Today, with the Church around the world, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord when the Angel Gabriel revealed God’s plan to Mary. After getting over Her initial shock and confusion, Mary says “YES” to God and immediately goes in search of Elizabeth who needs Her help. Mary’s response, in prayer, word and action, is a model for us of how to serve as disciples. This is an auspicious day to share with you the Angelus prayer. The Angelus, which is itself a brief reflection of Mary’s “Yes.” Starting in the late 13th century, with monks, Catholics have traditionally prayed the Angelus at 6:00 a.m., 12 noon and 6:00 p.m. (that’s why the bell at Holy Family rings at those times every day!). It’s a way to consecrate time, stop the daily routine and focus on God. We can get too caught up (especially in days like these) in what we are doing that we forget about God and about prayer.
Please think about praying this prayer. In fact, I’d encourage you to pray this prayer often. Perhaps you can take a break at 12 noon each day and pray together as a family. You can take turns serving as the leader. You can ask each person joining you to express intentions of who to hold close in prayer. We do (or at least used to before Corona) this as a staff; every noon, whoever is in the building comes together in the Saint Joseph Chapel and prays the Angelus. We usually tack on some intentions as well, what’s weighing on the heart of those who have come together in prayer. I put the text in my phone and scheduled an Outlook appointment for everyday at noon. A reminder pops up and I have the text right there.
Below is a short reflection on the Annunciation which shows Mary as a model for us as disciples. It is important to remember that Mary was no robot, programmed to respond Yes. Mary was like us, seeking to draw close to the Lord even while we maintain a daily schedule that can take (and keep) us off that track.
Mary offers us a reminder that we need to stop, listen for the Lord, and then spend our lives saying “YES.”
Mary was most likely quiet in prayer before God. As a devout Jew and a person of active faith, She would have often spent time with the Lord in quiet prayer, seeking to place Herself in the Lord’s Presence, vulnerable, open to the Lord’s call, ready to receive a message from the Lord. When the Angel appears, though, She’s frightened by the Presence of the Lord that the Angel brings. “Do not be afraid,” (something God says 365 times in the bible…certainly not a coincidence!) Gabriel proceeds to announce God’s plan: She will bear a Son and name Him Jesus and He will save God’s people.
As a strong believer and good Jew, Mary would have been SHOCKED. People of faith thought God was so awesome, so wholly other and beyond understanding, that they never even spoke the name of God. Mary would have followed the practice of using attributes (the Almighty, the Most High, etc.) to speak of God rather than use the word of God’s Holy Name. It’s not difficult then to realize that Mary doesn’t understand how God’s plan could unfold. Besides the obvious (that She was a virgin) She struggled to understand how God could empty Himself of His Divinity, Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnipresence to take on our human form with all of those limitations (the need to grow and develop, to have a limited capacity to understand, the need to eat and to drink and to sleep, etc.). How could, why would God give up all of that?
As strong in faith as She was, perhaps even because She is so strong, Mary does not hesitate to ask a question. She knows that God doesn’t want blind obedience or a mere slave to duty. She knows that God seeks to use Her (and all of us for that matter) fully, engaging, mind as well as body and spirit. The Angel answers her question “The Holy Spirit will overshadow You; the Child will be God’s Son.” And with only that slight reassurance, Mary responds in humility: “God, do Your work in me.” Mary doesn’t know everything, doesn’t have the benefit of our 2,000 years of reflection and study on who God is and how God works. She doesn’t know how God will work this marvelous plan or all that will be required of Her. She trusts in God even though She has few, if any, answers. After the Angel leaves Her, Mary goes immediately to one in need, her elderly relative, Elizabeth who is also miraculously pregnant.
Mary’s response to God in the Annunciation gives us a paradigm of discipleship. Like Mary, we need to spend time and energy devoted to being quiet before the Lord, listening for God’s Will, begging for the strength to do what God asks. As Mary did, we must also seek understanding: ask questions, grapple with confusion and fear and doubt. Like Mary then we must say “Yes” to God, even when we don’t fully comprehend what God is asking or what God will ask of us in the future. We won’t have all the desired answers we want (if we have any) and our path will not be a straight, well-lit superhighway. Like Mary, we are called to trust in God, allow God to lead us, allow God to use our gifts and talents, to use us, body, mind, soul, and spirit. As with Mary, God will help us understand and move His plan forward in service to our sisters and brothers, most especially those in need. Like Mary, we are called to bring God to another, to go beyond of ourselves, move out of our comfort zones to share the God we have received.
Especially in these dark days, we are called no less profoundly, no less really than Mary was to bring Christ to others, especially those in need. It is not easy but, with faith and trust in God, we can, like Mary say and live our “YES.” Mary, such a great and powerful Intercessor, is Patroness of both parishes in the Pastorate. We have a special place in Her Immaculate Heart, and we should not hesitate to call upon Her. Like every good mother who sees her children struggle, Mary seeks to embrace us, to comfort us and bring us to the love of Christ. Mary, Mother of the Sick, pray for us.