How will you spend your youth?

Saints like Thérèse of Lisieux present something of a problem to the modern cultural mindset. This is a mindset that says:

  • Make yourself
  • Life for yourself
  • Make up your own rules
  • Avoid suffering
  • Seek pleasure
  • Establish security
  • Rise on the corporate ladder
  • Reach your personal goals = success

And then do some service hours to make yourself feel like you actually care about other people.

These attitudes breed the systemic problems that we see today – the extension of adolescence until the mid-twenties (now officially age 25), sexual promiscuity, addiction, delay and demise of marriage, bitterness toward even the possibility of children, etc.

How will you spend your youth?

St. Thérèse challenges the modern (and we can certainly call her life modern – 1873-1897) cultural selfishness and distraction flowing from our ennui, by presenting a youth that was not wasted on frivolous or selfish things.

Thérèse entered the convent at age 15, and only after petitioning the Pope. She was a soul determined to love the Lord. Seeking to love the Lord above all and to exercise charity in every situation, Thérèse grew in holiness. She faced persecution within the Carmel and suffered through a very dark night of the spirit. She desired to die young in order to be with her Lord, and this indeed happened when she was just 24.

She presents a radical paradigm shift – loving God, living entirely for others, embracing suffering, holding to the little way, desiring sanctity, living with joy and understanding the gravity of life, and remaining unafraid of death. God always provides the saints needed to buck the trend – following in the footsteps of Thérèse is just that. Her life challenges almost every aspect that we subscribe to.

So, how will you spend your youth? 10_3_therese

My Song for Today – by St. Thérèse of Lisieux

My life is but an instant, a passing hour.
My life is but a day that escapes and flies away.
O my God ! You know that to love you on earth
I only have today !…

Oh, I love you, Jesus ! My soul yearns for you.
For just one day remain my sweet support.
Come reign in my heart, give me your smile
Just for today !

Lord, what does it matter if the future is gloomy ?
To pray for tomorrow, oh no, I cannot !…
Keep my heart pure, cover me with your shadow
Just for today.

If I think about tomorrow, I fear my fickleness.
I feel sadness and worry rising up in my heart.
But I’m willing, my God, to accept trial and suffering
Just for today.

O Divine Pilot ! whose hand guides me,
I’m soon to see you on the eternal shore.
Guide my little boat over the stormy waves in peace
Just for today.

Ah ! Lord, let me hide in your Face.
There I’ll no longer hear the word’s vain noise.
Give me your love, keep me in your grace
Just for today.

Near your divine Heart, I forget all passing things.
I no longer dread the fears of the night.
Ah ! Jesus, give me a place in your Heart
Just for today.

Living Bread, Bread of Heaven, divine Eucharist,
O sacred Mystery ! that Love has brought forth…
Come live in my heart, Jesus, my white Host,
Just for today.

Deign to unite me to you, Holy and sacred Vine,
And my weak branch will give you its fruit,
And I’ll be able to offer you a cluster of golden grapes
Lord, from today on.

I’ve just this fleeting day to form
This cluster of love, whose seeds are souls.
Ah ! give me, Jesus, the fire of an Apostle
Just for today.

O Immaculate Virgin ! You are my Sweet Star
Giving Jesus to me and uniting me to Him.
O Mother ! Let me rest under your veil
Just for today.

My Holy Guardian Angel, cover me with your wing.
With your fire light the road that I’m taking.
Come direct my steps… help me, I call upon you
Just for today.

Lord, I want to see you without veils, without clouds,
But still exiled, far from you, I languish ?
May your lovable face not be hidden from me
Just for today.

Soon I’ll fly away to speak your praises
When the day without sunset will dawn on my soul.
Then I’ll sing on the Angels’lyre
The Eternal Today !

Get Holy Ghost Power

Several years ago, the Synod of Bishops discussing the New Evangelization noted that the first step, before any “strategic planning” (whatever that means), the Church must undergo a revitalization in which, “She makes the Person of Jesus Christ and a personal encounter with him central to her thinking, knowing that he will give his Spirit and provide the force to announce and proclaim the Gospel in new ways which can speak to today’s cultures.”

