Israel Watches for Daybreak

by Jessica R. Hickey, c. 2009

December 9, 2009

" . . . Wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD.”
Psalm 130: 5-7

Last week, we reflected on the special manifestations of God's favor which ground us in our faith and in our particular mission. I referred to such occurrences as 'advents' of God, sudden intrusions of grace into the human world. We also considered the theme of waiting, particularly waiting in hope, finding meaning in each moment even as we look forward with expectation to the future.

It seems a perfect time now to meditate on the Blessed Virgin, that little daughter of the smallest of nations, in whom, it may be said, lay all the hopes of mankind.

Mary understands what it is to wait in hope. Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper has described hope as the status viatoris, the state on being “on the way,” the “virtue of the not yet.” Mary’s life is a portrait of this. Commonly we see images of the child Mary ascending what seems like an insurmountable number of stairs when her parents presented her, at the age of three years, to service at the Temple. Even then, she was on her statis viatoris. Other images depict her at the moment of the Annunciation, entering into the greatest time of hope and anticipation before the birth of her child. Travelling with Joseph to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Nazareth--again this reveals her on a pilgrim’s way.

The anticipation and waiting cannot have always been easy for her. The story of the child Jesus discovered in the Temple occurs against a backdrop of what must have been unimaginable dread for Joseph and Mary. So mindful was Mary of her Son’s ultimate destiny that at the time of his first miracle at Cana, he reminds her: “Woman, my time is not yet come.” When this hour does arrive, however, she—who has been there, ready for it all the time—is prepared for the cross, the death, the rising, the helping and strengthening of the little band of brothers that was the whole of the Church in A.D. 33.

We may see from this how much of Mary’s vocation was to wait in hope. Pope Benedict expresses it this way:

“The abstract outlines for the hope that God will turn toward his people receive, in the New Testament, a concrete personal name in the figure of Jesus Christ. At the same moment, the figure of the woman, until then seen only typologically in Israel, although provisionally personified by the great women of Israel, also emerges with a name: Mary. She emerges as the personal epitome of the feminine principle in such a way that the principle is only true in the person, but the person as an individual always points beyond herself to the all-embracing reality, which she bears and represents.” (Daughter Zion: Meditations on the Church’s Marian Belief, Ch. 1)

What is this other reality which Mary both personifies and reaches out toward? Benedict continues:

“She is in person the true Zion, toward whom hopes have yearned throughout all the devastations of history. She is the true Israel in whom the Old and New Covenant, Israel and Church, are indivisibly one. She is the ‘people of God’ bearing fruit through God’s gracious power.” (Ibid. Ch. 2)

French poet Paul Claudel provides this remarkable description of Mary as Israel, the Woman waiting:

“It is she; it is she! At the thought of her the whole Bible catches fire in my mind with a blaze of syllables, like a fabric sewn with brilliants!

“It is she; it is she! She is the drop of manna the Lord placed in the mouth of Eve to take away the taste of the forbidden fruit and to impart it to Adam. It is she who set all sacred history in motion.

“It is she who lured Abraham from the town of Ur of the Chaldees, away from those hydraulic complications and regulations and all that bakery of clay idols, and who summoned him out into the world to take command and leadership of his flock. It is she who led him to those plateaus where we meet Melchizedek, King of Salem, and who raised that pavilion where the guests are the three Persons of the Trinity.

“She is the image of Isaac in the heart of Rebekah; she is the treaty of Jacob through all those years of slavery. She was waiting, drum in hands, on the opposite bank of the Red Sea, to greet the terrified column of refugees. She beguiled David through the eyes of Bathsheba—and through the mouth of Solomon she gave caravans to the Queen of Sheba in exchange for the incense of the desert and the ivory of Ethiopia, a wondrous remuneration of riddles and enigmas.

“Down through the generations of kings and pontiffs, mortified believers and wailing women, through the transplantations of Babylon and Medea, she fed silently on the milk and honey of the prophesies. She whom ‘all generations call blessed’ is the central figure and the culmination of a whole race tormented by the word of God.”
(La Rose et la Rosaire)

I remember a few years ago, on the Third Sunday of Advent, I believe, Lafayette was blanketed in snow such that few people could even leave their houses. I saw some families walking to Mass through the snowdrifts with their children all bundled up in scarves and pom-pom hats. The 9:30 Mass was celebrated in a very quiet way for this little group. I remember, in the warm light of the Church and the muffled silence of that snowy morning, Father Gustavo saying in his homily: “Everything about Advent is Mary: in her womb, a new world grows.”

We are not merely waiting, like people stranded at a train station. Even Israel, of whom Mary is the culmination, was moving toward something--marching, as the poet said, with a drum in her hands. But Mary unites the old with the new. She is both the little girl beating the drum with expectancy, and the Madonna with the moon under her feet, interceding for all the children of men. And somehow, we have been born into that New World of which she was the gate. It is maybe the only truly new thing in our old and sometimes weary earth. But God said: “Behold, I am doing something new.” And it came to pass for those who hoped, those who watched for daybreak. I think of that on days like today when we can see the new-fallen snow. In silence, in chill, hidden—something is still happening, something for which God wants us.

A little girl once knew that, as she started up the Temple steps. I wonder if she realized how many others she carried with her that day.

“What surprises me, says God, is hope.
And I can’t get over it.
This little girl who seems like nothing at all.
This little girl hope.
. . . .
Faith is a loyal Wife.
Charity is a Mother.
An ardent Mother, noble-hearted.
Or an older sister, who is like a mother.
Hope is a little girl, nothing at all.
Who came into the world on Christmas day just this past year.
Who is still playing with her snowman.
With her German fir trees painted with frost.
And with her ox and ass made of German wood. Painted.
And with her manger stuffed with straw that the animals don’t eat.
Because they’re made of wood.
And yet it’s this little girl who will endure worlds.
This little girl, nothing at all.
She alone, carrying the others, who will cross worlds past.

As the star guided the three Kings from the deepest Orient
Toward the cradle of my son.
Like a trembling flame
She alone will guide the virtues and worlds.

One flame will pierce the eternal shadows. . . .

It’s she, the little one, who carries them all.
Because Faith sees only what is.
But she, she sees what will be.
Charity loves only what is.
But she, she loves what will be.”

(Excerpted from The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, by Charles Péguy.
Translated from the French by David Louis Schindler, Jr.)

(Picture is entitled Gypsy Girl with a Basque Drum, by by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, c 1867.)



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