Food for Faith, by Fr John O’Connor
Breaking & entering -Mar 25, 2021
It’s the feast of the Annunciation today – the turning point of all human history. Take a few moments to relax as you are driving to work or sitting in a dull lecture to listen to this 8-minute reflection.
That might seem a strange title for a reflection for the feast of the Annunciation, breaking and entering, but I think it’s apt. Here’s why.
A couple of thousand years ago, a young Jewish woman was going about her normal morning routines, perhaps with a mixture of house and garden work, chatting with parents and neighbours, aware of the local drought, the sickness of a neighbour and annoyed by the neighbourhood’s lack of sleep caused by the Romans’ noisy party the night before, when God broke into her routine and entered her life in a new and powerful way.
Mary heard the greeting: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
I’m happy that Mary’s immediate response was to be troubled. If an angel broke in on my morning routine I would be a bit shaken too. In that moment Mary would not really have understood what was happening: is that a knock at the door, a burglar at the window or a drunk Roman on his way home from the party?
That’s why the messenger reacted immediately with “Do not be afraid Mary,” and Mary would have immediately realised that she had no reason to fear because she had already found favour with God and was already living with a desire to know what God was wanting of her and for her.
So if you sense God might be trying to break into your life today, hear this message: Do not be afraid. Note this is also the message directly from Jesus to Mary Magdalen the morning of the resurrection.
It is important to note that Mary did not need to discern whether or not she would do the will of God once she knew what it was. However she did need to stutter a question or two in order to decide if it really was God who was speaking to her. Once she understood that it was God who was asking, then there was only one response and that was ‘Yes. Let it be done to me.’
There is a great novel: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Even without the context of the book this single quotation makes complete sense and is a bit of a wake-up call:
“Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognise God? A vanishingly small number of people would recognise God…”
Because Mary already sought to live with openness to God’s call to her, she was able, at least after the original shock of finding an angel in her kitchen, to recognise God.
But as Russell suggests we struggle to recognise God.
Perhaps because we like to keep God under our control we might prefer a society that is secular and post-Christian where it’s easy to ignore the presence of God. We are as slow to name God as God as we are to name good as good. We are as hesitant to name the devil the devil as we are to name evil as evil. The consequence is that everything becomes whatever we want it to be, depending on the context. What is in fact objectively good might commonly be considered to be bad, and what is in reality an evil can be named helpful depending on the rudder-less subjective views of the majority.
You might have noticed that there is only a one letter difference between the name God and the word good, and the name devil and the word evil. But there is a world of difference between good and evil and an eternal chasm between God and the Devil.
It is not enough to satisfy ourselves with lists of what is good and what is evil. This might be understandable and acceptable in one who like the foreigner arriving in a new city consults the road map for every direction at every turn. But if after a few months we are still totally dependant on the map, our journeys will be exhausting and we will miss the beauty of the conversation and company in the car and the glory of the scenery that surrounds us.
With her encounter with the angel, Mary’s life became an adult adventure of mature faith.
To conclude this reflection let’s skip to the end of this gospel passage. The angel tells Mary that her elderly cousin Elizabeth is also expecting a child. Then there is the wonderful punch-line for the passage: “for Nothing is impossible for God.”
- Take a few moments to ask Jesus directly how he is trying to break into your life today. Don’t think too hard about this – you will pretty quickly get a sense of his answer and his response may surprise you.
- Take as your mantra for the day “Nothing is impossible for God.” Whenever you think of a situation that is difficult, a person who is struggling, or when your own anxiety threatens to overpower you, simply repeat several times slowly and gently: “Nothing is impossible for God.”
Father John O’Connor is a Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Christchurch. His timely reflection here on the subject of ‘God Breaking Through’ into the creation at the Angel’s Annunciation to Mary – that she was to become the Mother of God’s Son – reminds us of this life-changing experience, for her and, ultimately, for the rest of humanity.
Mary’s hesitation, before her fuller understanding and acceptance of this amazing calling, speaks of her relative innocence of what her willing “YES!’ to God’s call upon her life (and that of her bespoke husband-to-be) was, in those special circumstances, is entirely understandable to us.
Mary, not yet married to her fiancee, Joseph, would have to tell him of her pregnancy – which was not of his instigation – so that he (in the words of the KJV Bible) was ‘minded to put her away privily”, in order to reduce the possibility of gossip about a situation that must have caused him great personal anguish! However, as recorded in the Scriptures, Joseph was, himself, to receive an angelic visit overnight, when the angel told him not to worry, because this conception was by the power of God’s Spirit, and that when the child was born, Joseph was to name him ‘Jesus’ a word which meant ‘Redeemer’ – a word for the Messiah who was expected to come. I love the words in the KJV which records Joseph’s response: “So he got up and married her!”
What needs to be taken in here is the fact of the willing obedience of both Mary and Joseph to act upon this amazing call upon their lives; Mary to become the means of bringing Jesus, Son of God, into the world as a fully human being and; Joseph, by his acceptance of Mary’s pregnancy as an act of God, requiring of him his willingness to become the protector of both Mary and Jesus. The secrecy of Jesus’ conception, birth and early life was one to which only they, and their nearest associates were given. The first, the old priest Simeon in the Temple (and the old woman who gave thanks in the Temple, at Jesus’ naming; and then Mary’s cousin: Elizabeth who, herself in old age was pregnant with John the Baptist, the prophet of Jesus. These ‘Little Ones’ – God’s Anawim – were themselves ‘looking forward to the coming’ of the promised Messiah, and were able to bring reassurance and comfort to both Mary and Joseph in their appointed task.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us snners now and in the hours of our death. Amen”.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New aland