Notice that it doesn’t say that encountering Christ and receiving His Spirit provides a program or strategy by which the Church can put a tourniquet on the bleeding indicated by statistical data. No. The Word and Spirit provide a “force” capable of expressing the Gospel in ways that speak to today’s culture.

Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus took his disciples – those who were closest to Him, those who echoed Thomas’ “My Lord and my God, those who aligned with Peter in saying “You are the Christ” to Jesus’ infamous question “Who do you say that I am?” – outside of Jerusalem. Here they pressed him, “Are you now going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” His response is so typical…”It’s not for you to know the times or the seasons…” The classic God-answer of “I’m not telling.”

But, Jesus follows this line with something remarkable. He tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (see Acts 1:6-8).

The Greek word for “witnesses” here is martys, from which we get our word “martyr.” The word used for “power” is dynamis, from which we get “dynamite.”Pentecost_icon

“Lord, will you restore the kingdom?”

“No. But you will. And I will give you the dynamite power of the Holy Spirit, and you will be martyr-witnesses here and to the ends of the earth.”

The Word and the Spirit provide the force, the dynamite power that the Church needs in order to proclaim the saving Gospel, in order to continue the joint-mission of Son and Spirit. When the apostles receive that power at Pentecost, they practically force their way out of the upper room to proclaim the Gospel, and they never stop. This is why the Church desperately needs to pray for the New Pentecost right now.

One of the beloved Dominican friars who was stationed at St. Gertrude’s Priory for a number of years, Fr. Clement Joseph Burns, OP, recently passed away. At his funeral (which may go down as one of the most cheerful funerals I’ve ever attended), Fr. Nicholas Lombardo, OP, gave a homily on the impact Fr. Clem had throughout his life as a preacher. During the homily he recounted once asking Fr. Clem if what Archbishop Fulton Sheen said about priests only preaching one homily during their lives was actually true. Fr. Clem paused, and then answered “yes.” Fr. Nicholas asked him what his homily was. Without hesitation, Fr. Clem responded, “Get Holy Ghost Power.”

You want the force? Beg for it.

He wants to supply it.

 

 

As Real As It Gets

Yesterday the Church celebrated the feast of St. Thomas. This is the Thomas who was also called Didymus, which means “twin.” He is perhaps better known as “doubting Thomas” because of the story that we heard in yesterday’s Gospel:

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But Thomas said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:24-29)

Every time I read this story, I can’t help but think that it speaks directly to our culture’s obsessive positivism. Although Thomas had journeyed with Christ, witnessed his miracles, and heard the intimations of death and resurrection, he would not believe. He wanted proof, hard facts, observable and measurable results. He wanted to subject this Jesus to the test. Faith in Christ, for Thomas, a Christ crucified and risen, was an unallowable possibility – it was simply unreasonable.thomas_caravaggio

This should strike a chord with us. Thomas embodies the post-Christian West, with its fixation upon hard facts, its reductions to positivism, its sundering of faith and reason, and its unreasonable raising of man to the position of ultimate arbiter of truth. Yet, what is particularly striking about this story is not Thomas’ doubt, but God’s mercy in accommodating himself to Thomas’ position. Thomas might be a saint for our times, but it is God who continues to appease our pretentious demands.

Note the following:

In the first place, the Gospel writer notes that “the doors were locked.” While certainly describing the physical setting, one can’t help but make the literary connection to imagery for hardness of heart. The locked doors, sealed and allowing no light of truth to pass through. However, even these doors, symbolizing Thomas’ hardness of heart are not enough to prevent the resurrected Christ from entering. This is the first act of mercy toward Thomas – going to the place of his hardness of heart.

