When Pope Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he used to send priests into the most dangerous areas of the city… slums known as villas. As bishop he became personally involved in the project. He told his priests to live in community rather than alone. He required the clergy working in the villas to meet on a monthly basis. And he told them that if they had difficulties, they could call him personally.
Bergoglio also went into the slums himself. Though the poor section of Buenos Aires is vast and dangerous, he would walk its streets, narrow alley ways, through its housing projects, and into and out of small shops. And though he was an archbishop, he was often referred to as ‘Father Bergoglio’ in the poorest parts of town.
Bergoglio was also known to occasionally stroll into a small church and pray the rosary before a painting of “Our Lady Undoer of Knots.” While his mom taught him to pray the rosary, his devotion to Mary was rekindled in the years before he became archbishop.
There is a story in Luke’s Gospel – the Annunciation – which tells us that an angel appeared to this young girl from Bethlehem named Mary. She was perhaps fifteen when the angel Gabriel told her something rather astonishing.
Gabriel said Mary would have a child. That he would be “the son of the most high,” that he would inherit the house of King David. Finally, her son would be a ruler of nations – forever.
Mary is being told she will, at long last, fulfill the hopes and dreams of the entire nation of Israel by bearing a son who will take up the mantle of David.
But Mary’s response is just as historic as the announcement. Initially, upon hearing Gabriel’s proposal, Mary tells the angel “I just don’t know. I can’t see how I can bear a son, since I don’t know man.”
But Gabriel explains that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit. So Mary agrees, and she responds, “fine, let it be done unto me according to thy word.” And with single sentence, Mary changes the destiny of humankind.
Remember that in the Book of Genesis, God created the universe by speaking… and God said, “let there be light.” Unfortunately, Adam and Eve mess up everything. They disobey the Lord, eat the forbidden fruit from the tree, and they are sent away from the Garden of Eden – paradise.
Here, in Luke’s Gospel, God tries this whole thing all over again. He sends an angel to announce to Mary that his son is coming into the world. And Mary literally responds, “let the word go forth from God’s mouth, and let it be done unto me according to the Lord’s word.”
With those few words, Mary reverses the knot created by Adam and Eve. Where Adam and Eve mess up and disobey, Mary accepts God’s offer, even though it involves personal peril. Mary extends hope to all of humankind. In this sense, Mary represents the best of all of us – that willingness to do what is right, to do what God wants of us, and to do something that’s for the greater benefit of everyone.
Mary’s response is viewed in many different ways. Some people praise Mary’s obedience to God. She agreed to do what the angel proposed without getting too overwrought about it. Others say it was her humility that made her unique. Others say that she showed selflessness poise, courage, and confidence in herself.
Now matter how we interpret Mary’s actions, a lot of Christians are in agreement that the Annunciation is a pivotal event in salvation history. Mary makes possible God coming into the world. She makes it possible for God to become man.
Getting back to Pope Francis. Recently, a biography was written of him, entitled, the “Untying the knots.” It’s a reference to his devotion to Mary and a change that came about in his own vocation. Jorge Bergoglio had been a young inflexible superior of the Jesuit Order. When he became archbishop, he was instead very committed to listening to others, engaging people and encountering the poor in an authentic way.
The most important document of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, tells us that Mary undid the knot created by Adam and Eve.
Last week I had mentioned that Mary walks with us on our pilgrim journey on earth. Today we remember that she not only walks with us, but that she also intercedes on our behalf. She prays with us as we go about our daily business. Pope Francis credits Mary with bringing about a change in his own priestly vocation – including his own greater commitment to helping the poor and the marginalized.
Let us pray that she can intercede on our own behalf, pray for our intentions, and bring about a change in our own hearts.