Every year on March 25th, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, the mystery wherein God takes on flesh and comes to dwell in the womb of Mary. This mystery has always had a special place in Catholic devotion and piety. For one, we remember Jesus’ incarnation, the truth that God put on flesh and became man in Jesus Christ. In addition to this life-altering event, we honor Mary’s role in this whole drama we call Salvation History. That despite her confusion and the plans she may have had for her life, Mary gave her fiat, her total and complete yes, to her role in God’s plan of salvation.
In my own life, I have found that this mystery of the Annunciation holds within it all that we need to respond to God’s invitation to become saints. God is always calling people. In unique and varied ways, of course, but fundamentally, the call is the same: God is calling all of us to a life lived in radical union with Him. That is essentially who a saint is, someone who lives a transformed life in union with God. We were created for this union, and until we direct our hearts and lives to Him, the restlessness that marks the human experience will continue.
Although this celebration has always been meaningful for me, last year it took on a deeper significance. Early on the morning of March 25th, 2018, my husband and I took a home pregnancy test and discovered we were expecting our first child. We had been married for just short of two months. Although we weren’t preventing pregnancy, we weren’t actively trying to get pregnant either. Immediately, we were filled with both joy and fear at the same time. Joy at the thought of new life growing within me and fear at the reality that God had entrusted us with another’s life.
Although, of course, ours wasn’t a virginal conception, for the first time in my life, I could relate to Mary’s experience in a very real way. Mary must have been in awe of the miracle proclaimed to her. She must have been filled with surprise, as this clearly wasn’t something she was planning. Considering her life situation, she must have been anxious about what her future held. At the very least, we know she was confused at what the angel proclaimed: “How can this be, since I am a virgin” (Luke 1:35).
When I sit and meditate on what Mary must have been feeling, though, I am not sure that fear was among them. This is one distinct difference between her and I. Scripture tells us that, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Whereas my husband and I were immediately filled with fear of the future and all that it could hold for our family, Mary didn’t fear the future because she was filled with He who is Love. While we had our thoughts on some fictional future, she had her gaze on the One who filled her womb.
Mary made space in her life to hear and respond to this invitation of God. Her yes was so total, her heart so open, her life so disposed, and her union so fruitful that it literally gave birth to God. What Mary models for us in this Annunciation of the Lord, is what all of us are called to in our own lives. You and I both are called to make space in our lives for God and to dispose ourselves to encounter Him in prayer. To surrender our own plans, hopes and desires to Him, trusting that in His own time, He will reveal His plan for our lives. In short, to be radically abandoned to the will of God.
It is only when we do this daily; keep our gaze on the Lord who is Love, that the anxiety and fear of what hardship the future may hold fades away. It is in this daily prayer that our faith increases. It isn’t because we immaturely think God won’t allow suffering to come to us, a mentality I am ashamed to say I had. Instead, it is because we know that when suffering does inevitably come, we will not be carrying our cross alone. Like Mary, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit and be able to carry our cross with courage and hope. Like Mary, even if we aren’t sure how things will exactly work out, we are confident that God has a plan, and we can trust Him.
Every year, I take the opportunity of the Solemnity of the Annunciation to reflect once again on one of my favorite poems, “I Sing of a Maiden” written by Redemptorist priest Msgr. John Duffy. This poem describes the world the morning after the Annunciation, and I think beautifully captures this strange event, when the Creator of the universe waited for Mary to give her consent. Here’s a small excerpt:
A new awareness in her body when she stirred,
A sense of Light within her virgin gloom:
She was the Mother of the wandering Word,
Little and terrifying in her laboring womb.
And nothing would again be casual and small,
But everything with light invested, overspilled
With terror and divinity, the dawn, the first bird's call,
The silhouetted pitcher waiting to be filled.
– From “I Sing of a Maiden” by Rev. John Duffy, C.S.s.R.
Dear Lord, like Mary, give us the grace to see and respond to your presence in our lives. To keep our gaze on you. To allow your Love to penetrate through our fear. Strengthen our faith and our hope. Help us to be aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst and give us the wisdom to want your plans for us instead of our own. Help us to allow your presence to so dwell in us, so as to give birth to you in the world. Encounter us. Make us different. Overspill in us. May we never be the same again. Amen.