But there is another step, another act of compassion – Jesus subjected himself to Thomas’ interrogation. “You want proof, Thomas? Look here. See it with your own eyes. Put your hand in my side.” Thomas wants physical proof and he demands it with all of the skepticism he can conjure up. I have a feeling he got more than he expected when Christ passed through the locked doors that day.

Consider this passage in light of our times and in light of the new evangelization. For whatever reason, the masses have missed the message, they were away from the upper room, just like Thomas, distracted, busy, unconcerned, or unconvinced. Whatever the reason, the message of the Gospel did not reach the heart. This heart has grown cold and unbelieving, demanding hard evidence for the existence of God or the divinity of Christ.

Now consider the new evangelist. For reasons that we cannot fathom, God has entrusted to him the word that is capable of penetrating the heart that is locked and sealed and skeptical. He has been entrusted with a word capable of disposing a heart to the possibility of faith. This is the work of missionary discipleship (see Evangelii Gaudium 119-121). Journeying with individuals as they venture toward that threshold, just as Jesus, in his compassion for Thomas journeyed right into the heart of his doubt with an invitation.

Yet Jesus did more than enter into the doors. He extended a real invitation, in the flesh. “Look. Touch. Put your finger in the nail marks.” In other words, our faith is not in the ethereal. It is not in airy thoughts. It is something concrete and tangible.

Do we see this tangible invitation today?

Indeed. In the Eucharist. Jesus promises to be with us always (Mt 28:20). He establishes the Eucharist, an abiding “bread of presence,” a sacramental presence that is tangible, visible to eyes of faith, brought about through words of consecration (see Jn 6, Lk 22, and Lk 24). Do you believe or not? He makes himself tangible for you and for me. In fact, He makes himself real food for our souls.

Jesus gave this act of oblation an enduring presence through his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He anticipated his death and resurrection by giving his disciples, in the bread and wine, his very self, his body and blood as the new manna (cf. Jn 6:31-33). The ancient world had dimly perceived that man’s real food—what truly nourishes him as man—is ultimately the Logos, eternal wisdom: this same Logos now truly becomes food for us—as love. (DCE 13)

He passes through the hardness of our hearts and proposes himself to us in the flesh. Thomas made his act of faith, “my Lord and my God.” What do we say?

For the last couple of years, I have been captivated by this story, especially in light of my work with teens. Here we have a generation that is bombarded with ideas and philosophies spread like faddish wildfire through a gazillion mediums. They are constantly being asked to believe this or to disbelieve that. And when it comes to the faith, many approach with the same type of skepticism that Thomas had.

It is myself, and the other youth ministers that I am honored to minister with in Cincinnati, we who happened to be there the week before, when Jesus came into our midst and encountered us in the flesh, who are called to testify, and to disciple our younger brothers and sisters – proclaiming the gospel which is capable of dispelling doubt and disposing the heart to faith.

But, what is more, we bring teens face-to-face with Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. We bring them before Jesus, to adore him, really and truly present in the blessed sacrament. We don’t bring them theories about life, lofty philosophies, or moralism. There is plenty of that everywhere else. This is an encounter with something visible, tangible, and real. An encounter within which Jesus himself invites them – “Look. Place your finger in my wounds. Touch my very heart.” This Jesus, really present, is healing their emotional wounds, their physical ailments, their hearts and minds, and is, himself, calling for an end to sin and disbelief. He invites, those who encounter him to proclaim the faith publicly, just like Thomas – “my Lord and my God.” His mere presence demands a response – always in full freedom – yes or no; I believe or I do not believe.10478189_661343583948837_2490373386360921224_n

This encounter, fostered through the Eucharistic disciple, generates more Eucharistic disciples. From an encounter with Christ always comes worship and a proclamation, a desire to journey with and disciple others that they might experience, like Thomas, a powerful, and tangible encounter with Jesus Christ. This is the way of the Gospel. It was then, and it is now.

He has come into our midst to extend a real invitation.

You can learn more about some of our youth ministry efforts, including how to get involved in the movement by visiting www.encountercincinnati.org.

