Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
This Week’s Intention: For justice in our world, especially for all who are forgotten or excluded, abandoned or abused, persecuted or exploited, that people of good will might rise to their defense and come to their aid.
Today’s Gospel | Luke 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
In many parishes these days one can come across a popular Lenten poster that reads, “If giving up chocolate has left us longing for chocolate rather than for God, perhaps this would be a good time to reassess.” With apologies to the many children for whom abstaining from candy can require near-Herculean strength, the suggestion for us adults to examine our own ideas about Lenten sacrifice could be a helpful one. Specifically, we could look at why we sacrifice, at what spirit animates our practice. And for this, we have the example of Mary, the Mother of God.
The story of the Annunciation, of God’s revelation to Mary that she was to be the mother of his Son, is one of the more dramatic narratives in the Bible. It introduces the sequence of events that culminates with the nativity of Jesus, and so is often viewed from that vantage point. However, another way to read the story is to pretend that we do not know what comes next, to experience it as Mary did. From this perspective, there emerges a picture of a person who responds to an incredible moment of decision with a profound and exemplary understanding of the nature of sacrifice.
Rightly, we hold great wonder and admiration for Mary’s selflessness in accepting God’s will that she be the Mother of God. However, we should not overlook that she also had just been jolted from sleep and told that she was to be an unwed mother and the object of contempt from virtually her entire village. To agree to all of the upheaval and trials that were sure to come would have been an extraordinary choice for anyone, let alone for a confused and unprepared teenage girl. Mary’s decision surpassed a simple willingness to do something for God. She would undertake to become something for God. Mary would allow her entire life to be changed and be made a gift to humanity, a gentle, caring presence to others in their own times of expectancy. The loss of what she would have to give up would be transformed into all that she would now be able to give.
And so, from Mary’s story we learn that there is a difference between sacrifice and self-sacrifice. Sacrifice invites our interest; self-sacrifice demands our participation. It is about spiritual conversion and an on-going reflection on our commitment to concerns and possibilities beyond our own. What it is that we are reaching for once we free our hands by letting go of something else? The Lenten call to sacrifice may begin as an exercise in deciding to what we are prepared to say no, but only as a path for discerning to what we ultimately will dare to say yes. As the author James Hollingworth once wrote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear.”
Eternal Father, your gift of salvation was made possible by the “yes” that both your Son and our Blessed Mother said to your will. In this time of Lent, help us to imitate them, to say yes when you ask. Give us eyes that see wisely and hearts that are at one with your ways. Increase our faith, and may we make ourselves poor and empty ourselves of all selfishness so that you can use us to be instruments of your saving presence. We ask this of you who lives and reigns with your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
St. John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us.
Live Jesus in our hearts forever.