God Asks

On this feast of the Annunciation, I prayed with morning with Luke’s account of Gabriel’s encounter with Mary. It is a scene I pray with often.

Usually my focus is Mary’s yes, about which I have written on numerous occasions.

What I sat with this morning, however, was God’s request for human participation in his plan of salvation.  God asks.

If you think about it, that is pretty amazing.  God did, after all, create us.  God could have created us with no will to do anything other than that which he demanded.  But God didn’t.  Instead, God created human beings capable of consenting to or deviating from God’s plan for salvation.  And while God desires our consent and cooperation, he will not force it.

And so God asks – not just to Mary, but to each of us: Will you consent to your part in my plan?  Will you act with me?

It is your choice.  What do you say?

At Her Consent The Mystery Was Wrought

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation.  At Mass today we hear Luke’s account of the Annunciation.  Here is St. John’s of the Cross’ poetic description in his poem The Incarnation.

Then he called
and sent him to
the virgin Mary,
at whose consent
the mystery was wrought,
in whom the Trinity
clothed the Word with flesh.
and though Three work this,
it is wrought in the One;
and the Word lived incarnate
in the womb of Mary.
And he who had only a Father
now had a Mother too,
but she was not like others
who conceive by man.
From her own flesh
he received his flesh,
so he is called
Son of God and of man.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

She Said Yes

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of The Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a mouthful, but the full title reminds people that when the Church speaks of “immaculate conception” it is referring to Mary, and not to Jesus.

In celebration of this feast of Mary, I thought I’d share one of the many annunciation poems that I love. Here is Paul Mariani’s poem, I Did Say Yes.

Thou heardst me, truer than toungue, confess…
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The barely prayable prayer as the words fall away,
Words unguessed or unguessable, soft silence only,
Penetrant silence, the pit, then something stirring…
Importunate, unquenchable mind, astray
Or aswarm, attuned for odd moments after, then
Drifting. Then a lull & a lifting, then self flickering back,
As the parched sunflower turns towards the sun…

A woman kneels, head bent forward, each cell attendant
Upon the flame which, consuming, does not consume,
But gently enwrapts, caressing, filling herself with itself,
The burning clouds lingering, then hovering off, like
Mist off a mountain, here in this kitchen, this cell, here,
Where the timeless crosses with time, this chiasmus,
Infinity & now, nowhere & always, this cosmos, this fresh-

Found dimension, all attention gone over now, as flame
Flickers and whispers, all care turning to ash, all fear,
All consequence even, all given over, ah, lover to lover
Now, saying yes, yes, whatever you will, my dear,
Yes echoing down the long halls of time, yes,
In spite of all disappointment, of the death of Love even,
The barely sayable yes again, yes again, yes I will. Yes.

Annunciations and Responses to God’s Invitation

This morning was the final gathering of the four-session Fall scripture study/prayer I offered at Our Lady or Lourdes in Minneapolis, titled from Creation to Annunciation. The series emphasized our need to pray with – and not just study – scripture, with a focus on what the passages we considered teach us about our response to God.

Today’s session focused on Annunciations and Responses to God’s Invitation. My talk centered around three figures who have roles leading up to the birth of Christ: Joseph, Mary and Elizabeth. We also talked about the fact that God always invites our participation, never forcing our response. We had a rich discussion about what we learn from these three – particularly Mary and Joseph – about our role in the Incarnation.

As we continue to reflect on the Advent readings, I encouraged participants to spend some time reflecting on the following questions:

Do I say “yes” to God in the small, everyday situations of my life?

Where are the places I have difficulty saying yes to God?

When the yes is hard, do I ask God for the grace to respond to his call?

You can access a recording of the my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 53:14. Parts may be faint, as there was a lot of participation by those present.)