The Depths of Redemption

In our previous reflection, we considered the disciples’ return to Emmaus and the whole problem of God’s burial, which is synonymous with “apparent failure.”

One can get a little taste of their disappointment in the line “we were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel” (Lk. 24:21). However, this is not only a display of disappointment,  but also of human desire. The human being is shot-through with desire. Man always wants more, and when he gets it, he wants more of something else. In this way, every person’s story is the same – the human heart is as similar as it is unique. To be human is to desire infinitely, and the blatantly unfathomable, the greatest scandal in the face of the human person is death. It is no wonder that we fight death. We rebel against it. We distract ourselves as a means of protection. Even those who choose death for themselves, if maintaining a psychological equilibrium of some sort, choose it because some other apparent death has befallen them, some destruction of the “I” that shatters or disorients desire.

All the more so in our journey to Emmaus. If ever there was a man who could solve my problems, who could make Rome go away, who could restore the house of Israel, it was this man. Yet this man simply carried his torture-device and gave himself over to death – willingly. These events do not fit into a preconceived box or a tidy category. God is not supposed to act this way.

This is the scandal of the cross. A God who dies willingly. A God whose desires lead him into the tomb, that from the hell that is separation from God, man might be brought into communion with the living God. We will turn again to Cardinal Ratzinger:

The death of God in Jesus Christ is at the same time the expression of his radical solidarity with us. The most obscure mystery of the faith is at the same time the clearest sign of a hope without end. And what is more: only through the failure of Holy Friday, only through the silence of death of Holy Saturday, were the disciples able to be led to an understanding of all that Jesus truly was and all that his message truly meant. God had to die for them so that he could truly live in them. The image they had formed of God, within which they had tried to hold him down, had to be destroyed so that through the rubble of the ruined house they might see the sky, him himself who remains, always, the infinitely greater. We need the silence of God to experience again the abyss of his greatness and the chasm of our nothingness which would grow wider and wider without him. 

Is this not true for us as well? The image of God formed in our minds, the caricature we expect God to conform to, precisely this needs to be destroyed. Then we begin to see the greatness of the seemingly tragic sacrifice.

Into that which definitely stands against all that man is, namely, death, Christ enters. And, He does so victoriously. Christ’s greatness does not lie in his charm, his diplomatic savvy, his military power, or a verbose eloquence. No, it lies in this – his unity with the Father in the Holy Spirit. And, it is precisely this love which goes into the profundity of death and effectively breaks it. If ever Israel would be redeemed definitively, she must be redeemed from death too:

What is death really and what really happens when we descend into the profundity of death? We must be mindful of the fact that death is no longer the same as it was before Christ endured it, before he accepted and penetrated it, just as life, being human, is no longer the same as it was before human nature, in Christ, was able to come in contact with – and it truly did – God’s own being. Before, death was just death, separation from the land of the living and, albeit at differing degrees of profundity, something like “hell”, the nocturnal side of living, impenetrable darkness. But now death is also life and when we pass over the glacial solitude of the threshold of death, we always meet once more with him who is life, whose desire is to become the companion of our ultimate solitude and who, in the mortal solitude of his anguish on the Mount of Olives and of his cry on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, became a partaker of our solitudes. (Ratzinger

In many ways, the problem of desire with the men on the Road to Emmaus, is the same for all of us. Not that we desire too much, but too little. Israel, blinded by sin, could not see that to be redeemed meant redemption to the core. Anything less would not be redemption; it could not be. To redeem Israel, then, means more than restoration of certain political powers. For Christ, it means an entry into that ultimate divide, the eternal solitude, as a Presence who is Love. Roghman_Roelant_(Roulant)-ZZZ-Landscape_(Christ_on_the_Road_to_Emmaus)

We need the same redemption today, yet we prefer darkness to light and blindness to sight
Lord, we pray that during this Easter season, you would let the Truth of your saving Presence, the same Truth that hung on a cross and was laid in a tomb, would enter into the tombs of our life and shatter our meager preconceptions and airy desires. Grant us new life, we pray.

