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 “THE”

By Melanie Betanelli

“The” is a humble little word and that is what makes it so hard to write about. I am beset on all sides with temptations to pride. How can I make ‘the’ important? How can I make it shine and stand out? How can I make a wonderful, memorable point despite the seeming limitations of this so ordinary word?

At first I was going to write about how I am such a pedant. How my first reaction to the word ‘the’ was to retort that it isn’t even in the Latin version of the prayer. It’s just a piece of English grammar, it doesn’t have any real meaning. And yet I knew that path was one of intellectual pride: Hey, look at me, I studied Latin. Don’t I seem so important?

I saw that instead I needed to focus on ‘the’ as a call to humility. I recently read in a biography of St Anthony of Padua that “humility is the mother and root of all virtues”. Yes, humility is the soil in which all the virtues grow. “God resists the proud but shows Himself to and uses the Humble,” St Anthony proclaims.

And yet even with this resolution firmly in place, I keep experiencing mission creep. I want to write about the mystery of Mary’s perpetual virginity and her role as the Ark of the New Covenant. I want to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation. (Yes, in an earlier draft I somehow managed to drag poor little ‘the’ kicking and screaming into those waters which are really too deep for this humble word.) But that isn’t where this meditation is leading.

Instead I need to accept the very littleness of ‘the’. It is important, every word has a role to play or it wouldn’t be there, this in not a prayer with excess verbiage; but it is not a profound role. ‘The’ is a necessary bit of grammar; but it is a very humble, everyday sort of word. We use it without much thought or care. I mistype it a hundred times in a day ‘hte’ my fingers type, much to my great chagrin. And how often do I post a blog entry without even noticing that typo?

I’m working on accepting ‘the’ for what it is and not demanding that it be something more. I need to just let ‘the’ be itself.

Humility. Why is it so hard to accept smallness? Why is it so hard to be unnoticed, unimportant? Why do we want to stand out from the crowd? To follow Mary must be to follow her example of humility. She always points away from herself and toward someone else. She points toward her son.

So it is with “the”. Don’t notice me, it says. I’m not important here. Look at Him. He’s what really matters. Keep your eyes on Him. The blessed. The fruit. Jesus.

Melanie Bettinelli is a wife and mother to four small children. She writes at that temptation to pride, her blog, The Wine Dark Sea.

image credit: MorgueFile