By Mary Ryan, Catholic University of America
Today we celebrate the most beautiful Solemnity of the Annunciation. This wonderful feast day is when we remember and joyfully commemorate the day when a humble young girl from Nazareth said “yes” to the Most Holy God. This girl was a virgin, pure and clean of heart, the only human at that time who had walked the earth without the stain of original sin. Because of her profound “yes,” we were given our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the only other human to have walked the earth without original sin, and is truly God and truly man. But Salvation history would have looked extremely different if this one girl had not had the humility and grace to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit. Salvation history would have looked extremely different if Mary had not agreed to become the Theotokos, the Mother of God.
In celebration of this feast, I’d like to discuss Mary’s humility and how we can imitate our Blessed Mother’s fiat in our own lives.
In today’s Gospel, we read from Luke 1:26-38, where it is recounted how the messenger Angel Gabriel came to Mary from God saying, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:27). These famous words are such a beautiful exclamation and declaration of the spotless nature of this daughter of the Most High, who held such promise for greatness. But, after this glorious coming of the angel, we then hear how Mary “was greatly troubled” and “pondered what this sort of greeting might be” (Luke 1:28). Gabriel told her not to be afraid, for he came with great news of her “favor with God” and announced to her that she would “conceive in her womb…[the] Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:29-31).
A few important things here: Mary is seen as greatly troubled, not because she doubted that this could be true or was in disbelief that this was happening to her. Mary is troubled because she does not fully understand what Gabriel is speaking about. Therefore, she humbly responds with the clarifying question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”. This question is not one that displays a skepticism or suspicion toward the angel or the Will of God. On the contrary, it is merely an attempt to fully understand what the angel is speaking of and what she would be signing onto by saying “yes,” which Mary ultimately does do in her fiat. This questioning by Mary is an expression of her virtue, showing her prudence in asking further questions about the situation, but also her temperance to not automatically say “yes” or “no” without inquiring further.
How can we apply this to our own life? Well, we are constantly walking with the Lord and responding to His movements in our hearts. When we know the Lord is calling us to something, perhaps not through the exultation of an angel but maybe through a small whisper, are we responding automatically “yes” or “no” without understanding, and possibly misinterpreting what we are being called to do? Are we responding hastily without contemplating whether or not this call we feel is actually from the Lord and not just our own prideful misleadings? Are we taking a step back and asking for clarifications, without allowing ourselves to fall into doubtful fear or presumption toward God? These are all questions we can begin asking ourselves when responding to His daily callings.
The act of questioning puts us in a childlike position, realizing that we do not fully understand everything told us. Similarly, the avoidance of doubt and imprudent haste – there are times when haste is required and good, as we read in Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39) – place us in the Marian stature of humility, showing a submission to and trust in God.
Though we’ve only just scratched the surface here with what happened during the Annunciation, I think one other important thing to look at before concluding is the ending of this Gospel text:
Mary finally responds concretely, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
There is a key element here, that is the most important lesson we can learn about humility and the example of Our Lady in this passage. By recognizing that she is created by God and humbly submitting herself to His Will, Mary teaches us how to simply say “yes” to God and respond, without pridefulness, in our creation-Creator relationship with Him. The acknowledgement of God being her Creator and she being His handmaiden is that which shows her true love for the Lord and His Divine Will. By remembering our own littleness as creatures, we do not put ourselves in a place above where we ought to be. We do not try to make ourselves gods, but rather, recognize our smallness and submit to the One who made us and whose Will is always infinitely better for us than anything we could imagine or anticipate ourselves. We respond to what God created us to be, instead of attempting to put our own desires first.
As we continue our festival celebration today, let us remember Mary’s humility and trust, asking the Lord what He is truly asking of us in each moment, and never forgetting our real place as creatures. Becoming little like Mary allows God to become bigger in our lives and for His Will to resound within us, guiding us to Everlasting Life.