Fiat mihi. Our parish’s celebration of Midnight Mass is always spiritually uplifting and deeply satisfying. My wife, eldest daughter, and I sing in the choir. We have a lovely repertoire of Christmas carols, hymns, and instrumentals that we offer in honor of the birth of Our Savior, beginning well before Mass, well before many people have arrived. The usual favorites (Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem) are intermingled with pieces reminiscent of older times and places (While By Our Sleeping Flocks, Puer Natus), Southern harmony (Star in the East), and a beautiful Bach cantata (“Break Forth”).The Mass is celebrated with as much pomp as we can muster – lavish incense and candles, several dozen altar boys, a young altar society girl bringing the Christ Child for the blessing of the crèche, Hassler’s Missa Secundam, Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium. I love it more each year.
In the midst of this celebration, I was struck by how all of this, all of the Church’s wonderful history and traditions, the spiritual strength she has shown through the ages, began from one simple expression. “Fiat mihi, Let it be done to me.” This was how Mary, who was to become and now is, Our Lady, responded to Gabriel’s message inviting her to become the Mother of Jesus. How simple! And, I wondered whether this could be what we really want to embrace as teachers, and what we hope our students take away from their time in our Catholic schools.[restrict]
“Fiat mihi.” Humility and obedience first come to mind when I meditate on Our Lady’s words. She was willing to do whatever the Lord asked of her. She announces herself to be “The handmaid of the Lord,” a servant who knows she exists to obey her master’s commands. But Gabriel’s message is not really a command; it is a gift offering. Through Gabriel, the Father invited Mary to become the Mother of Jesus. Gabriel reverences Mary as one being singled out for honor by God: “O highly favored one.” He tells her, “You have found favor with God.” He has the most special gift for you. You are to give birth to the long-awaited son of David! He will be the greatest gift ever, not just for you, but for all!
Humble obedience is the foundation of all virtue. It feels like and really is an acceptance of our status as servants, a renunciation of ourselves as the center of all our striving. But the reason the Lord wants this of us is so that we can receive all the amazing gifts He wishes to offer to us. The greatest gift is His love as we experience it through His Son, Our Lady, and the Church. We are not only blessed to receive this love, but we are also blessed to be invited to share it with others.
Education should make us more aware that all of our life is a gift, and that God, the great giver of gifts, has much more in store for us, if we will have the humility to ask for them, to receive them with joy, and share them with others. We learn this through the Scriptures, Theology, the Magisterium, Liturgy; through the beautiful virtues lived by the Saints; through the history of God’s care for the Church and mankind; through science and story, math and music and art; through the service hours we perform in His service to those most in need of love and generosity.
This is a wonderful way to look at teaching. Teachers share the gifts of knowledge that we have received with the students the Lord has given us as gifts. If this is not unbelievable (how can my daily work in the classroom be all that important?) , it can be scary (my daily work in the classroom is tremendously important!). Zechariah found God’s gift unbelievable, and lost his ability to speak. Our Lady believed, but “was greatly troubled” when Gabriel addressed her with such honor. But in the end, she said, “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.” Let us ask her, who received her gift through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, to beg Him to infuse our spirits with humble obedience in His service and our teaching with His gifts, so that we might come to share in her Fiat, and ultimately, in her Magnificat.