Holy Apostles College & Seminary
Bearing the Fruits of the Holy Spirit through Trials
Fr. Jude Surowiec
SAS 460: Luke and the Acts of the Apostles
6 February 2018
St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation through Christ’s infancy is, on the outside, one of expectation and joy. It’s what served to make the Blessed Virgin the “Cause of our joy” as she’s called in the Litany of Loreto. And of course, it’s commonly known that for Mary this was often a more scary than joyful time in her life; aside from the written account that she was “greatly troubled” at Gabriel’s appearance and greeting (Lk 1:29, see 28, NABRE), understanding her situation in context makes it clear to us that to be pregnant and not living with a man in first-century Jewish culture often enough meant the persecution of the expecting mother. Yet, interwoven into all of this, there’s also a certain relatability in the Annunciation, pre-Nativity, and Nativity accounts to every person’s spiritual journey, insofar as Mary offers an inspiring example of one who is close to God, experiences trials, and bears great fruit in doing God’s will and allowing Him to work through those trials.
Jesus makes it clear that “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much” (Lk 12:48). His Mother was the only person since Adam and Eve to be entrusted with original holiness. This being the huge deal that it is, God obviously expected a lot from her. The same goes for anyone who grows very close to God: while no one else is given the “head start,” so to speak, in closeness to the Lord that Mary was, the closer we grow to Him over time, the more and more He will expect from us.
Now obviously, growing closer to God makes us stronger, both in pursuing God’s will and in avoiding sin. This growth and this strength pretty much go hand-in-hand. Does this mean that life becomes easy for us when we get closer to God, and that our struggles and trials just dissipate and let us skip happily to heaven? Most definitely not. Again, consider Mary: when Gabriel came to her, she wasn’t instantaneously brimming with jubilance because she was greeted by an angel and was going to give birth to the Son of God. She was afraid, and didn’t understand. She did God’s will, of course, and willingly bore His Son; but did so in fear and ignorance. Remember that this is someone completely free of any stain of sin from the moment of her conception, and therefore someone who was closer to God than anyone else this side of heaven. Yet, like any number of sinners, she feared God’s plan and didn’t fully understand it.
The key factor here, of course, is that Mary never hesitated to consent to God’s plan (contrastable, as I’ve heard it said, to Zechariah’s disbelief in God’s plan—see Lk 1:18). God’s plan entailed the potential shaming and persecution of Mary, along with the rejection of Joseph, for having being pregnant before living with him and not by him (see Mt 1:18-19). She may very well have seen some or all of that coming, given how strong of a rejection her culture had for alleged adulteresses and the severe manner in which adulteresses were punished (that is, by being stoned—see Jn 8:4-6). Yet, despite being asked to do something so difficult, she did not back down from doing God’s will for an instant.
Surely, once Joseph had accepted that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit and the concern with being rejected and/or stoned to death was past, Mary had an easy life, right? Surely she got to take a break from trials? No. For not two months later, was she told that her Son would be “a sign that [would] be contradicted,” and that “[she herself] a sword [would] pierce” (Lk 34-35); and, presumably not long after that (to take into consideration another Gospel account), God allowed her to be forced to flee to Egypt in order to prevent her Son from being murdered (see Mt 2:13-14).
After all she had been through during her pregnancy, wouldn’t you think it was time for God to give Mary a break? To let her live easily for a while? You might think just that, if you were to look past the fruits of her acceptance of God’s difficult will.
First of all, Mary had the enormous grace of being able to be the Mother of Jesus. Not only could no parent possibly hope to have a more wonderful child, but Mary, being completely free of sin and thus not having her heart or mind distracted by any harshness, coldness, cruelty, etc. toward her child, would have been able to appreciate being Our Lord’s Mother to the fullest possible extent. She literally bore the greatest “fruit of the Holy Spirit”: the Son of God. “[B]lessed is the fruit of [her] womb” (Lk 1:42).
From there, we can look at Mary as she is now. Mary is one of very, very few who were assumed body and soul into heaven prior to the Parousia; she is the Queen over heaven and Earth; she remains the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Mother of God; and, never having been touched by sin, she experiences the very greatest possible degree of joy in heaven and surely is able to act as our most powerful intercessor before her Son.
This is where Mary is an inspiration for those of us still here in this valley of tears. In being asked to be the Mother of God, she was being asked to do a very hard thing. Yet she willingly did it, and because of it, suffered many trials—not the least of which (something I didn’t even directly mention above) was seeing her own Son die a horrendous death on the cross. Despite all that hardship, all that pain, she did not ever turn away from God. And because of that, all that hardship and pain was and is outweighed a hundredfold by the joy (another “fruit of the Holy Spirit”) she possessed and now still does possess.
The lesson we should take away, then, is this: that no matter how hard God’s plan may be for us to live out, no matter how much pain it may cause us to do His will, if we stick by Him and do not stray from the path to life He has opened for us, our hardships will be but a speck compared with the reward Our Lord has in store for us, the joyful fruit of the Holy Spirit we too will bear both in this life and in the next. This is what we see in Mary, and it’s what we will see in ourselves if only we persevere. In our struggles, may we always keep before us Jesus’ own promise, that “everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Mt 19:29). Surely, such things as time, comfort, friends, and other things could be included in this list. May we never despair, or think that God has forgotten or forsaken us. “I have spoken; I will do it—oracle of the Lord” (Ez 37:14).