In 2009, my grandmother died a year before her 100th birthday. After the funeral, I dug up her old genealogy records, which traced our family's roots back 400 years to the habitants of New France.
As a child, I had spent hours listening to the stories that Gram had told about my long-ago ancestors. What courage had led these men and women to Canada, bringing little more than the faith! The early settlers had faced terrible hardships as they made a life for their families in this new land.
Canada's past is a part of my identity - an important element of who I am today. The lives of its people have come together to shape not only my life, but also the Catholic life and culture of an entire nation.
On the upcoming feast of the Annunciation, Catholics celebrate the entrance of God into a time when the Word was made flesh. We often think of this as the beginning of Mary's role in salvation history. After all, the Gospels tell us virtually nothing about her life before the angel Gabriel's visit. The Scriptures are silent about this Jewish girl who was chosen by God to be the mother of his Son.
Or are they? What can we discover about this young woman by peering through the window of Mary's past - by reflecting on the history of her people?
As with us, Mary's identity is hidden in the lives of her ancestors. As a young girl, Mary had pondered the story of Israel, learned at the knee of her own mother. Israel's prophets had foretold the coming of the Messiah, the descendant of David who would gather God's people, bringing peace and freedom. The national expectation of deliverance shaped both the daily life and the person of this daughter of Zion.
Mary grew up in a family that recited the psalms daily, many of which speak of Israel's longing for salvation. With her people, she had prayed for the promised king who would defend the poor and needy and free Israel from its oppressors.
She had meditated on God's promise to his elected, "Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession" (Psalm 1.8).
But God promises so much more than just the inauguration of an earthly king. The Old Testament prophecies speak of freedom from a more fundamental slavery - the slavery of sin. Looking at the history of Israel through the lens of Mary, we witness the work of God as he prepares the world for the coming of his Son.
In Mary, all of these prophecies of salvation converge, magnify and focus on Jesus Christ.
She, the mother of the Word, pondered the word of God in her heart long before the angel's greeting. St. Augustine tells us that Mary first conceived Christ in her mind before he was conceived in her womb.
CNS PHOTO | GREG TARCZYNSKI
A mosaic in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth depicts Gabriel appearing to Mary.
Even before the Incarnation, the angel tells us that the Lord is with Mary, this Immanuel - "God with us" - who fills her with his grace. It is of Mary that Jesus says, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Luke 11.28). The fruit of her womb is the perfect ripening of an entire life of keeping God's word in her heart.
Through Mary's maternal role, we see the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, which announces the coming of Immanuel: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son" (Isaiah 7.14).
In Mary, Israel proclaims with joy: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given." The great light of Christ burns through the window of Mary's past "for the people who walked in darkness"
She is the Daughter of Zion, of whom the Lord says "Sing and rejoice . . . for lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you" (Zechariah 2.10). Mary is the chosen of the chosen people, destined from all eternity to be the mother of the Saviour.
Like Mary, our salvation is focused on the presence of Christ within us. Our story today is the story of God's promise of deliverance to each one of us in Christ. We gain our inheritance not only from our cultural ancestors but also from the family of God's people.
As the new People of God, we can look at Mary and see the light of Christ shining through her. This is the God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son" to save us (John 3.16). And like gazing in a mirror, we find reflected in Mary the perfect image of our true identity - hidden in the promise of Christ.
(Anne Marie Posella is a graduate theology student at Catholic Distance University. She educates her children at home and works as an instructor at St. Clair College in Chatham, Ont.)