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The Angelic Visitation of Our Ladys Annunciation
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present meditation is on the Third Part of the Angelic Visitation of Our Ladys Annunciation
Gabriel the archangel told our Lady that she was to conceive and bear a son who would be the Son of the Most High. Unlike Zachary, Mary did not doubt. She did not suspend her judgment. She accepted what she was told as being true. However, she did ask a question, How should this happen since I do not know man. In another words, Mary, Our Lady, had consecrated her virginity to God. She logically asked how would this conception take place. Though betrothed to Joseph, she would remain a virgin. The angels answer is an essential part of our Christian faith. First as we have been doing, we will quote verbatim from St. Lukes gospel, then we will briefly explain the deeply theological significance of the words of the angel and then apply the implications to ourselves.
Our Lady has just asked the question How shall this be? And so the angel said, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the most High shall overshadow you, and therefore the Holy One to be born shall be called the Son of God. An behold Elizabeth, your kinswoman, also has conceived a son in her old age, and she who is called barren is now in her sixth month for nothing is impossible with God.
By now, everything was ready. Mary then said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word. Once Mary finished those words, the evangelist tells us, the angel departed from her.
Now some explanation. It is one thing to believe it is something much more, and very important to understand what we believe. So we go on. The angel responded to Marys question, her question was How can I conceive since I have vowed virginity? Mary had no doubt that God would work a miracle to provide for her Sons conception and preserve her virginity. She took those two facts for granted. But, you might say, the Lord anticipated our Ladys question by working an earlier miracle. Elizabeth, up in years, barren to begin with, conceived her son John, and as the angel told our Lady, Elizabeth was already in her sixth month of pregnancy. How then did the angel reply? In two words.
First by telling her the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. In theological language, a synonym for the Holy Spirit is the power of God. Consequently the child she was to conceive was to be called the Son of God. Words could not be clearer. During His public ministry Christ, time and again, especially in the Gospel of John, Christ professed His divinity. The Father and I are one. Already, before Christs conception, the angel was sent from heaven to inform Mary that the child she was to conceive and give birth to was the Son of the living God.
What is the angel saying? He is saying the childs father would be God Himself. In theological language, Christ would have a human mother, a human nature, but, the first person of the Holy Trinity is the only Father of Christs divine nature.
We continue. What the angel thus told our Lady is an unfathomable mystery, which means it cannot be fully understood by any created mind. Eternity in heaven is too short for any created being, either angel or human being to comprehend a mystery of God. Christs twofold nature, true God and true man, is a mystery of our faith. However mysterious Christs twofold nature is incomprehensible, it cannot be fully understood. That is why, immediately after telling Mary that her son was to be the Son of God, Gabriel told Mary about Elizabeth.
Why bring in Elizabeth? Because Elizabeth had conceived miraculously. Why that miracle? In order to make our Ladys conception of Jesus reasonably believable. Oh how crucial that adverb reasonably is. We all believe. As I have been teaching over the years, only an irrational, insane person does not believe. But we are to believe rationally. We are to believe credibly.
That is why God, anticipating the miracle of Christs virginal conception, God worked a previous miracle, Johns miraculous conception in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. No sooner had the angel told Mary about Elizabeths miraculous pregnancy that was it. Mary then told the angel, Be it done to me according to your word. In other words, Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.
As the woman Mary pronounced those words, what happened? Christ was conceived in Marys womb. The Incarnation, or as I like to call it, the infantianant of the second person of the Holy Trinity logically took place. As St. Luke says, the angel departed from her for his angelic purpose was achieved.
Before we go on to the implications, let us be sure that we understand, not comprehend, what took place. Be it done to me according to your (angelic) word.
God existed from all eternity. God, we believe, is the being who cannot not exist. From the first moment of creation, God was present in the world He made. He became present in the sun, moon and stars. He became present in the trees and the animals. He became present in the man who He created. And He infused into the body of the first man, creating from nothing, an immortal soul. This God, therefore, was present as God in the world He brought out of nothing.
The moment God created, He was present in the world He made. If God did not remain present in the creatures He made, we would lapse, dare I say, into the nothingness from which we came. The same Almighty Power that God used to create, He must continue exercising to keep the created world in existence.
