Saturday in the Twenty-Eighth Week of Ordinary Time
Scripture Readings: Rom 4:13, 16-18; Lk 12:8-12
Abraham hoped against hope. He believed he would father a child, more, be the father of many nations, at a time in his life and Sarah’s when begetting children was impossible “Happy are you, Mary, for having believed,” that, not knowing any man in a carnal way, she would yet bear a son, a child, give birth. Abraham’s hope, in the face of all reasonable expectations to the contrary, is a mirror of his faith that according to Saint Paul is a mark of bankruptcy in the sight of God. Mary’s, too, who speaks of her nothingness that God had looked upon. She, like Abraham, had nothing to lose because she had nothing—except the +willing to hope against hope, her faith in the one who makes the dead live and calls into being what does not exist.
God’s promised future is man’s impossibility, so its historical realization is all the more a gift, a caris, a grace undeserved. The gift, says Paul, depends on faith, but not that faith merits or demands the gift; faith is simply the statement of our poverty, poverty the mode of our relationship to God, so that grace, the gift, is all the more incongruous. There is nothing, apart from the merit of Christ, that gives us any claim on God, on grace, on gift. Saint Bernard knew this: “My merit therefore is the mercy of the Lord. Surely I am not devoid of merit as long as he is not of mercy” (SC 61.5). Bernard puts these words in the mouth of Mary: “I am unaware of any merit that would warrant all this honor, except that God has been pleased with the lowliness of his handmaid. . . . It was not any wisdom of mine, not any nobility, not any beauty . . .; it was my humility alone” that drew the loving gaze of God (SC 42.10).
But this is the Holy Spirit, I mean, this lack of merit, this nothingness, this state of undeservedness, the Holy Spirit blasphemy against which, fear and worry, cannot be forgiven because the gift is forgiveness itself. Forgiveness and birth of new life are the sacraments of the righteousness that comes from faith, the incongruous gift of the one who forgives the godless and makes the virgin and the sterile birth new life. So monastic celibacy is a personal bodily statement of faith, hope against hope, its emptiness and folly almost putting God to the test. “Receive me, O Lord, according to your word, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope” (RB 58.21).