A God Who Was Buried

Since taking Easter seriously (and personally), I have found the same to be true: Holy Saturday is the most difficult day of the year. Jesus is in the tomb, and we wait for light. Waiting is hard. Waiting is hard, and perhaps not just because there is time between me and the end of my Lenten observances, or the start of the Easter Vigil, but because there is an absence in time. He who was present, He who broke through all the superficiality, He who called me out of darkness is in complete darkness himself.

Jesus died.

The agonizing tension of this fact, coupled with the angst of a seemingly hopeless wait makes remaining in front of the mystery nearly impossible. This is why we don’t know what to do with ourselves on Holy Saturday, busying ourselves, distracting ourselves, wasting time, etc. Remaining in front of the tomb is too difficult.

I often think about the men on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-25) who apparently experienced the same thing. They couldn’t handle the death of Christ and I imagine they had thrown in the towel. This Jesus was not who he said he was. A redeemer of Israel, hardly. A savior who could not save himself. A king who allowed himself to be mocked. Imagine the incredible sense of confusion at these events, tinged with a profound disappointment. Years dedicated to a project that now lie buried, dead in a dark cave. So, they depart. The reality of Jesus’ death, which effectively destroyed their hopes, was too much. They could not remain in front of this reality.

They leave Mary, and the faithful remnant and return to their old way of life in Emmaus.

But, just before departing, they catch wind of something astounding – a resurrection from the dead. Yet even this is not enough to overcome their disappointment, their hardness of heart (think about it, if you heard that someone rose from the dead a few blocks away, would you not muster up enough curiosity to at least scope it out for 10 minutes?) – they are committed to returning to their old way of life.

Can we not relate? This God who is supposed to love us, who supposedly cares for our every need, who promises us every good and perfect gift, who speaks and takes flesh, seemingly takes his leave. He is silent. Gone. Absent. Buried. Even in terms of the devilish epoch we find ourselves in, shrouded in seemingly fruitless prayer, what to make of it? Cardinal Ratzinger takes up this same reflection:

On Good Friday we still had the crucified man to look at. Holy Saturday is empty, the heavy stone of the new tomb is covering the dead man, it’s all over, the faith seems to have been definitively unmasked as fantasy. No God saved this Jesus who posed as his Son. There is no further need for concern: the wary who were somewhat hesitant, who wondered if things could have been different, were right after all. Holy Saturday: the day God was buried; is not this the day we are living now, and formidably so?

Would we not be better off returning to a former way of life and pretending like this “mistake” never happened at all?

Ratzinger’s Holy Saturday Meditations

In 1969, Joseph Ratzinger delivered a number of meditations for Holy Saturday. They are as profound as one might expect. Here is the first of the meditations. A link to the other two is below:

It is with increasing insistence that God is said to be dead today. The first time it was said, in Jean Paul, it was just a nightmarish dream: Jesus who is dead proclaims to the dead from the rooftops of the world that when he journeyed to the beyond he found nothing, no heaven, no merciful God, just infinite nothingness, the silence of the gaping void. It is still a horrible dream which is pushed to one side, wailing away in the waking hours, as a dream does, although the anguish it inflicts can never be cancelled for it was always lying in wait, sinister, in the depths of the soul. 