But what happened the moment Mary said, Be it done to me according to you word.? This God who had been present in the world as God from the moment of creation, BEGAN to be present in the world He made out of nothing, as man to remain the God man for all eternity. As I never tire telling my students in theology, the Holy Eucharist began as Mary said, Let it be don to me according to your word. The Holy Eucharist is not, as so many I know do not understand, the presence of God. The Holy Eucharist is the presence of God become Man.
How we better understand what happened after Mary told the angel, Let it be done according to your word.
So far, the explanation, but how crucial this explanation is, either we believe that God became man, a real human being, with a human body and a human soul, with a human heart, human ears, human lip, human hands and human feet. And this human, Jesus Christ, is on earth in the Real Presence. Those who believe that are Catholics, no one else is.
Now some implications for our own spiritual lives. All the implications of this mystery pertain to our imitation of Mary, specifically our imitation of her faith, her prudence and her unbounded trust in God.
Faith, prudence, and trust in God. All three virtue we need. How we need! And we need to imitate our Lady in their practice.
Marys faith. She believed that the Messiah would be divine, for the Jews in the Old Testament with faith, knew that the Messiah would be nothing less than the living God. Isaiah could not be more clear in identifying the Messiah to some as God. Mary believed, as Isaiah had foretold, that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Any copy of the Bible in which the seventh chapter, fourteenth verse of Isaiah which does not say A virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son and His name will be Emmanuel, that bible is not Catholic. Therefore we believed that God works miracles including the miracle of the virginal conception and birth of the Messiah whom the angel was telling her that she would conceive and bear as her own Son.
As the Fathers of the Church tell us, Mary conceived her Son by faith in her mind before she conceived him in her in bodily womb.
Come to ourselves. We need to be deepen and strengthen our faith, especially in the two mysteries of Christs divinity and in Marys virginity. The single most important title by which we can address Mary is by calling her the virgin Mother of God. Both these truths of our faith, Christ divinity and Marys virginity, are widely, cruelly, learnedly questioned, doubted, denied. Volumes are being written today contradicting what Mary believed, that the Son she would conceive was her God and that she would conceive and remain a virgin.
What is the second lesson we are to learn from our Lady? The lesson of her, what shall we call it, of her assurance in the providence of God. Without for a moment doubting that she could and would conceive miraculously, our Lady was, hear it, the Virgin most Prudent, Virgo prudentissima.
The virtue of prudence can be summarized in one word, how? That is why Mary asked the angels, How will this happen since I do not know man. In effect, she was asking Gabriel, How can I cooperate with Gods will. I repeat, she did not doubt that the child she would conceived would be the Son of God. Nor did she doubt in her mind that she would remain a virgin. But she still asks how Gods will would take care of everything Gabriel tells our Lady, all that you Mary have to do is say Yes to the Almighty and He will do the rest.
The angel told he about Elizabeth. Unlike Zachary, Mary had no doubt, but Mary was prudent. What am I to do? How am I to react? She was assured that all she had to do was say Yes, God will do the rest.
We speak in theology of two kinds of prudence, natural and supernatural. In natural prudence we anticipate, we plan, we weigh the pros and cons. In supernatural prudence we pray that we are doing what we know God wants us to do. All we need to do is to say, Lord, I dont understand how, but I say yes. And you will do what humanly speaking is impossible. Remember Christs admonition to His disciples and through them to us? You will be called before the Sanhedrin, you will be quizzed, interrogated, all kinds of mean, hostile questions will be asked of you. Humanly speaking you will not know what to say. Dont worry, Christ tells us, the Holy Spirit will enlighten you to know what to say.
One final lesson we are to learn from our Lady is our Ladys trust. Trust in God. Once the angel assured our Lady that God would work a miracle of enabling her to conceive without losing her virginity. Mary had only one sentence to say, Let it be done to me according to your word. How we need constantly, dare I say, desperately need to trust in Gods mysterious and if need be, miraculous power to do the humanly impossible. Gods goodness is manifested to us in a thousand different ways. Our task is simply to trust, as Mary did, that Gods will will provide. All He wants of us is to say Yes. Yes to His divine will in our lives and lay the how in His divine plans.
Mary, Mother of God, Virgin most faithful, Virgin most prudent, obtain for us something of your own great trust in the loving omnipotence of God. Ask your divine Son to open our hearts to His sacred heart so that like you, we may say Fiat Mihi, Let it be done to me according to the will of God. Amen.
Dallas Carmelites, Conference #9, Tuesday 2/27/96, 9:30 AM
Copyright © 1996 Inter Mirifica
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