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.
A reflection on the word “IS”
What a daunting task, to contemplate the word “is.” How do you discuss the meaning of the verb “to be?” Have you tried defining it for a child? (Trust me, I’ve been homeschooling my girls for nearly nine years now, and defining this verb is no easy task.)
But here, in the middle of the Hail Mary, is this verb: is. To be. Conjugating the verb brings me up short, makes me stop in my tracks and realize something huge.
This is God. “I am Who I am.” The Great I Am. God, as Father Robert Barron puts it in his Catholicism series, has a nature of existence. His very nature is to be.
God has no beginning and no end. He is eternal. Alpha and Omega. These are things we hear and say, but to contemplate it is mind-numbing. I remember trying to understand this when I was a child. We were on a long trip from the Jersey Shore to Long Island to visit family, and I sat in the back seat of the car thinking about the eternal nature of God.
I gave myself my very first headache.
But to contemplate it here in the Hail Mary gives us new things to think about.
First, the Eternal God, Creator of all things visible and invisible, became a Human Being. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Who has no beginning, had a beginning to His human life, and it was the moment the Archangel Gabriel approached the Blessed Virgin Mary and heard her fiat.
But this portion of the Hail Mary comes not from Gabriel. This part is from St. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, who has been confined to home as she awaits the birth of her first child, who will become the Baptizer. Elizabeth greets Mary with joy, proclaiming, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb!” (Luke 1:41-45)
And here is what sticks out to me: Elizabeth’s verb tense.
Blessed is the Fruit of thy womb!
Elizabeth doesn’t say, “Blessed will be the Fruit of thy womb.” She doesn’t use past tense, either, saying, “Blessed has been the Fruit of thy womb.” She uses the present tense: blessed is.
Jesus, new in Mary’s womb and yet Ancient of Days, is blessed. Blessed be the Name of God! Blessed be His Holy Name! We should be in continual praise of God, blessing His Name at all times. Every breath we have – every thought, word, and deed of our lives – should be given over to praise of our Creator! Elizabeth does just this here. She blesses God, gives Him praise and thanksgiving.
The second thing that is brought to my mind as I look at this verb is that Jesus is present at that moment. Again, he is newly formed. When Mary receives word of Elizabeth being pregnant, it is already her sixth month. Mary would be traveling around 115 miles to get there. That’s a day trip for us, but on an ass there and back, it’s hardly an easy journey. But even if it took a month, Mary would only be about 6 weeks pregnant by the time she arrived in Hebron. This is a time when no one would be able to tell that Mary was pregnant just by looking at her. Jesus would be so tiny – less than an inch in length – that some people today would even question whether He was really a Baby yet.
Elizabeth uses the present tense verb to refer to Mary’s hidden Child. Jesus is present there – Emmanuel, God with us.
And this brings us to a final point: very often, we cannot see God with us. We look and find nothing. Our sorrows overwhelm us, and we fear drowning in our fears and anxieties.
But Jesus is with us. He might be hidden from obvious sight, as He was when Mary went to visit her cousin, but He is near. He is with us in a friend who calls just when you need someone to talk to. He is with us in the article you come across that speaks perfectly to your situation. He is with us in that tweet that makes you laugh in spite of your sadness. He is even with us in the smile of a stranger you pass in the store.
We only need to seek Him, and He will reveal Himself to us, often in very surprising ways.
It’s such a small word, but like the whispering wind in 1Kings (1Kings 19:11-13) that contained God, it’s not to be overlooked. After all, it’s Who God says He Is.
Christine Johnson blogs at Domestic Vocation and is active on Twitter as @catholicmomva. She’s one of those moms who I wish I was neighbors with so that we could have tea together in person. Because you know, she seems completely normal, despite the fact that she is so very amazing.
The whole question of tense really gives something to think about for people who consider themselves pro-choice Christians.