with the Immaculate Conception and birth of the Mother of God.
One yes after another made in faith opened the way for our salvation—or to borrow a phrase from St Josemaria, the “divine ways on earth” par excellence. So by our humble confidence in God we too can trace new ways upon earth, to make heaven and earth meet. The ways opened up by our Lady’s own birth and that of our Redeemer have never closed, but are waiting to be widened and lengthened by our readiness to let God act through us, as willing instruments, along the path traveled by our trusting ancestors in the Faith.
“Heaven and earth,” St Josemaria tells his children, “seem to merge on the horizon. But where they really meet is in your hearts” (cf. Passionately Loving the World)—in the hearts of all who are open, humble, and daring enough to let God in with a Yes, Fiat!
The content is published by the St Josemaria Institute for the free use of readers and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from its author © Fr. John Henry Hanson, 2015.
[This podcast was originally published in 2015.]
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he teaches English at St Michael’s Preparatory School, the boarding school operated by the Norbertine Fathers. He also preaches retreats, is chaplain to the cloistered Norbertine Nuns in Tehachapi, California, and serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California (Our Lady of Nareg Eparchy). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.