Forming the Heart- On Love

Celebrating the Sacraments with Mary
Douglas G. Bushman, S.T.L.
Director, Associate Director
Institute for Pastoral Theology Ave Maria University

August, 2009

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that there is a dialogical structure to the sacraments. "A sacramental celebration is a meeting of Godís children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit; this meeting takes the form of a dialogue, through actions and words" (1153). The sacraments are dialogical because God has such high regard for our dignity, that is, our free will, our capacity to move ourselves to the good. A great sign of this dignity is the resistance of martyrs to exterior coercion.

Freedom requires knowledge of the truth. We are not ourselves the source of truth. So, while our freedom is genuinely our own, it requires another gift that comes from outside of us, from God, Who is the source of all truth. "The truth will set you free." Since Jesus is the truth, He sets us free. This is the foundation for sacramental dialogue. In the signs and gestures of the liturgy, God makes known to us the truth that He is love and that He desires to love us, here and now, in the sacramental rite. He wants us to know this truth so that we can will what He wills. In the sacraments God says, "I am Love and I desire to love you (give you grace)," and we say, "Amen. Fiat. Let it be done to me according to your word. I want to be loved."

Maryís faith at the Annunciation is the model of our role in liturgical dialogue. We make our own her response of faith to Godís approach of love. The Church Fathers emphasized Godís desire that Mary freely cooperate in the fulfillment of His plan, saying that she conceived the Word of God in her mind by faith before conceiving Him in her womb. God wanted Mary to know what she was consenting to. He made His will known and awaited her response. He wanted to fulfill His promises to save His people through Mary, but He also wanted Mary to be freely united with Him in this purpose.

In Latin Maryís response to Gabriel at the Annunciation is, "Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum" ("Let it be done to me according to your word"). It seems natural that a human being should respond in this way to what God proposes. This makes it all the more striking to read the words of Jesus to the Centurion (Matt 8:13) and the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:28): "Sicut credidisti fiat tibi," and "Fiat tibi sicut vis," ("As you have believed, let it be for you," and, "Be it done for you as you will"). This shows just how much God desires that we will what He wills, that our desire be one with His desire, that our freedom be aligned with His freedom.

In the liturgy God wants to love us, to overshadow us with His grace, as He did the Virgin Mary. He proposes to us, He invites us, He makes known His desire to love us, waiting for us to say: "Lord, I desire Your love. I need Your love. I want to be loved." At that moment we are one

with Him in this desire, and Jesus can say to us: "As you believe, let it be done according to your will." Thus, in the sacraments, the dialogue begins with Godís initiative of love as He makes known His desire to give Himself to us, and our freedom is informed by this Good News. Then, with Mary, we make our response of faith and ask that what is being signified be done for us. Seeing that our will now conforms to His own, Jesus seems to say in every sacrament: "Let it be done, now, according to your will, too."

Pope John Paul II had in mind Maryís faith at the Annunciation when he wrote that "faith, in its deepest essence, is the openness of the human heart to the gift: to Godís self- communication in the Holy Spirit." Faith receives the truth about Godís love, fully revealed in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. But if God is love, then He desires to give Himself, to share His life with us, and consequently faith cannot just be an intellectual assent to this truth. It must also be acquiescence to this love, a knowing and deliberate consent actually to be loved. In the sacraments, God both makes known His love and offers it and we, with Mary, assent to the truth that He is love and consent to be loved by Him. As a result of this unity of wills, both God and man can say to one another: "Fiat. Let it be done according to your will."

© Douglas Bushman, S.T.L., used with permission.


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