Annunciation of the Lord
March 25, 2017
Dear brothers and sisters,
May the Lord’s peace be with you!
This year, as every year, during our Lenten journey, we stop for a moment to contemplate Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Precisely, during these weeks, we encountered Jesus who, after the Baptism by John the Baptist, lets himself be tempted and overcomes the temptations in the desert; then, not far from here, we went to Mount Tabor, where we saw Him transfigured and presented by God the Father as the beloved Son. Soon we will see Him on another Mount, that of Calvary, where the beloved Son will be delivered out of love for us.
But without meeting the Mother, we cannot contemplate the Son; we cannot follow in the footsteps of the Son. So, we need to come to a standstill to gaze upon the Mother who, as in all families, shows us the way to encounter the Son. It is she, Mary of Nazareth, who right here in Nazareth gave us Jesus and, on Calvary, she will also become our mother. In fact, only mothers know how to stand at the cross and only mothers can say “yes” to life with a fruitful love.
In today’s Gospel, Mary of Nazareth shows us the way to come to know Jesus: knowing how to say “yes” to the will of God, and to His designs which always surpass us.
To try to enter into the mystery that we celebrate today, the Annunciation of the Lord, we can stop for a moment to think of how often we live our experience of faith.
We usually want to have control of our life and we try to be good Christians by living it according to the will of the Lord. When we are good Christians in small and big choices that present themselves, first we pray, then maybe we confront ourselves with the Word of God, we try to understand what is the will of the Lord, we ask help from some wise person, we decide, and then we strive to be faithful and consistent. In a nutshell, we do so many things, more or less good, and then we ask the Lord, in some way, to give his consent.
Today’s Gospel (Lk 1:26-37) tells us that the experience of faith is something else. The Virgin Mary is the model of it, and on the lines of the Annunciation every believing life is unfolded.
Mary receives the announcement of the angel and suddenly finds a new life within her, which is Jesus. She herself does not quite know how, she is upset, she does not understand much, but, nevertheless, she agreed to welcome a new life within her, which gave a new meaning and a new direction to her entire existence.
This also happens to us believers: God’s life in us is a new life, which we have within, we do not even know how. But we know that we have within a presence that sustains us and accompanies us when we want to welcome and listen and not reject it. This presence makes us new creatures, it gives us a new life, it causes us to be different.
God’s life in us is an impossible life to understand according to human standards (Lk 1:34): Mary is quite clear that this new life cannot happen in her physically, naturally. It is not the fruit of our efforts, of our cleverness and ability. It is something “beyond”, which comes from outside us.
In fact, it only happens by grace (Lk 1:28), because the Lord freely chooses to eliminate the distance between heaven and earth, He chooses to make Himself near, intimate, to join our life to Him. Grace is a synonym for love, and this way of His being close is His way of loving us, each one personally.
“Grace” and “love”, both names are in the Bible and are attributed to the Holy Spirit. This life, therefore, is possible only if one lets the Holy Spirit live in oneself.
God’s life happens in us in everyday things, in the ordinary. The Gospel speaks to us of Mary as a young woman about to get married, to have a family, to have a normal life: there the announcement happens (Lk 1:27)
God’s life in us involves listening: with Mary the dialogue between God and persons opens again. To dialogue does not only mean listening, but being in a constant attitude of welcoming the gift of the other. Listening means living a life that does not assert itself and is not defined by self; it is to live a life of relationship.
God’s life in us, before everything else, usually brings bewilderment. Mary was greatly troubled (Lk 1:29), because normally God’s action does not correspond to our plans, to our thoughts: if it corresponded to all our predictions, it would definitely not be God’s plan (cf. Is 55:8). God’s action takes us by surprise, and sometimes brings us to the place where we would never want to go; it asks us to risk, usually it does not resolve our problems, rather, it sometimes opens new ones… And yet it is our salvation, even if we sense it slowly. Therefore, there is a leap to take, and it is a leap of faith.
The Lord does not ask her to give up anything of her person, of her intelligence; but He wants that everything about her may enter into this new experience of life.
But we do not need to understand everything: God’s life in us and its growth does not depend on how much we understand, but on how much we trust, on how much we leave room in us for what is greater than us.
It is a fruitful life, and a fruitfulness that lasts for eternity: our works, those that we carry out independently, are dead works, and nothing remains of them; but whoever welcomes the Spirit of the Lord begets eternal life, gives birth to something that does not pass away. Therefore, “his kingdom will have no end” (Lk 1:33).
The experience of faith is all this and still more: it is every possible novelty; it is what makes us truly new. Mary, going through this experience with a poor and humble heart, conceives Jesus, and her humble “yes” opens to God the possibility of coming among us, it changes history. Mary is the first believer of the Kingdom of heaven. And what happened to her has never stopped happening, and now it’s for each one of us.
We are often paralyzed by our fears: we are afraid to get married, because we do not have the means on which we count or we do not want to hand over our life to another. We are afraid to trust ourselves to others. We try to be big and powerful to tell of having influence over others and we imagine acquiring power by our exclusive means. We want to be masters of our life and to have control of everything that we are and do. In short, we do not want to be losers. We’ve got to be strong. Otherwise, we count for nothing.
But all this, if it is done without the Lord or actually contrary to Him, delivers nothing. It does not build anything and soon disappears. A sickness, a difficulty, a misunderstanding, a viciousness can destroy the freedom that we think can be built by our means.
Mary of Nazareth teaches us through her humble obedience, from that small and fragile grotto that we still venerate, that our freedom is not acquired, but is given to us and is born from the ability of our heart to know how to say “yes” with love, giving over our life with faith to persons that we love, in family, in the Church, in life. Without presuming to have everything under control and feeling we are masters of ourselves. Mary teaches us that there is more joy and full freedom in handing over our heart to the One who loves us and gave His life for us.
In our Lenten journey to meet Christ, we want to renew, together with Mary of Nazareth, here today, our “yes” to the Lord and to His will, entrusting ourselves to Him, knowing and trusting that, like Mary, we will then receive this new life.
Translated from Italian