Sunday, December 21, 2008

4th Sunday of Advent - homily excerpt

The following is an excerpt from a homily on today’s Gospel by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa:

The example of the Mother of God suggests to bring this new drive to our spiritual life, to truly conceive and give birth to Jesus in us this Christmas. Mary says a decisive and total Yes to God. Great stress is put on Mary's "fiat," on Mary as "the Virgin of the 'fiat'." But Mary did not speak Latin and so did not say "fiat"; nor did she speak Greek and so did not say "genoito," which is the word we find at that point in Luke's Greek text.

If it is legitimate to go back, with a pious reflection, to the "ipsissima vox," to the exact word that came from Mary's mouth -- or at least to the word that would be found at this point in the Judaic source that Luke used -- this must have been the word "amen." Amen, a Hebrew word whose root means solidity, certainty -- was used in the liturgy as a response of faith to God's word. Every time that, at the end of certain Psalms in the Vulgate we once read "fiat, fiat," now in the new version, translated from the original text, we read: "Amen, amen." This is also the case for the Greek word: in the Septuagint, at the end of the same Psalms, where we read "genoito, genoito," the original Hebrew has "Amen, amen!"

The "amen" recognizes that the word that has been spoken is firm, stable, valid and binding. Its exact translation, when it is a response to the word of God, is: "This is how it is and this is how it shall be." It indicates both faith and obedience; it recognizes that what God says is true and submits to it. It is saying "yes" to God. This is the meaning it has when it is spoken by Jesus: "Yes, amen, Father, because this was your good pleasure" (cf. Matthew 11:26). Jesus is, indeed, Amen personified: "Thus, he is the Amen" (Revelation 3:14), and it is through him, St. Paul adds, that every "amen" pronounced on earth ascends to God (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20).

In almost all human languages the word that express consent is a monosyllable -- sì, ja, yes, oui, da -- one of the shortest words in the language but that with which both bride and groom and consecrated persons decide their lives forever. In the rite for religious profession and priestly ordination there is also a moment in which yes is said.

There is a nuance in Mary's Amen that is important to note. In modern languages we use verbs in the indicative mood to refer to something that has happened or will happen, and in the conditional mood to refer to something that could happen under certain conditions, etc. Greek has a particular mood called the optative mood. It is a mood that is used to express a certain desire or impatience for a particular thing to happen. The word used by Luke, "genoito," is in this mood!

St. Paul says that "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7) and Mary says her "yes" to God with joy. Let us ask her to obtain for us the grace to say a joyous and renewed Yes to God and so conceive and give birth to his Son Jesus Christ this Christmas.


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