We are just nine months from Christmas! Yes, today the Church celebrates the Annunciation, the announcement of our salvation. We hear the Gospel story of the Angel Gabriel appearing to a perplexed Mary and asking her to bear a son, to be named Jesus. This fulfils the earlier prophecy of Isaiah: “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, for God is with us.”
The feast of the Annunciation is a joint celebration of both Christ and the Blessed Virgin. Mary shifts from confusion to a confident availability. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” Her obedience to God is offered in humility.
The Ignatian contemplation on the Incarnation has us imagine a tripartite dynamic: the triune God gazing on the whole surface of the world; the diversity of the peoples of the world; and to zoom in and see in a particular way “the house and rooms of Our Lady, in the city of Nazareth in the province of Galilee.”
This exercise marks the start of having us pray for the grace of “an interior knowledge of Our Lord, who became human for me, that I may love him more intensely and follow him more closely.” This exercise lends itself to a guided contemplation in which it is relatively easy for someone to use the power of the imagination. It doesn’t require a lot of effort for us to imagine the multitude and diversity of humanity, to see the variety of activities in which they engage and the unique states of living and dying.
We have a clear picture of the world in which we dwell. Ignatius invites us to ponder Mary and the angel, and then to reflect in order to draw some spiritual profit. We learn a great deal from Mary, in the mystery of the Annunciation and all that we learn about Mary in the Gospels.
Pope Francis invites us to imitate Mary’s obedience, “by lowering ourselves on the road of humility in order to allow God’s love to emerge and be clearly seen.” In other words my ego gets out of the way so that God’s grace shines through. Both Mary and Joseph showed this quality. Mary did not understand everything being asked of her, but entrusted her soul to a deeper acceptance of God’s dreams for the world.
Joseph also lacked complete understanding, but he had a heart-felt knowledge that he was being asked to take on the great responsibility of caring for Mary and her child. The quality of humility is summed up in the Responsorial Psalm for today: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” Mary is presented today as an obedient and faithful woman who generously agreed to be the Mother of God, thus cooperating freely in the plan of salvation.
Mary and Joseph knew their place in the world and were at ease with it. As he grew up and aged and approached his passion, Jesus showed this same gift of humility in his loving acceptance of what was happening by saying “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Do I know my place? Am I at ease with it? Are you? The word humility comes from the Latin humus, which is translated as “soil” or “ground.” Humility makes us real, and comfortable with being real.
Pope Francis says that the path to a deeper relationship with God is marked by “a humble heart, a meek heart, an obedient heart.” We need to avoid the risk of associating humility with weakness. It doesn’t mean that I hide in a corner and don’t speak until invited. When I am truly humble, I know that I’m not speaking up or doing something because of my own need to be in front. It’s because I know that I am imbued with the Spirit of God and do not need to fear. As we celebrate the Annunciation, let’s take time to reflect on how available we are for the work that God asks of us.