Luke 2:41-51, Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Today’s Gospel on Mary’s fiat reminds me of this true story of Archbishop Fulton Sheen (former Archbishop of Rochester, New York). He said that one day, while on a flight from New York to Chicago, he met this very beautiful flight attendant. And he told her, “Please, do not be upset. You can see that I am a bishop. But I just want to tell you that you are so beautiful.” And the flight stewardess simply smiled and said, “Thank you, Bishop for your compliment.”
But Fulton Sheen continued, “Now, what will you do with your gift of beauty?” “What do you mean, Bishop?” she asked. And Sheen went on, “You know the Lord gifts us with so many things, like material possessions, a good education, some skills and talents. And we cannot use these gifts and blessings for ourselves. We need to share with others what we have received from the Lord.” And at one point, Sheen started to challenge her by saying, “Why don’t you think of sharing your own beauty with people who may not be so familiar with this gift of beauty that you have?”
Now, this challenge from Sheen disturbed her much, making her ponder and reflect on his question. But in the end (after two years of pondering), this beautiful, stunning flight attendant decided to do something about it. She decided to leave everything – her home, her family and friends, her career to volunteer, of all places, for this leper colony in Vietnam. And there in Vietnam, she went around with her jeep, accompanied by a woman doctor ,looking for lepers, particularly under big bridges where lepers then would often and reside. And she would take these lepers and bring them to the leper colony where she worked and personally care for them. And Bishop Sheen concludes his story by saying, “With her presence, those lepers started to behold and experience a certain beauty which they rarely saw in their lives.”
It was this genius, the artist Pablo Picasso who once said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. And the purpose of life is to give it away.”
Indeed, our gifts, whatever they may be, they all play a major, central role in our lives. As such, they do not only reveal what we have (or what we have received from the Lord). They also reveal who we are (including who we could become). In other words, our personal gifts are so intrinsically linked to our very own identity as persons. Thus, gifts, especially our biggest gifts, also reveal our own sense of uniqueness, our own sense of specialness; how we are different from others and how we are blessed, how we are loveable and precious in our own distinct way.
It is like saying, “Tell me what your greatest gifts are, and I will tell you who you are.” Truly, our gifts define us to a great extent. And the more we discover our gifts, use them and share them with others, the more the best of us comes out. The more our real, authentic self comes alive.
And this is never more true than in the case of our finding and discovering our own gift of vocation from the Lord. This is so because to find and discover one’s own gift of vocation is to find and discover one’s own gift of self , one’s own gift of identity.
And in the end, if we are truly able to find our gift of vocation, then what we would be “giving away” (as Picasso put it) would not really just be our particular talents or particular skills or abilities. No. What we would be “giving away” would be the actual gift of ourselves, the gift of our very person which is the sum total of all our other gifts and blessings from the Lord.
And we see this many times, especially in committed, generous people. For example, imagine people like Onofre Pagsanghan (or Sir Pagsi) with his gift of teaching; or a Jose Mari Chan, with his gifts of singing and composing; or a Marilou Diaz-Abaya, with her gifts of film-making and directing; or a Nora Daza with her gift of cooking.
These people did not think only in terms of careers and professions. No. They went beyond them. These people thought (and continue to think) more in terms of their own personal vocation and calling from the Lord. And because of this, what they have shared eventually as they lived out their vocations more fully were not just their individual talents or skills or know-how. No. What they shared eventually with others was the primary, core gift of themselves.
And ultimately, this is what gives real meaning and real purpose to our lives as human beings.
In other words, it is like asking, “Do you want to live a meaningful life, a life of purpose and sense? Then, seek, find and live out your vocation to the full. And in doing so, share your gifts and, of course, share yourself.”
And is this not the same case with our earlier story from Fulton Sheen? In the end, what that beautiful stewardess gave to those lepers was not only her gift of beauty. What she gave to those lepers was her total gift of herself, her total gift of her person.
Yes indeed, “The meaning of life is to find and discover our gifts. And the purpose of life is to give them away.”
And I believe, this is what we see in today’s Gospel, with Mary declaring her fiat.
It was precisely that moment of her Annunciation, when she pronounced her fiat that Mary started to see (though not yet fully see) what the true meaning or purpose of her life was all about. And that is why when Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you say it”, life for her would never be the same again. She herself was never the same again.
This way, Mary’s fiat cannot be seen merely as a simple act of commitment or as a simple declaration of her “yes” to the Lord. Much more than these, Mary’s fiat was the most radical, the most prodigal expression of her total, complete self-giving; her total, complete self-offering to her God.
And it was at that moment of her fiat when Mary found her gift. And what exactly was her gift? Of course, her gift as Mother of God – she “finding” this even if, at that time, she did not yet fully understand the real implications of such a most precious gift.
Nevertheless, with her discovery of her sacred gift of vocation, Mary, in her immaculate heart, realized that she just could not keep all this to herself. She had to share this with everyone. She had to give and offer herself away, not only to God, but also to the whole world, to the whole of humanity. And it is in this sense that we can learn much from Mary and her fiat, today on the feast of her Immaculate Heart.
Given our present pandemic crisis, with many of us badly shaken, disoriented, with so much fear, frustration, worry and even sadness present and at work in us – in all this, Mary teaches us her way. And what is Mary’s way? Mary’s way has to do with courageously facing ourselves and asking the more basic and the more essential questions about our own purpose and meaning in life. This is the way of Mary.
And what can be more basic and more essential than life’s purpose and meaning in the context of our own personal vocation? In short, when life unfolds, when problems arise, when crises and trials come, Mary teaches us to go back to the basics, to go back to what is most essential.
And that is why given our “new normal” situation, one of the best responses to all this is not so much to search and look for our own personal happiness (which may include our own sense of safety, security or comfort). No. We certainly need to go beyond these. One of the best responses to our current CoVid crisis is to seek and clarify our own sense of purpose and meaning at this point in our lives. And this is nothing but now, June 2020.
And we can only do this by confronting ourselves and asking truthfully the deeper questions :
– Where is the Lord now?
– Where is he calling me now? drawing me now?
– What blessings or gifts can I give and share now, despite my own struggles)?
– What is the Lord asking of me now?
These are the deeper questions.
And if we examine these questions, we see that, in one way or another, such questions may not be very different from the ones Mary likely asked herself (deep in her immaculate heart) before she declared her fiat.
And so, my dear friends, let us pray for ourselves that we may realize that there is more to life than being happy. And surely, there is more to life than being successful or secure or comfortable.
And this truth will always stand – CoVid or no CoVid, pandemic or no pandemic, crisis or no crisis – for in the end, what really matters is the seeking and finding of the true purpose and meaning of our lives. And once we are able to find and discover that true purpose and meaning, then happiness will come. And this we see in today’s Gospel, with Mary and with her beautiful fiat.
Immaculate Heart of Mary – Pray for us!