I’ve grown attached to reading one of the final sentences of Scripture from the end of Morning Prayer, St. Paul’s “Grace” of 2 Corinthians 13:14, through the lens of three images on the wall of my apartment, apportioning its triune blessing among them. And then, as a further “prayer for the principal gifts of the Three Persons” (Marion Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, p. 132), I mark each iconographic station with a post-Office Hail Mary, in a palimpsest of sorts on Paul. Herewith a brief reflection on the exercise, with iconic aids.
Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
Paul’s initial phrase features the second divine person, Jesus Christ, and so I start there, but I reflect on his sonship, pointing back to the Father. The works of the Trinity are indivisible (opera trinitatis indivisa sunt), meaning that each person is involved in every action of the other. How better to depict the loving character of the Father than in the giving of his Son?
Hail Mary, full of grace, we say: a grace given to her by the boy in her arms, who is grace incarnated; and a grace given by the Father, who offers his Son for the redeeming of the world, starting with his mother. Christ as given, and obedient, is born of a woman; Mary, gracious and obedient, is made fit to serve as Mother of God. St. James conveniently connects the dots: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. … In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (1:17-18).
Meditate on this original picture of the fruitful humility of God’s love, as the most extraordinary fact of history. See the archetype of restored humanity in the embrace of Redeemed and Redeemer, Mother cradling Child. See the sanctification of motherhood and fatherhood as they are conformed to the incarnate Word of truth. See the likening of all children to the divine Child who bids them come to him.
May we be fruitful and multiply! May many sons and daughters accept the gift of divine filiation by serving, in turn, as fathers and mothers, yielding a great harvest of faithfulness. May all families answer the call to holiness in God’s grace, issuing in childlike discipleship.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Love of God
If God’s love, in St. Paul’s phrase from 2 Corinthians, is already introduced in the icon of the incarnate Son of the Father and his Blessed Mother, it is developed in the solitary figure of the passion. Lest a theology of glory creep in, shorn of repentance and conversion — Incarnation merely, as it were, with which simply to bless but not curse the world, the flesh, and the devil — the cross stands as a deepening engagement of God’s love in the mode of justice. After creation comes recreation; after Fall, forgiveness and reconciliation; after the hour of our death, and the hours of our death, one after another, spanning a day and “every day!” (1 Cor. 15:31): after these sacrifices, offered with willing spirit and good humor, marked as the momentary afflictions they are, comes new life, disclosed by the Day of fire (see 1 Cor. 3:13). This is another word of truth, uttered in gracious judgment “so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32; cf. 1:18).
Gaze with Mary at her Son on the cross: The Lord is with you. Surrender with them, in joyful freedom, as Paul describes: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer
I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:19-20). Simeon’s prophetic word to Mary — “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35) — is fulfilled as a call to reordered love of self and others, following God’s initiative. In place of debilitating pride, self-justification, deceit, manipulation, ambition, greed, hatred, envy, and jealousy, install simple vulnerability: “Love one another” (John 13:34). Forgive the murderer, within and without.
Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
In this way the community of the gospel is placed on display, for “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). A new temple of the Spirit is called out and gathered, on the way to glory.
See Sts. Peter and Andrew embrace, enacting the longed-for unity of West and East, through which the Church will breathe again with both her lungs. In humility each counts the needs of the other as more important than his own, sharing “the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord” (Phil. 2:2; cf. 2:3). The world is astonished: “Are you going to wash my feet?” (John 13:6). Pray for the courage of leaders to use their God-given authority “for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Cor. 13:10).
Meditate on the Church as the Bride of Christ, defined by self-giving through the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for the full visible unity of all Christians in a single eucharistic communion, sharing a common faith and order. Pray for a civilization of love, commemorated in the benediction of mutual submission of our Lady and Lord: blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.
Blessed indeed, and a blessing — sweet and delightful to the taste! Savor it. And pray that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.