By Cliff Garvey
In the Gospel of Luke (1:26-38), we read this account of the Annunciation of Mary:
The angel Gabriel was sent by God
to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And he came to her and he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!”
But Mary was greatly troubled at what he 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 will call 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 of 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 is impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Consider what happens here. Think about it. Pray about it. Mary is a young woman. She is home alone. She is praying. Suddenly, an angel appears. The angel greets her. He tells her that she pleases God; and that she will conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. The angel tells Mary that the child will be named Jesus; that he will be crowned eternal and everlasting king of God’s chosen people. Needless to say, Mary is shocked, astonished, and overwhelmed. She says simply: “How can this be?” The angel consoles her and reminds her that nothing is impossible for God. Mary replies: “I am a servant of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.”
In these brief moments, miracles are revealed. A child is conceived in the womb of a virgin. The child will bring the story of the human family to its ultimate climax. The child is the Son of God, the savior of the whole world. The young woman becomes the most important mother in history. Mary becomes the first person to risk everything for the sake of Jesus Christ. Mary becomes the first believer, the first member of God’s holy church, and the first and most devoted disciple.
Now consider these two components of Mary’s acceptance of her mission to be the Mother of the Christ Child. First, Mary loves God with her whole heart. She loves the child in her womb. She loves all the children of God. Second, Mary’s love for God reveals a degree of trust in God that is seemingly boundless. This love and trust enables her to embrace God’s plan without complaint or reservation. Her humility is perfect. Her surrender is unconditional. Her embrace of God’s plan is complete.
Without this profound but simple acceptance, God’s intervention into human history is delayed. God’s plan for the salvation of his people is postponed. God’s love for his children is frustrated by a young woman who might easily say “no” instead of “yes.” But Mary embraces God’s plan without concern for her own hopes and dreams. She submits to God’s will and gives up her own. She yields to God’s promise without the doubt, cynicism, and skepticism felt by so many would-be disciples and saints throughout the ages. So many of us want to serve God, but too many of us want to serve God on our own terms, according to our own limits and conditions, and only when the time seems right — for us.
In his book, The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God, Archbishop Fulton Sheen writes: “Our free will is the only thing that is really our own. Our health, our wealth, our power: all of these God can take from us. But our freedom, he leaves to us…Because our freedom is our own, it is the only perfect gift that we can make to God (22).” God gives Mary the same gift of freedom that he gives to us. And Mary gives it back — humbly, lovingly, willingly, and completely. It is the perfect gift.
Remember now that Mary is young and recently engaged. She looks forward to the future, to married life, to raising her own family. Mary has hopes. She has dreams. Regardless of the moment in history during which she lives, this promise of youth is timeless. But in an instant, Mary is told that God has another plan. She will conceive a child out of wedlock. The child will belong to God, to history, and to all of humanity for all time, for ever and ever. She doesn’t even get to choose his name! And in that same instant, Mary says “yes.” She becomes a servant of the Lord. She becomes a disciple of the Lord. In doing so, she reaches out to us across the ages. She says to us with a mother’s love, with a mother’s trust, with a mother’s humility, and with a mother’s sacrificial nature: Look to me. Take my hand. Follow my son. Live with him. Walk with him. Rejoice with him. Suffer with him. Die with him. And rise with him on the last day.
Sometimes we are servants of the Lord. Sometimes we accept God’s will and act on it. Sometimes we embrace the cross that is ours to carry. Sometimes we sinners stumble into true discipleship. During these times, we learn that God will surprise us. Miracles will happen. Unexpected blessings will come our way. Unexpected trials will come our way, too. If we want to be true disciples, if we want to become true servants of the Risen Lord, then we must look to the Blessed Mother and learn from her.
It is not enough to just listen for the angel’s voice. It is not enough to just hear him out. Like Mary, we must be willing to let God act. We must be willing to let God act in us and through us. We must love and trust. We must be small and humble. We must be willing to sacrifice everything. We must give back the perfect gift of our freedom. Like Mary, we must learn to say “yes.” We must learn to say: “Let it be done to may according to your word” and mean it with our whole heart. When we learn these lessons; when we say these words; when we embrace God’s plan for our lives, then and only then, we can join in Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55):
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day, all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and he has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
Glory to the Father,
to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now and will be forever. Amen.
Our Lady of the Annunciation, pray for us!
Coming Soon: Mary’s Song, Part 2
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Mary’s Song, Part 1. These audio recordings are produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at email@example.com. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Listen: The Assisi Project Podcast: Mary’s Song, Part 2
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project and our upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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