Most of us are familiar with the story of the Annunciation as told in Chapter 1 of Luke’s gospel. The angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and informed her that she had been chosen to be the Mother of the Savior. Mary agreed, Jesus was born and the entire human race was redeemed. Sounds simple, right? Did you ever consider what would have happened if Mary said, “no”?
Sometimes we forget that Mary had free will and wasn’t forced to go along with the plan that would result in the birth of our Savior. It’s easy to get caught up in the story and ignore the fact that the Blessed Mother could have refused God’s offer. According to the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium , “The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman (Eve) had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life.” St. Irenaeus, one of the early Church Fathers, stated, “Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.” Let’s examine Mary’s life and see how her “yes” occurred not only on that special day, but continued throughout her life. By looking at her constant submission to God’s will, we’ll explore how Mary’s life can be a model for each of us.
The Bible tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” when visited by the angel Gabriel. Why? It wasn’t because of the fact that she didn’t trust God. In fact, once the angel revealed God’s plan there is no further mention of Mary being troubled. For most of us, our worrying would start as soon as God revealed His plan. However, Mary embraced God’s plan without needing to know all of the details. The most likely reason for Mary being troubled is because of her humility. She couldn’t understand why the angel would visit her and address her as “full of grace”. A truly humble individual doesn’t recognize their humility and our Blessed Mother’s concern is an illustration of that virtue.
Continuing with the story, the angel informed Mary that she had been chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Savior. Having most probably made a lifetime vow of virginity (in the opinion of Pope John Paul II and many others), Mary asked how this would be possible. Gabriel informed her that it would take place by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary responded with the words, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” If anything, the angel’s explanation should have made Mary more reluctant, but her incredible trust in God enabled her to agree to the plan without hesitation.
To put things in perspective, imagine the angel Gabriel visiting you today and asking you to become a religious education teacher, to start attending daily Mass, to speak about Christ in your workplace, to read the Bible more frequently, to contribute a greater amount to charity, etc. Would your answer be “May it be done to me according to your word” or would it be a series of questions or excuses? As Pope John Paul II stated in his address on July 3, 1996, “Mary was asked to assent to a truth never expressed before (a virginal motherhood). She accepted it with a simple yet daring heart.” How do we respond to the comparatively minor tasks asked of us by the Lord? Do we accept willingly or do we cite numerous reasons why it isn’t possible? While most of us have not experienced the visible presence of an angel, we have all felt this call to increased service or devotion at some point in our lives. That request may come in the form of a thought, a suggestion from a friend or a statement in a homily or television program. We may brush it off as being unimportant, but that is usually how the Lord calls us. Have we responded to His call with the same willingness exhibited by Mary?
This eagerness to submit to God’s will continued throughout the Blessed Mother’s life. As soon as Jesus was conceived in her womb, Mary traveled “in haste” to assist her relative, Elizabeth, who was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist. When Mary arrived, Elizabeth proclaimed her to be “blessed among women” and questioned why she was honored to be visited by “the mother of my Lord”. Desiring to give all the glory to God, Mary responded with her famous Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), which acknowledged God’s greatness and her own lowliness. Even though Mary had been chosen to deliver the Savior of the world, she still managed to give all the credit to God and boast only of her own weakness. Despite all of the turmoil that was going on in her own life, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months. This display of charity gives us a great example of how to serve others without counting the cost. Do we always serve others with the same selflessness exhibited by Mary? When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, do we then share Him with others as Mary did with Elizabeth?
After Jesus was born, Mary continued to seek God’s will for her life. As events occurred in her daily life as the mother of Jesus, scripture tells us that she meditated and “kept them in her heart” (Lk 2:19,50) In fact, her last appearance in scripture finds her praying with the apostles for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Do we imitate Mary by frequently praying for an increase of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Do we attempt to discern God’s will in our own lives through meditation and prayer?
When Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus in the temple, the holy man Simeon informed Mary of the great suffering that would be a part of her life (Lk 2:35). This prophecy would be fulfilled as she stood at the foot of the cross and watched the crucifixion of her Son (Jn 19:25). Mary never tried to avoid this suffering, knowing that it was part of God’s will. How do we handle the suffering that we encounter in our own lives? Do we lash out and attempt to avoid it or, like Mary, do we unite our suffering with the sacrifice of Christ as He hangs on the cross?
Would you like to get closer to Jesus and discover His plan for your life? Turn to Mary and ask for her help. Her entire life consisted of submitting to God’s will and she will help you to do the same. When He was dying on the cross, Jesus gave Mary to the “beloved disciple” John. Recognizing that we are all beloved disciples, the Church extends that offer of motherhood to each one of us. Your mother will help lead you to Jesus. Her last recorded words in scripture (at the wedding feast in Cana), provide us with the advice that is guaranteed to keep us on the right path – “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.”
Since Mary didn’t say “no” to God, we can only speculate on what would have happened had she done so. However, we do know what happened because she said “yes.” God used her to deliver our Savior! Throughout her life, the Blessed Mother repeatedly trusted in God’s plan. By meditating on her life and asking for her intercession, we can begin to trust God with our lives. Each day we have the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to God. When things happen to us that we don’t understand, do we trust God or do we complain? Do we always obey the teachings of the Church founded by Jesus, or do we only obey those teachings with which we agree? Do we seek to become closer to Christ by meditating upon His life and keeping Him “in our hearts”? Do we make an effort to encounter Jesus through the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession as often as possible? Throughout her life, Mary always said “yes” to God … How about you?
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!