The Virgin, weighed 

with the Word of God, 

comes down the road: 

if only you’ll shelter her.

Madonna of Expectation by Antonio Venezanio, c 1390

How blessed we are to meditate upon this simple four-line refrain in which St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), one of the greatest spiritual masters and ascetical-mystical theologians of the sixteenth century, captures the true meaning of Christmas. Each word invites us to pause in awe and wonder.

Weighed. Perhaps it refers literally to the weight a woman gains when her womb is the birthing place of a child. With this word, St. John honors all women who bear the weight of future life, but what else may the poet’s choice of this word signify? Mary is not married. She is a virgin, yet her being weighed down in this way is now a fact of her young life. The Holy Spirit, who overshadowed this innocent young woman, will weight her not only with the normal process of birth but with the Word of God.

Imagine what a weight on her young life that annunciation event must have been. She asks, as Scripture records, how can this be, that I, a virgin, would be weighed with the Word of God? 

This mystery so overwhelms Mary that no reply other than her courageous consent counts for God. Asked of her is only that she obey a Divine Plan of redemption set in motion before the beginning of time.

And it is on that starry night that Mary allows herself to bear the weight of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God, the Savior of the World, the Son to be called Jesus. 

The weight that Mary bears is that of the entire mystery of salvation history. She carries in that sense the weight of the world. Is it any wonder that we so dearly admire and love her?  The whole weight of redemption from sin and death is now alive in her innocent virginal womb.  

What went through the mind of the poet when he says in the third line of the refrain, comes down the road? Was he thinking of the road that led to Bethlehem where Mary sat on a donkey and Joseph lovingly balanced her and watched the road to be sure the donkey would not step into a rut that might tumble this weighted woman to the ground? 

What a tender image it is to see her coming down the road. In addition to a possible allusion to their sojourn to Bethlehem, there may be more to what St. John writes. Mary comes down the road that will one day be the way on which Jesus will have to bear the weight of his cross. Little does she know that her Son will have to walk on the rocky pavement that leads to Golgotha or that one day his destiny will come to an end at the empty tomb.

Could St. John have meant the road on which the apostles will walk to Emmaus, having no understanding of what the scriptures mean until the Word of God, with whom Mary is weighted, interprets their meaning for them?  Might it also be that St. John sensed that this would be the road that we, too, must walk upon? Mary, weighted with the Word, comes down the road of our life to ask if we are willing to follow the narrow way that leads to life rather than the broad path to perdition.

The challenge set before us concludes with the line, if only you’ll shelter her.  In these few words St. John invites us to ask ourselves if we will house the Mother of God in our heart and thus guard and treasure as she does the mystery of the Incarnation. 

Will we remember and venerate the origin of salvation history? What gifts beyond those of gold, frankincense and myrrh will we bring to the Infant Jesus? 

Mary is the second Eve. She is the woman clothed in the sun, who will stamp out the serpent of disobedience. She will shred his vainglory with her humility. 

Mary protects us, but how often do we think of protecting her? She is so vulnerable, so young, so completely at risk of being persecuted and misunderstood.

Should the opportunity be given to us, how exactly would we shelter her? Would we protect her from the onslaughts of an accusatory crowd? We lament that she has been a victim of mockery, marginalization, and disbelief. Would we refuse to twist the truth to which she witnessed? Would we welcome her into our life as the powerful mediatrix she is?

Let us shelter Mary in the same spirit as the foster father of Jesus, St. Joseph, did.  He is a living icon of what sheltering and protecting mother and child ought to look like. He embodies the love and fidelity that should be ours.

It is wonderful to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but this refrain challenges us to ask if we are ready and willing to celebrate the rebirth he wants for us. The message given to us by St. John of the Cross is impossible to forget. He challenges us to make the effort, propelled by divine grace, to overturn in every way possible the deformative effects of original, personal, and social sin. Thanks to his inspired refrain, we believe, as Mary declared in her Magnificat, that God casts the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. With our beloved Mother at our side, we, too, magnify the Lord and rejoice in God, our Savior, at Christmas and throughout the year. Amen!