A century later, in Nietzsche, it becomes a mortal seriousness which is expressed in a cry, shrill with terror: “God is dead! God will stay dead! And we have killed him!”. Fifty years later, it is discussed with academic detachment and preparations are made for a “theology after the death of God”, eyes search for ways to go on and men encourage each other to start preparing to take God’s place. The terrible mystery of Holy Saturday, its abyss of silence, has thus acquired a crushing reality in these days of ours. For, this is Holy Saturday: the day of God’s concealment, the day of that unprecedented paradox we express in the Creed with the words: “Descended into hell”, descended into the mystery of death. On Good Friday we still had the crucified man to look at. Holy Saturday is empty, the heavy stone of the new tomb is covering the dead man, it’s all over, the faith seems to have been definitively unmasked as fantasy. No God saved this Jesus who posed as his Son. There is no further need for concern: the wary who were somewhat hesitant, who wondered if things could have been different, were right after all. Holy Saturday: the day God was buried; is not this the day we are living now, and formidably so? Did not our century mark the start of one long Holy Saturday, the day God was absent, when even the hearts of the disciples were plunged into an icy chasm that grows wider and wider, and thus, filled with shame and anguish, they set out to go home, dark-spirited and annihilated in their desperation they head for Emmaus, without realizing that he whom they believed to be dead is in their midst? God is dead and we killed him: are we really aware that this phrase is taken almost literally from Christian tradition and that often in our viae crucis we have made something similar resound without realizing the tremendous gravity of what we said? We killed him, by enclosing him in the stale shell of routine thinking, by exiling him in a form of pity with no content of reality, lost in the gyre of devotional phrases, or of archaeological treasuries; we killed him through the ambiguity of our lives which also laid a veil of darkness over him: in fact, what else would have been able to make God more problematical in this world than the problematical nature of the faith and of the love of his faithful? 

The divine darkness of this day, of this century which is increasingly becoming one long Holy Saturday, is speaking to our conscience. It is one of our concerns. But in spite of it all, it holds something of comfort for us. The death of God in Jesus Christ is at the same time the expression of his radical solidarity with us. The most obscure mystery of the faith is at the same time the clearest sign of a hope without end. And what is more: only through the failure of Holy Friday, only through the silence of death of Holy Saturday, were the disciples able to be led to an understanding of all that Jesus truly was and all that his message truly meant. God had to die for them so that he could truly live in them. The image they had formed of God, within which they had tried to hold him down, had to be destroyed so that through the rubble of the ruined house they might see the sky, him himself who remains, always, the infinitely greater. We need the silence of God to experience again the abyss of his greatness and the chasm of our nothingness which would grow wider and wider without him. 


There is a Gospel scene which in an extraordinary way anticipates the silence of Holy Saturday and which again, therefore, seems to be a profile of the moment in history we are living now. Christ is asleep on a boat which, buffeted by a storm, is about to sink. Theprophet Elijah had once made fun of the priests of Baal who were futilely invoking their god to send down fire on their sacrifice. He urged them to cry out louder in case their god was asleep. But is it true that God does not sleep? Does not the prophet’s scorn also fall upon the heads of the faithful of the God of Israel who are sailing with him in a boat about to sink? God sleeps while his very own are about to drown – is not this the experience of our lives? Don’t the Church, the faith, resemble a small boat about to sink, struggling futilely against the waves and the wind, and all the time God is absent? The disciples cry out in dire desperation and they shake the Lord to wake him but he is surprised at this and rebukes them for their small faith. But are things any different for us? When the storm DT2002passes we will realize just how much this small faith of ours was charged with stupidity. And yet, O Lord, we cannot help shaking you, God, you who persist in keeping your silence, in sleeping, and we cannot help crying to you: Wake up, can’t you see we are sinking? Stir yourself, don’t let the darkness of Holy Saturday last for ever, let a ray of Easter fall, even on these times of ours, accompany us when we set out in our desperation towards Emmaus so that our hearts may be enflamed by the warmth of your nearness. You who, hidden, charted the paths of Israel only to become a man in the end with men – don’t leave us in the dark, don’t let your word be lost in these days of great squandering of words. Lord, grant us your help, because without you we will sink. Amen.

You can find the other two meditations on the 30 Days website. Enjoy!

The Encounter of Two “Yeses”

Typically, when I ponder the event of the Annunciation, which the Church celebrates today, I spend much time considering Mary’s act of faith in light of my own struggles with trust. I presume I am not alone in this way of thinking about the events recounted in Luke 1.

