Feast of the Annunciation
As we emphasize our human failings and sinfulness during Lent, we can be tempted to turn inward and focus inordinately on ourselves. We expend energy on what we have given up or attempted to improve in ourselves during the Lenten season. While we cannot know exactly what went through Mary’s mind as she received the invitation to bear Jesus, today’s readings return our focus to the hope that God offers and encourage us to be less consumed by our own concerns.
Depending on how each of us feels drawn, we can choose to enter into today’s Gospel through imaginative prayer, the numerous artistic depictions of this scene, or the countless Bible commentaries analyzing the nuances of the story. We can attempt to empathize with our hearts, understand with our minds, and relate with our lives. For me, the invitation was to pray with her faith. The Old Testament readings from Isaiah and Psalm 40 would have been well known to Mary as a devout Jew and perhaps even went through her mind during her encounter with the angel. Instead of placing Mary on a pedestal and seeing her as so beyond us in holiness, I can try to emulate the way she might have prayed with her doubts and hopes.
The words of Psalm 40 depict the qualities of a person moving beyond the rituals and “going through the motions” of sacrifice to truly lay oneself down before God as Mary does. In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola describes three types of persons and their varied response to receiving a huge sum of money. The first person delays doing the right thing, the second person will do almost everything (but constantly holds back something as a security measure), and the third person is completely free of attachments to the gifts she/he has received.
Like the speaker in Psalm 40, Mary is not trapped in the cycle of doing everything except the one thing that God asks. She readily abandons whatever plans she had to serve God (as a wife, a mother, a model Jewish woman) and accepts whatever challenges may come from following God so completely. She risks breaking societal, religious, and familial rules for the sake of a completely radical response to God’s law.
I imagine God (or His messenger) kneeling before me and asking me what I think God wants from me… what I think will lead to a happy, successful, fulfilled life… what I desire for my own children and for my family… Now with this image in mind, I slowly pray the words of Psalm 40 again.
From this place of honesty with myself, and nearness to God, I now allow myself to enter into the Gospel scene again. I imagine being asked if I am willing to risk all these hopes and desires for the sake of following God.
Is there anything I feel tempted to keep holding back for myself… that I shield from offering to God? If so, can I simply name that area for healing without pressuring myself to change?
How might God be loving me just as I am today?