Fra Angelico’s Annunciation

After my post of yesterday explaining the origin of the title of my blog, my friend Gerry wrote with the suggestion that I also explain why I chose Fra Angelico’s Annunciation as the banner picture for Creo en Dios! This is another subject I did write about when I first set up the blog. Again, since it was so long ago, here is what I wrote:

When I was setting up this blog, there was no question what picture would appear – Fra Angelico’s Annunciation

The fresco itself is at the top of a flight of stairs in the San Marco in Florence.  You walk halfway up the stairs, turn a corner to continue the rest of the way up, and as you turn, there it is on the wall facing you.  The first time I turned the corner and saw it, it took my breath away.  Each subsequent time I’ve been to Florence, I’ve gone back to the San Marco to see “my Annunciation”, and each time I have the same reaction – I know what is coming as I turn on the landing, but still, it takes my breath away.

As does Mary.  As a child I did all the normal Mary stuff kids in Catholic schools did in the 60s – the crowning of the statue and all the Mary songs, especially in May.  As a young adult, I had no relationship with Mary.  But over the years, she has come to be someone of significance to me.

The moment captured in the Fra Angelico painting is one I go back to again and again in my prayer.  A young girl is given what can only have been astonishing news.  One can only imagine what went through her mind.  What will my parents say?  And Joseph?  And the neighbors and my friends? Who will believe I conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit (whatever that means)?  What will happen to me?  I’m not old enough to raise any child, let alone this special child.  Questions….fears….doubts. 

And despite all the questions, fears and doubts, “Yes,” she says.  I don’t understand all of what you are asking, I can’t see what this is going to look like, but yes.   I am yours, do with me what you will. 

When I want to say yes but have questions and fear, when the ramifications of the yes are not clear, I look to Mary as my model.  And I pray for her strength and her faith.

[Since I wrote that post, back early in 2008, I’ve written and spoken about Mary many times. If you take a look at the podcast page, you’ll find links to several talks about Mary.]

Let It Be Done Unto Me

Yesterday’s Gospel was Luke’s account of the Annunciation, in honor of which I listened last night to one of my favorite songs of the Annunication – Danielle Rose’s, Let it Be Done Unto Me, from her Mysteries CD.

The lyrics of the song are powerful to me, not only because of what they say about Mary and her faith and discipleship. Rather, her “yes” is the yes we are each asked to give to God’s invitation to us to participate in birthing Christ into the world. Like Mary, we are asked to say

Yes to the Father,
Yes to the unknown,
Yes with all [our] strength,
Yes to God alone.

As we go through these last days of Advent, I pray that I can give a “yes” as firm as Mary’s, as complete and full as hers.

If you haven’t heard the song – and even if you have – take a few moments to listen to it now.

Annunciation Narratives

Last night was the first of a three-segment Advent program Bill Nolan (pastoral associate at St. Thomas Apostle parish) and I are offering at St. Thomas Apostle for parishioners of STA and Christ the King parishes.

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke each offer a genealogy of Jesus, an annunciation narrative and a birth narrative.

During the session last night I gave a talk on the annunciation narratives in the two Gospels: Luke’a account of the annunciation to Mary and Matthew’s account of the annunciation to Joseph. The narratives are, at one level, very different, and ont he other, quite similar. While Mary’s is the one we tend to focus on, Joseph is no less a model of faith and trusting obedience than is Mary.

Each of the narratives challenges us to reflect on our own responses to God’s invitation to us to participate in his plan of salvation.

You can access a recording of the talk I gave last evening here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 30:47. (There are two places where I had someone read Gospel excerpts; the second may be a bit soft given the distance of the reader from the recorder.) You can find the handout with questions for reflecion here. The handout also includes one of my favorite poems on the Annunciation.

You Are Better Than You Think You Are. Courage

Yesterday morning I attended Mass at Christ the King church in Minneapolis, where the presider was Fr. Dale Korogi, pastor of the that parish. The Gospel for the Mass was one I’ve prayed with and spoken about often – Luke’s account of the Annunciation.

Fr. Dale began his sermon by relaying an experience that occurred as he was leaving the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he had been studying for five years. As he was walking out of the foyer of the building for one of the last times about to return to begin priestly duties in the US, he said to the older priest who had been a mentor of his, “I can’t believe it is over.” The priest turned to him and said, “No it is only beginning. Then this wisdom figure put his hands on Fr. Dale’s shoulders and, looking him in the eyes, said, “You are better than you think you are. Courage!”

