The Catholic Thing
A heart, like chosen ground Print E-mail
By Romano Guardini   
Friday, 13 December 2013

Anyone who would understand the nature of a tree, should examine the earth that encloses its roots, the soil from which its sap climbs into branch, blossom, and fruit. Similarly to understand the person of Jesus Christ, one would do well to look to the soil that brought him forth: Mary, his mother. We are told that she was of royal descent. Every individual is, in himself, unique. His
 inherited or environmental traits are relevant only up to a certain point; they do not reach into the essence of his being, where he stands stripped and alone before himself and God. Here Why and Wherefore cease to exist: neither “Jew nor Greek,” “slave nor freeman” (Gal. 3:27–28). Nevertheless, the ultimate greatness of every man, woman, and child, even the simplest, depends on the nobility of his nature, and this is due largely to his descent. Mary’s response to the message of the angel was queenly. In that moment she was confronted with something of unprecedented magnitude, something that exacted a trust in God reaching into a darkness far beyond human comprehension. And she gave her answer simply, utterly unconscious of the greatness of her act. A large measure of that greatness was certainly the heritage of her blood. From that instant until her death, Mary’s destiny was shaped by that of her child. This is soon evident in the grief that steps between herself and her betrothed; in the journey to Bethlehem; the birth in danger and poverty; the sudden break from the protection of her home and the flight to a strange country with all the rigors of exile—until at last she is permitted to return to Nazareth. It is not until much later—when her twelve-year-old son remains behind in the temple, to be found after an agony of seeking—that the divine ‘otherness’ of that which stands at the center of her existence is revealed (Luke 2:41–50). To the certainly understandable reproach: “Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold, in sorrow thy father and I have been seeking thee,” the boy replies, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” In that hour Mary must have begun to comprehend Simeon’s prophecy: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce” (Luke 2:35). For what but the sword of God can it mean when a child in such a moment answers his disturbed mother with an amazed: “How is it that you sought me?” We are not surprised to read further down the page: “And they did not understand the word that he spoke to them.” Then directly: “And his mother kept all these things carefully in her heart.” Not understanding, she buries the words like precious seed within her. The incident is typical: the mother’s vision is unequal to that of her son, but her heart, like chosen ground, is deep enough to sustain the highest tree.


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