The Handmaid of the Lord
by Fr. Peregrine Fletcher, O.Praem.
“I am the LORD, your God who grasp your right hand…Fear not, I will help you.”
Holding someone’s hand is usually considered an expression of encouragement and affection; it’s often accompanied by words of comfort and support. But when the Lord takes hold of Israel’s hand today, we hear Him say: “Fear not, O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel…” Not exactly reassuring—and far from being sentimental!—when God takes Israel’s hand, He pulls them into a spiritual boot camp, initiating them into an intense, grueling training—but a training which will ultimately bring about their greatest consolation.
Listen to what God says will happen to Israel during this boot camp: “I will make of you a threshing sledge, sharp, new, double-edged, to thresh the mountains and crush them…when you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off and the storm shall scatter them.” In the hand of God, His people become at once both weapon and warrior, strong enough to conquer even the mountains! So it’s worthwhile to take His hand, but do we have to the courage to do so? After all, from prophecy we hear that “rays flashed from His hands and there He veiled His power.”1 The Scriptures further say that He “covers His hands with lightning, and commands it to strike the mark.”2 With this enormous hand outstretched before you, would you take it?
If we need the courage for this, listen to what the hand of the Lord will do after the boot camp is over: “I will open up rivers on the bare heights and fountains in the broad valleys; I will turn the desert into marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water. I will plant in the desert the cedar, acacia, myrtle and olive…the cypress together with the plane tree and pine…the hand of the Lord has done this.” After his training, the newly forged warrior finds himself surrounded by life giving waters and the beautiful trees of paradise!
And if even this doesn’t encourage us enough, we need only look more deeply into this forest: through the acacia, the myrtle, the olive; the cypress, the plane and the pine: for among these trees, what, or whom, do we find there in the very heart of the forest of paradise? The one of whom the Proverb speaks: “She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.”3 In this Proverb, speaking of Wisdom, we rightly can see as Mary, the Mother of God; the tree which bore the fruit of everlasting life, her Son, our Savior.
Within her, God became man; so within her womb, the radiating, lightning-charged, fearsome hand of God becomes a human hand—she thus becoming the very gauntlet of the right hand of God; and with the sweet, small hand of baby outstretched before you, would you take it? Because of Mary, it’s a lot more manageable; though not the less strong! For now, in a new way, God would reach out to His people: healing their every disease and illness, restoring limbs and giving sight to the blind; blessing and forgiving them, tracing the secrets of God in the sand, pulling the unbelieving out from drowning in the waves.
Yet still, even after all this, God’s hand was spurned and in a mocking betrayal, His people finally did take His hand; and once held, they held it down, nailing it fast to a cross. The sweet, small hand of a baby; the incarnate hand of our Savior, so long reaching out to us; once pouring out light and lightning, now pouring out blood! But His blood was more powerful than lightning and, soon afterward, He stretched out His hand again—wounded, yet risen—with the invitation to take hold still standing: “Put your finger here,” He said “and see My hand…do not be faithless but believing.”4 With this wounded hand outstretched before us, would we take it?
If it weren’t for you, O Mary, how could we have ever dared to take hold of God’s hand? Thanks to you, Mary, your Son is reaching out to us this very day, with the very same hand, to heal, forgive, to bless; to transform us into warriors and open for us the forest of eternal life. With Jesus in your arms, how well we can say with the same Proverb quoted earlier: “Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.”5 How could we not overflow with a litany of praise for you, O Virgin Most Faithful, Most Venerable, Most Renowned; O Mother of God, of our Creator, of our Savior! These are but some of the exalted titles you merited to be called, O Mary, who humbly called yourself “the handmaid of the Lord.”
1. Habakkuk 3:4
2. Job 36:32
3. Proverbs 3:18
4. John 20:27
5. Proverbs 3:16
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One of the most beautiful things about the mysteries of our faith is that, even though we return to them year after year, they can be as fresh and amazing as the first time we heard of them, if only we turn our hearts to them with humility and love.
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