My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
March 25th marked the Feast of the Annunciation, and perhaps an in-depth understanding of how this feast, which not only highlights the virginal conception of Our Lady, but also Mary’s willingness to do God’s will, is so important to understanding our faith. An example from contemporary evangelical religiosity perhaps helps us to understand this fact.
Many Evangelical Christians post signs in various locations and even do graffiti with this simple statement – John 3:16, meaning the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, Verse 16. This Gospel quote says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” This is a passage that encapsulates for us the reason for the Incarnation, the Redemption, which led to the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our Evangelical sisters and brothers use this phrase to remind those who stumble upon it that truly they are loved by God, so much so that He gave His only Son for our salvation. This would not have occurred, however, if it were not for the mediacy of Mary, the Mother of God. Unfortunately, our Evangelical brothers and sisters do not understand as critical the fiat of Mary and the virginal birth.
The Feast of the Annunciation occurs on March 25th which is exactly nine months before December 25th, Christmas, which marks the end of the time of Mary’s pregnancy. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear that Mary is greeted in a special way by the Archangel Gabriel, who calls her not by name, but says, “Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you.” Not understanding what this meant, Mary was overcome with fear and responded, “I know not a man.” The Angel Gabriel tells her that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you.” As proof that God is all-powerful, Elizabeth, Mary’s kinswoman, in advanced age has been with child already for six months.
Yet, Mary’s response is truly what is most important. “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.” Yet, Mary did not understand everything that was happening to her at that time. Her recollection of that time in her life, which Mary recounted one day to St. Luke, helps us to understand what was going on. First, there had to be some trust that this apparition of an angel was real. And that her faith would sustain her. Yet, most importantly, that Mary was ready to do whatever God’s will was for her. The beginning of our redemption took place because the Word was made flesh of the virgin womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This teaching of the Church has been constant through the centuries, that Mary was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus Christ. If it were not for the prophet Isaiah who prophesized that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, not just one who was a virgin, but one who remained a virgin, the Gospel would not even be able to explain this to anyone since it is beyond our human imagination. As the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary, everything is possible with God. Most importantly, we recognize Mary’s willingness to do God’s will, even though she did not understand His will. It is the reason for Mary being the first of Christians and the one who followed God’s will like no other creature.
What lessons can we learn from Mary’s acceptance of God’s will in her life? Mary’s acceptance was not the type of fatalism that sometimes the words Que Sera Sera encapsulate. Whatever will be will be, there is no push back, nor any understanding of God’s will. Rather, for Mary, in that time of prayer and discernment when God’s will became clear to her, understood what she needed to do. A lesson for us is that unless we pray, unless we discern God’s will for us, we will not know what to do. We will not be able to truly recite the Our Father when we say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
More pertinent to our situation today as, hopefully, we are coming to the end of the coronavirus pandemic, we wonder for ourselves what is God’s will. Was this pandemic God’s will? Was it a punishment from God? Is it a call from God to repent? There are those Christians who believe all of this; however, perhaps we must stop and think that we are not seeing God’s will but rather the problem of evil. We know that natural evil, such as a pandemic or an earthquake, is not God’s will. Rather, it is the freedom of nature that we experience. It is never easy to understand even natural evil. We look to the Book of Job, and see Job who suffered so much yet becomes an example of accepting good things from God. As he says, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Yes, we do struggle in trying to understand what this pandemic is all about.
Recently, some polling was done among those who believe in God asking certain questions. Some were asked what they thought was the cause of this virus. Was it God? Was it nature? Was it the government? Most believers actually blamed the government, not God or nature. Perhaps we recognize that this natural evil was not handled as well as it could have been. Yes, perhaps there could have been fewer deaths and less suffering. The fact is, however, that this pandemic was a natural occurrence unless it is someday proven otherwise. Two-thirds of those polled said that God somehow was asking us to change. Obviously, change for the better or reform.
The large survey sample documenting the feelings of people of faith, found that a majority of people believe there is no such thing as a natural occurrence, and nothing happens without divine intention or oversight. I am not sure that I agree, because our God is a loving God who does not will evil on us. But during Lent, we can make resolutions for personal change, which seems very appropriate during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.
The acceptance of natural evil can, indeed, strengthen our faith in God, who is the author of all creation. We know that creation has gone awry because of man’s sin and not God’s willing it to happen. This year, we have confronted the very difficult moments of life over and over again, the death of our loved ones, and the inability to grieve as we should, as well as personal physical suffering, if one caught the virus.
But what lessons can we learn from the past? The Pandemic of 1918 was followed by what came in the United States to be known as the Roaring Twenties, a time of confused public morality. We can use this Lent to make our personal resolutions that we will, indeed, accept this coronavirus pandemic as a call to change. We cannot lose the opportunity that has been presented to us because, in fact, we all have put out into the deep, testing our faith, our hope, and our love. And we have not been found wanting. But we must continue our resolve to make sure that we do not lose this opportunity to deepen these powers given to us in our Baptism.
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