Maria in Attesa
When I was Anglican Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, I lived in Milan, and it was there, in the church of San Carlo that I saw a most wonderful exhibition of 14th and 15th century Old Master paintings, assembled from all over Italy, called “Maria in Attesa”, “Mary in her Pregnancy”. I knew some of the Servite Fathers who run the church and I was able one evening to be completely alone in the church as the sun was setting, able to contemplate our Blessed Mother, as she waited for her Son to be born.
We often meditate on Mary at the Cross, the Mater Dolorosa, full of pain as she shares the Passion of Jesus on the Cross. And we see hundreds of Christmas cards with Our Lady joyfully greeting the shepherds or the kings. But when did you last see a picture of Mary pregnant? Seldom, I’m sure. And yet I had the privilege of being in San Carlo’s with perhaps thirty masterpieces showing her in this condition.
In some of the paintings she looked afraid, or at least anxious – and they were certainly right to show this. In others, she looked calm and serene, waiting for God to use her for his good purposes – and I know that that must have been true too. But the main impression these great paintings conveyed was the power of Mary in her weakness. She knew what had happened to her, she knew her nation was waiting for the Messiah, she knew that she had no worldly power or influence, nor would her son. Sometimes she may have been afraid, puzzled, anxious. But she waited patiently for God to show her what he wanted her to do.
That should be our prayer to her in Advent: “Mother Mary, help me to wait patiently for your Son to show me what he wants me to do, my calling, my vocation in this life”. And we will hear the same advice she gave at Cana of Galilee: “Whatsoever he says to you, do it”
She was pregnant with the Word of God, and she gave human birth to that Word, listened to that Word, pointed others to that Word, and finally heard the Word say from his Cross “Woman, behold thy son”. As she received the naked body of her son into her arms in the stable at Bethlehem, so she held it again on Calvary when he was taken down dead from the Cross.
From then on, she was pregnant again, and John and Peter and Paul and Andrew and all the disciples were pregnant, for the first time, with the indwelling Word, and their mission was to go into all the world and give birth to Jesus, the Word of God over and over again.