Although, as Fr. Dale pointed out, courage is not the word we typically hear when we talk about the Annunciation, courage is something Mary possessed. Called (here he quoted the words of my favorite poem on the Annunciation by Denise Levertov) “to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time, she did not quail, only asked a simple, ‘How can this be?’ and gravely, courteously, took to heart the angel’s reply perceiving instantly the astounding ministry she was offered,” to bear Christ into the world. Mary was free to choose and she had the courage to say yes.

But it is not enough to stop there – to simply recognize Mary’s courage. For, as Fr. Dale reminded us there are annunciations in all of our lives. Indeed, each day and in so many ways, we are invited to participate in birthing Christ into the world. And, as with Mary, it is always our choice how to respond, our choice whether to believe we are better than we think or to turn away at what sometimes seems like too hard a task. And, indeed, many times those moments of annunciation (he again quoted Levertov’s poem here) “are turned away from in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief. Ordinary lives continue.”

Earlier this week, I included a quote by Meister Eckhard at the end of a post on the O Antiphons. It is a good quote to pray with in connection with the Annunciation:

“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son is I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”

You have a role to play in the birthing of Christ in the world in our time and in our culture. Will you play it?

You are better than you think you are. Courage.

What Mary Gave Up to Accept God’s Invitation

Whatever else it involves, allowing ourselves to be transformed by God involves giving up some things we might have formed some attachment to. Consider the example of Mary, who we celebrate today on this feast of the Annunciation.

A young woman in love is engaged to be married. What is her vision of her future? When she contemplates what her life will be, what does it look like, feel like to her?

A nice wedding – perhaps as she imagines it, she can almost taste her favorite dishes that will be part of the wedding feast.

Maybe a little time alone with her husband in marriage – getting to know each other better – physically (she perhaps blushes as that through crosses her mind) as well as emotionally, beginning to grow into their life together.

She pictures the home they will make together, imagining all the little touches she will put on the place in which they will live together. (Perhaps she has already started sewing items they will use around the house.)

Then the birth of their first child, who she knows they will both love (and probably spoil). So excited is she that the pains of pregnancy don’t even enter her mind.

The fist child starts to grow, and a second comes along, perhaps a third. She sees her and her husband educating their children together – in their faith, in a trade, in other life skills.

She imagines her children growing, and the pride she will feel as they go off on their own. And she smiles thinking of their own weddings…and the children they will bear – her grandchildren.

She imagines all of these things and gives thanks to God for blessing her with this wonderful man she is going to marry.

And then an angel visits her and tells her a story that must have sounded shocking to her ears and that must have terrified her. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you will conceive and bear the Son of God. God has a plan and God wants you to be part of that plan.

It is impossible for us to really imagine what must have gone through Mary’s mind when she heard the news. Confusion. Anxiety. Fear.

But we know that somehow she worked her way through all of these emotions and was able to say Yes to God’s invitation to be part of God’s plan. Yes, Lord, as you will. Let it be done unto me according to your Word.

Are we willing to give up our plans, our attachments, to say yes to God’s invitation as fully as did Mary?

The Annunciation of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, a mere several days before the beginning of Holy Week. It is a meaningful juxtaposition.

When the Angel Gabriel came and invited Mary to participate in God’s plan for salvation, Mary said yes. She could not possibly at that point have had any idea what that yes would mean – what pain it would bring her. She said yes not knowing that a sword would pierce her heart. She chose to say to God, “Let my life be your will, and not mine,” willing to live through whatever the end result of that would be, without knowing what it would look like. We move into a week where we will walk with the suffering Mary had as she endures the suffering and death of her son.

I joke sometimes when talking about the Annunciation that, being a lawyer by training, I don’t tend to sign documents without looking at them. I want all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, and I want to fully understand everything, before I commit myself to something. I don’t much like surprises and I want a clear idea of what I’m getting myself into. But I also recognize that, as the Annunciation makes clear, with God we don’t always get all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. God invites us to follow Him on a path that is sometimes misty, in ways that raise questions we cannot always see the answers to.

In the words of Brenda Morris in a poem titled, Theotokos, “Our yes to God “can never be informed consent but always something like a pregnancy – A risky state which nurtures the unknown and lets it grow.”