However, today I would like to expand this reflection:

1. The “yes” that came first. Before Mary uttered her “fiat,” God was at work. This Fact is worth serious consideration and should surprise us. The struggle with sin following the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, the constant turning to idolatry, the hardness of heart, the breaking of the family-bond (i.e. covenant), infects the chosen people like terminal illness. Israel takes on the role of the harlot. Yet God continues, covenant renewal after covenant renewal, prophet after persecuted prophet, sign and wonder after sign and wonder, to pursue His beloved. He risks love. He utters the first “yes.” He initiates. He says, “Yes, it is my will, for the sake of your salvation, that I give you my Beloved Son, conceived in human flesh, as little as an embryo, that you would receive my personal love.”

2. Mary’s “yes” perfectly mirrors that of her Son’s. In light of our first point, the second becomes clear. The Immaculate Conception, Mary, born without the stain of sin, receives God’s gift. A gift is not a gift if it is not received. A gift implies a Giver and a receiver. A dual “yes.” “Mary’s ‘yes’ perfectly mirrors that of Christ himself when he entered the world, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, interpreting Ps. 40: ‘As it is written of me in the book, I have come to do your will, O God’ (Heb. 10:7). The Son’s obedience was reflected in that of the Mother and thus, through the encounter of these two ‘yeses,’ God was able to take on a human face” (Pope Benedict XVI).

It is interesting to juxtapose the annunciation account with the fall of Eve in Gen. 3. There, Eve, questions God, believes the lies of the enemy, sees the goodness of the fruit and tastes it. She fails to trust in the Father’s plan, and she takes. Adam does as well. The wedge of sin results: between man and creation, man and himself, male and female, and man and God. Mary, in Luke 1, is united through betrothal to Joseph, though alone in her home in Nazareth. A mysterious presence approaches with a strange greeting. Mary is frightened (as Eve surely would have been by the snake/serpent) and questions. Yet Mary, through the grace offered to her by Christ’s “yes,” and her free response to it, is able to receive God’s gift even though she could not see it, taste it, touch it or smell it. God’s word, which she hears in the silence of her heart, is enough to warrant her complete faith.

This “yes” allows God to take on a human face, which was what he longed for all along, and what we were created for (Cf. Gen. 1:27). In Mary, the Word becomes flesh. In her active receptivity, God’s life springs forth into history in unprecedented fashion.

The energy of the gift, patiently poured out at the heart of Jerusalem, ends here in a fountain whose entire vital energy takes the form of acceptance. Mary has carried the Word long before conceiving him and has learned the self-giving of him whose whole being is consent to the Father. She has been fashioned by the Spirit and sees without realizing it that the most fruitful activity of the human person is to be able to “receive” God. (Jean Corbon. The Wellspring of Worship.)

The vital energy of our lives comes about, not through conjuring up feelings, impassioned humanitarian efforts, moralistic endeavors of the will, or Ulyssian striving for knowledge  about the ends of the earth. Vital energy, that which allows God to take on a human face, or that which generates the fullness of our humanity, comes through the active and ongoing reception of God’s “yes.” It comes for us by receiving a Person through the action of the Holy Spirit.

3. Mary’s “yes” was unseen by human eyes. At a time when nearly everything is sensationalized, tabloidized, emotionalized, publicized, institutionalized, globalized, etc., Mary’s “yes” stands out as a sign of contradiction. God comes in silence (though not in a vacuum) and Mary utters a thoroughly contemplative “yes.” There is no report of thundering voices, trumpets, pyrotechnics, loud music, falling over, and so forth. She simply knew with her whole being God’s presence and His will, and she responded fully and freely to that gift. This is an apt reminder for a generation dominated by materialism and driven by passion and phenomena. She simply said “yes” (and not for the first time), to the Lord in the quiet of her home. Indeed, “The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of St. Luke’s Gospel, is a humble event – no one saw it, no one except Mary knew of it, but at the same time it was crucial to the history of humanity” (Pope Benedict XVI).

fra-angelico-the-annunciation1