Wednesday, March 25, 2020


When Father Joseph was novicemaster, before he met a candidate, he would ask the vocation director, “Has he fallen in love?” In other words, does he have a heart that’s available and ready for love, a heart that will know what it’s like to be in love? Surely Mary’s heart was ready; her heart formed by the faithful love of family, the love she spoke each day in the shema – promising to love Lord, her God, with all her heart, with her whole being, and with all her strength. More recently her virgin heart has opened with tender love for Joseph. Today we celebrate this heart ready for love. We call this event Annunciation, but truly it is not an announcement at all but a request, better, a proposal. For we are witness in this scene to the pursuit of love, the God of love seeking love in response. And as God’s total outpouring is met by the loving openness of Mary, two loves are made one. Heaven is wedded to earth, and Mary becomes the Ark of this new Covenant. When you love, you are always waiting to hear what the beloved wants. You learn the habit of finding yourself by giving yourself away; trusting that the one you love will not manipulate or abandon you.  This self-gift and mutual exchange are the secret we all were made for.  We celebrate today because together Mary and God found this secret together.

But how? Mary is after all so small and insignificant, the unlikeliest – young, poor, without status, an unmarried girl from a backwater. She has nothing and is nothing at all; a real nobody, but she is perfect for God. God is hooked, it’s his golden opportunity. God has been searching relentlessly, and he is ravished by the delicate beauty of Mary of Nazareth. She is after all the perfect match for a God who is always captivated by what is humble and small, ordinary. God loses himself in her; God can’t help himself; for he always goes to the lowest place. We can well imagine God’s joy at his discovery; for his relationship with Mary will allow God to do what he has long dreamed of doing. Here at last is one who will not hide from him like Adam in the underbrush. In Mary God at last finds one who is not embarrassed at her nothingness, the stuff that can scare us half to death.[1] She lets it be; she has nothing to hide.

And amazingly, Mary’s smallness is room enough for God’s immensity. God’s condescension is so loving and tender that Mary’s humanness is not obliterated but exquisitely enhanced.[2] There in the mystery of her emptiness and nothingness, God finds ample space for his total outpouring, which becomes forever a possibility for us as well through her perfect availability to God’s self-gift. Mary as Godbearer, Theotokos, allows us to be Godbearers with her.

Through Mary, in Mary God can finally be what he could not be without her. She says how, she says yes, why not. And so, she becomes accomplice to God’s loving subterfuge. Through her God can sneak through enemy lines[3], like a warrior eager to conquer sin and death. God will depend on our cooperation too in order to break the bonds of sin and selfishness.

Still we may want to insist like Peter, “Leave me Lord, I am no match for you.” But God is not going anywhere. He continues to pursue us, as he pursued Mary, noticing us, lost in our isolation and confusion especially now. He rushes toward us to take us to himself. Adam may hide, Peter protest; Mary simply welcomes the mystery of God’s advance. She lets God have his way; she invites us with her to understand our emptiness and confusion as God’s opportunity. Too much has been happening. We all can feel it in our gut. But in this time of our intense vulnerability, when we can't pretend or hide, God in Christ may have more unrestricted access to our hearts than ever. If we understand the reality of his loving pursuit, we will see it’s God’s golden opportunity. He takes our flesh to be with us and mercy us. He is here begging at the low door of our humanity, longing to make his home in our empty, fearful hearts as he did in Mary’s.

God’s pursuit, his desire to communicate the depth of his love for us will be most clearly painted in the crucifixion. There we will see where God’s desire for our flesh and its liberation has led him. We are worth so much to God that he became human in order to suffer with us “in an utterly real way - in flesh and blood…in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence consolation is present in all suffering, the consolation of God's compassionate love- and so the star of hope rises [4] (for us through Mary). Again, this morning she leans over and whispers to us as she did at a wedding in Cana: "Do whatever he tells you. Let him find you here in your nothingness and emptiness and fear now more than ever, for nothing is impossible for God. I know this for sure." Let us listen to her and go to him for all we need.
Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, c. 1438-47, fresco, 230 x 321 cm, Convent of San Marco, Florence.

[1] Thomas Keating, ocso
[2] See Robert Barron
[3] See Robert Barron and NT Wright.
[4] Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI.