4th Sunday of Advent (December 23, 2012)
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
When I say “Hail Mary,” one of two images should come to your mind. If said in a sports bar during the big game, one may picture a last minute desperation throw of the football into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. A good Catholic hopefully will think of the prayer that I posted above. Both of them however, are very much related.
For those of us that are “football-illiterate,” a Hail Mary play refers to a very long forward pass thrown in hopes to score a last minute touchdown. The chances of catching the pass are very slim because many players from each team usually bunch up in the end zone and all go for the ball at the same time.
It’s a desperation play when there are no other options left, a last-ditch effort. The Hail Mary and football relationship can be traced back to the Notre Dame football teams of the 1930’s when they would pray it in a huddle on the field. However, the Hail Mary play as we know it today became famous because of a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings during the 1975 NFL playoffs. The Cowboys quarterback, Roger Staubach, had his team on the 50-yard line with 24 seconds left in the game. They were down by 4 points so a field goal was not an option, they needed to score a touchdown quickly or their season was over. Staubach took the snap, pump-faked left, then turned to his right and hurled the ball some 50 yards down field…
…to wide receiver Drew Pearson who somehow managed to catch the ball for the game winning touchdown.
Staubach didn’t see if Pearson caught the football because he was tackled immediately after he threw it. Apparently it’s hard to see the end of a play if you’re laying flat on your back at mid-field! Staubach, a Catholic, told reporters in a post-game interview that after he threw that desperation forward pass he closed his eyes and prayed a Hail Mary. The name stuck!
The Scriptural roots for part of the Hail Mary prayer come from today’s Gospel reading. Mary, pregnant with the Christ-child, traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist.
Upon seeing Mary, Elizabeth cried out, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” This is why we as Catholics honor Mary. We don’t worship her as a god; we honor her as a blessed woman whose very womb was carrying the perfect blessed fruit…a fruit that would feed our very souls and give us strength to live our lives.
Elizabeth continues, “and how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary was pregnant with our Lord and Saviour. This is why Catholics can refer to Mary as the “Mother of God” and be scripturally accurate. God could have chosen anyone for this task, but he asked a humble young lady to become the mother of His only Son.
Next Elizabeth says, “For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” It’s interesting to note that John the Baptist, still in his mother’s womb, leaped for joy when the original Hail Mary prayer was said in the presence of his Lord who was also still in His mother’s womb. So anyone who leaps off the couch during a Hail Mary in football is really just mimicking John the Baptist! Both versions of the Hail Mary, the play and the prayer, have the potential to bring great joy to our lives if we’re cheering for the right team!
Elizabeth finishes by proclaiming, “blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Here Elizabeth acknowledges that Mary’s pregnancy was part of God’s divine plan of salvation. Mary may not have fully understood it, but still she trusted and said yes to His proposal when she could have easily said no. This is because God never forces Himself on anyone. He is a gentleman and knows that real love has to be freely given and freely received. Mary freely loved God and therefore submitted to His will instead of her own.
Christmas is only a few days away. It’s a day when we gather as a Church and celebrate the birth of our Saviour. Sure there’s a lot of excitement this time of year. Talks of Santa, reindeer, presents, stockings, feasts with family. It’s easy to see and feel the magic that Christmas has on so many of us.
But it is all for nothing if we forget the true gift of Christmas… that our Father in heaven gave us His only Son through the “yes” of a willing disciple, Mary. Mary’s example of total devotion to God and her willingness to set aside her wants and desires in order to better serve Him is the message we need to be spreading this time of year. What can we do to be more open to His plan? How can we better follow Him? When God becomes first in our lives, all the other things that tend to clutter up the real meaning of Christmas suddenly become less important.
Before Christmas ever existed, there was a lot of chaos in the world. People were waiting for God to send them a savior and many were growing impatient. Because of this, some of them strayed from the right path. Some even started to deny God’s existence or put their faith in some other so-called “god.” Our Heavenly Father saw His children on earth living in a way that made His heart ache. Not because He was mad, but because He loves us so much and truly wants the best for us. God saw that His children were in a losing game and the clock was ticking away. So while the other team just pointed and laughed, God huddled up his angels and called out the next play.
It was time for a last minute desperation play, a last-ditch effort, but something tells me God had a good feeling it might just work. So He took the snap, pump-faked left, turned to His right hand and then hurled His Son down to earth with a mighty heave.
Luckily, His best wide receiver…I mean disciple…Mary, was there with her arms wide open, ready and willing to catch Him. She was so focused on God that there was no way she was going to fumble this one! Mary then carried her divine Son into the end zone…I mean manger…and in the presence of her husband, sheppards and the magi, did the best victory dance in the history of the world on that first ever Christmas day.
There is still a lot of chaos in the world, just turn on the news! But now we have a choice. We can follow Mary’s example and focus all of our efforts on Jesus…or we can continue to clutter up our lives with stuff that doesn’t matter. When our minds and hearts are totally focused on Jesus Christ, we can catch any pass God, or this crazy world, throws our way!