There are numerous jokes and memes about the unique situations Mary may have found herself because of the divinity of her son such as Mary telling the Child Jesus to get in the bathwater, not just walk on it. As we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, I have always wondered about the unique situation Joachim and Anne were in raising a daughter who was free of original sin. Did Joachim and Anne wonder about their daughter’s behavior which must have differed from other children? Did they have some premonition of the role their daughter would play in salvation history? Did Mary’s friends recognize something different about her? Did those who were responsible for teaching Mary comprehend exactly whom they were training?
As we profess the perpetual virginity of Mary, we are reminded that we, too, are called to allow the emptiness which God has created in us to be His.
Prepared to be the Mother of God
That Mary became the Mother of God was no accident; Mary was chosen from before time to be the mother of the Son. As Lumen gentium, n. 61 states:
Predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence which determined the incarnation of the Word to be the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin was on this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord.
In choosing Mary, God formed her for the purpose He had willed for her. Much like a skilled architect selects the proper materials and design for the building he has in mind, so too does God craft each person with particularities best suited to His will. In Mary, this particularity include freedom from original sin. This preparation is fitting for Christ was to draw his humanity from his mother. His perfect humanity ought to come from one who is, herself, free from the stain of sin since sin cannot coexist with God.
As the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception. She bore in her a particular type of emptiness. The emptiness was for the perfect indwelling of Christ in Mary. The British Catholic writer and mystic Caryll Houselander describes Mary’s emptiness in this way:
It is not a formless emptiness, a void without meaning; on the contrary it has a shape, a form given to it by the purpose for which it was intended. It is emptiness like the hollow in the reed, the narrow riftless emptiness, which can have only one destiny: to receive the piper’s breath and to utter the song that it in his heart. It is emptiness like the hollow in the cup, shaped to receive water or wine. It is emptiness like that of a bird’s nest, built in a round warm ring to receive the little bird.
Houselander sets out three images of emptiness. The first is that of a hollow reed, carved by a craftsman with particular holes and stops to receive the breath of the musician. The second is that of a chalice, created by gathering and refining precious metals before being pounded into a specific shape to bear the Precious Blood. The third is that of a bird’s nest, created from bits and pieces of branches, twine, and cloth and shaped to cradle the infant birds.
Each of these images reflect a particular aspect of Mary’s emptiness. She is ready to sing the melody of God at His will. From her flesh is created the Son of Man whose sufferings on the cross redeemed the world and in her heart, Mary bore and contemplated these sufferings. In the hidden years of Christ life, she crafted a home to care and raise Jesus. Through all of these, however, we see that Mary’s emptiness shows forth a receptivity for God’s will to work, allowing her to give form and life to the Son of God. Into the emptiness of Mary was Divine Love poured.
Finding the Emptiness of Our Hearts
The emptiness found in Mary for the bearing of the Christ is found in all of us, though imperfectly. It is found imperfectly in us for we do bear the stain of original sin.
That emptiness is also marred by our own sin. We often also try to crowd out the emptiness because it seems unpleasant. Indeed, the word “empty” has a negative connotation; no one likes to apply that word to themselves. Yet we feel that aching emptiness deep in our soul that yearns for a mysterious something.
For many this emptiness is terrifying. Some in our world today who chase possessions, power, or prestige thinking that these can fill the emptiness. These, however, only misshapen the emptiness, leaving us confused as to what ought to fill the emptiness. Others try to pretend that the emptiness doesn’t exist as if they could starve the emptiness out of existence. There are still others who try to numb the emptiness with unbridled pursuit of pleasure or drugs.
None of these will fill the emptiness – and indeed, it is not really our “job” to fill the emptiness. It is only Divine Love that can truly fill that emptiness for He created that emptiness in us. It is through encountering God in prayer and in our everyday interactions that we begin to experience a foretaste of Heaven where that emptiness will be filled completely.
In the interim, our “job” is to allow that emptiness to be formed by God. Like a craftsman who carefully whittles away the wood that ought not to be part of a violin, so too does God desire to chip away at those attachments that ought not to be part of us to form the perfect emptiness for His love. This crafting may be painful but God allows it because He desires to give all of Himself to us. Though God is the primary actor, we can do our part by striving to be detached from sin and not trying to fill the emptiness with other things. It is only by becoming empty that God can fill us with Himself. By following the example of Mary, we can learn to be open to God’s will and allowing Him to fill the emptiness He has crafted in us.