Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

Readings: Isa 7:10-14; 8:10; Ps 40:7-11; Heb 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

Today we take a pause from our Lenten preparations for our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection to observe the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. Today, nine months prior to Christmas day, we celebrate when Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It bears noting in this regard that in our recitation of the Creed, we bow as we say the words, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” There is no event in the history of the world that is more important than the one we celebrate today. The very first words of the first encyclical of Bl. Pope John Paul II’s pontificate were: “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history” (Redemptor Hominis, par. 1).

Just as Jesus Christ is consubstantial with the Father, He is also consubstantial with His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was through her that our Lord became fully human. This is precisely the point of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews in our second reading today. In order for the Lord suffer, bleed, and die on the Cross, He had to be fully human. In order for His cruel death to be an acceptable offering to the Father for the sins of the world, He had to be divine.

After expressing puzzlement about how what the Archangel Gabriel announced to her could come to pass, our Blessed Mother, accepting the archangel’s explanation that it would be brought about, not in the natural way, but in a uniquely supernatural manner, because “nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37), freely agreed, saying the words we have come to know as her “fiat”: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

It was necessary for the Blessed Virgin to freely give her consent to what God asked of her. Hence, it was possible, after quickly calculating all the risks involved with unexpectedly turning up pregnant while being betrothed to St. Joseph, for her to refuse. God does not force His will on us. This is where, for us, the rubber meets the road, where all of this theology begins to be instructive for how we live. In light of the Incarnation of the Son of God, we, too, have a choice to make.

I recently read something by Catholic evangelist and teacher Peter Herbeck that addresses this reality: the decision to follow Jesus is “like an earthquake or a revolution. It’s a response to the shocking truth that the living God, the creator of the universe is calling me” (Is Real Change Possible? 18-19). As a result, Herbeck insisted, “What matters is who He is and what He requires of me. The decision to follow Jesus means yielding my right to define and control my own destiny” to Him (19). It is necessary, but not sufficient, for me to acknowledge Jesus Christ as my Savior. I must also crown Him Lord of my life!

If we have any grasp of the great mystery we celebrate today, we’ll understand that “the Incarnational Event of God becoming human… is so earth-shattering that it enacts something akin to the psychoanalytic concept of trauma” (Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology, 7). After we experience something traumatic, nothing is ever the same for us again. What does this mean in relation to the Incarnation of the Son of God? It means that the Incarnation really happened, that eternity entered time, that it is a fact, and so is ineradicably part of the world. If you have truly encountered the resurrected and living Son of God, this event, this encounter, is part of your life. As a result of your encounter, you “are forever thrown off balance” (7).
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary; and she conceived of the Holy Spirit. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word. And the Word became Flesh, and dwelt among us
May Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh in the Virgin’s womb, come to dwell in us by the power of His Holy Spirit.

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