Slouching Toward Bethlehem

Drooping frozen cherries

Imagine a world where everyone is hunched over. An exaggerated convex curvature of the spine encumbers all. We’re just born this way. We can function, but it’s labored. Everything requires more effort. It feels like everything that’s good is on the top shelf, hard to reach. Our gaze is naturally cast down, not up.

We can strain to straighten ourselves, to reverse the course of nature, though it’s tough. It demands assiduous effort. Some do choose to try, while many others refuse. Too hard, they think. Not really worth it.

Now imagine a child is—gasp!—born upright. She shows no signs of the condition the rest of us labor under. She starts from the place where only a few, through lifelong discipline, end up. She need not endure the slow healing that it takes for others to gain their uprightness.

Such is the holiness with which Mary was conceived.

Original sin is annoying. It’s the thing that causes us to be born spiritually hunched over. We can be freed from it (hooray baptism), but its effects cling to us. We’re still inclined to slouch. All our lives we battle against it. By God’s grace, we can gradually improve our posture. Those who love wholeheartedly and heroically—the saints—strain so much to look up toward God that, at their death, they find themselves perfectly upright. They actually reached full stature in their lifetimes.

Yet, even among the saints, Mary is unique. St. Augustine proposes a thought experiment: if we could survey each and every citizen of heaven and ask if any had lived without sinning, all of them would reply, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

All of them but one. Mary alone would step forward, radiant in her humility, and say, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”

The penalty of original sin was lifted in this one extraordinary case. Whereas all of us were born in need of some divine OxiClean, our Lady was conceived pure, and she loved with a stain-resistant love all her days.

Mary does not lord this special privilege—the one that prepared her to be the mother of our Healer—over us. On the contrary, it inspires her to stoop down and come to our aid. “The plenitude of grace in Mary was such that its effects overflow upon all men,” St. Thomas teaches. We can place our hope in her help, and our trust in the Son she bore. Pope Benedict XVI once remarked:

One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.

This Advent we await Mary’s Son, who won salvation for us. Christ was born to save—the slouchers.

Image by Maria Mekht

You May Also Enjoy:

Pharaoh’s Hardened Heart   During the Exodus story, which features the mighty manifestations of God’s power and love, God puts on a virtual fireworks display before all of Egypt. Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and the Israelites each react differently, and Pharaoh’s response – the “hardening of his heart” – always puzzled me. The author of Exodus repeats the claim that ‘God will harden Pharaoh’s heart’ so often that it cannot be ignored. Today’s reading highlights the p...
Agnes and Catherine Bl. Raymond of Capua, friend and biographer of St. Catherine of Siena, concludes the middle part of his Life of Catherine with an account of a pilgrimage she made to Montepulciano. “It was revealed to Catherine,” he writes, “that in the Kingdom of Heaven she was to be put on a level with the blessed Sister Agnes of Montepulciano” (who had died about 150 years earlier). So Catherine wanted “to visit that Sister’s relics, in order to enjoy already ...
The Divine Horizon St. Augustine enjoyed watching lizards catch flies. He also confessed that he would become quite distracted at the sight of a dog hot on a rabbit’s heels, or a spider entangling its prey (Confessions, 10.35.57). Although he blames himself for being enamored of these trifling spectacles, it is refreshing to see a more casual and intimate side to one of the greatest minds and saintliest bishops in history. It is often easy to forget that the saint...
5 Tips on Prayer with St. Thomas Aquinas Prayer, St. John Damascene says, is the unveiling of the mind before God. When we pray we ask Him for what we need, confess our faults, thank Him for His gifts, and adore His immense majesty. Here are five tips for praying better-- with the help of St. Thomas Aquinas. 5. Be humble. Many people falsely think of humility as a virtue of a low self-esteem. St. Thomas teaches us that humility is a virtue of acknowledging the truth about reality....
Br. Jordan Zajac, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Jordan Zajac entered the Order of Preachers in 2013. After growing up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he attended Providence College, where he majored in English and minored in Political Science. He went on for an M.A. at the University of Virginia and a doctorate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, both in English Literature. On DominicanFriars.org