“Mary treasured all these things and pondered on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).
For several years now I have been curating a blog called “The Angelus Project." Every week it presents a different image of the Annunciation as a way of encouraging people to pray the Angelus (though now that we are in the Easter season, that prayer yields pride of place to the Regina Coeli). The process of selecting and posting these weekly images from so many different eras and cultures has taught me a lot about art. Eastern icons, for example, feature Mary at a throne, her hands occupied with spinning crimson yarn (to be used in weaving the veil of the Temple, a symbol for the “weaving” of the flesh of Christ in her womb). In much of western art, while Mary's yarn work may be nearby (as in Simon Bening's illuminated manuscript), Mary herself is typically depicted with a book: she is literally pondering the Word of God which is about to take on human flesh in her.
Luke tells us that this was pretty typical of Mary, even if she didn't always have a book in hand. After the arrival of the shepherds at the manger of her newborn Son, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Following the anxious search for twelve-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem, she “treasured in her heart” the experience of finding him and witnessing his mature obedience once home at Nazareth (cf. Lk 2:51). Her Magnificat is a poetic reading of the history of Israel, with promise after promise from God celebrated as already fulfilled (when the Messiah had not yet even been born!).
Mary recognized God speaking not only through the Scriptures, but in the happenings in and around her life. She knew that in some mysterious way, every circumstance, every event willed or permitted by God, is a “word” of God which invites the response, “Be it done to me.”
It is the same for us.
Once an enthusiastic woman in the crowd called out to Jesus, “Blest is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” His reply still startles us today, “Rather, blest are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (cf. Lk 11:28). Of course, that is precisely what Luke went out of his way to show us Mary doing, but now it extends outward: we can be blest, too, by becoming like Mary in our relationship with the Word of God. The gospel of Matthew says the same thing in an even more pointed way: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is brother and sister and mother to me” (Mt 12:50). By hearing and doing the will of the Heavenly Father, we bring forth Jesus into the world, making him present in a new and unique incarnation.
“Blest are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (cf. Lk 11:28) is meant for every day.
To listen for the Word of God in daily life: in duties, big and small; in opportunities to reach out or to listen; when challenged to interpret something familiar in an entirely new way. This is to hear the Word of God and keep it.
But how can we interpret and receive the events of daily life as God's word without first being “formed” according to the Word of God ourselves? Our Lady had a distinct advantage in this with her Immaculate Conception! From the start, her mind, will and heart were in concert with God's mind and plan, while we often find that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways, our ways (cf. Is 55:8-9).
What kind of daily acquaintance with the unfiltered Word of God will help to train our minds and hearts according to the mind and heart of God, according to the Word of God? Certainly prayer, especially biblical prayer. Some time-tested approaches would be the Angelus, the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, a favorite Psalm or verse.
I always recommend following the daily Mass readings (at least the Gospel of the day!) as a way of assuring not only consistent nourishment with the Word of God, but communion with the whole Church in “treasuring and pondering” the same texts day by day. Naturally, it is not enough just to speed-read the passage and move on to the next item on the to-do list: like Mary, the pondering means we give God's word weight, making room for an explicit personal application for the day. In the morning, that application may take the form of a resolution or plan for how to live this word; in the evening, it can provide for a review of my thoughts, words, actions and omissions.
Familiarity with the Scriptural word will gradually allow us to recognize the Word coming to us in other forms. It will put the Word of God on our lips and in our hearts as the almost automatic response to life's joys, sorrows, and surprises, allowing us to speak to God with God's own Word, conforming our hearts more and more to the Divine Heart and winning our wills to God's. (What could be more Marian?)
By Sr Anne Flanagan, FSP
Simon Bening (Flemish, about 1483 - 1561)
The Annunciation, about 1525–1530
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Tommaso del Mazza (Italian, active 1377 - 1392)
The Annunciation, about 1390–1395
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles